08/2000 State Education Roundup

Published August 1, 2000

California * District of Columbia * Georgia * Illinois * Kansas
Louisiana * Maryland * Massachusetts * New Jersey * Pennsylvania
Texas * Utah * Washington * Wyoming


Ousting Union Brings $525 Raise

Teachers in the small one-school Warner Unified School District in California’s San Diego County gave themselves a raise of more than $525 a year when they recently removed the California Teachers Association as their exclusive bargaining agent and voted to represent themselves. They are now in the process of incorporating Associated Warner Educators (AWE), an independent local association that will negotiate a new contract with the 300-student district. The teachers’ pay raise comes from ridding themselves of NEA and CTA dues.

“For years I faced a moral dilemma when it came time to pay dues to the CTA and the NEA because I was embarrassed that they used my dues to support causes I found personally offensive,” said Doris Burke, one of the teachers leading the disaffiliation effort.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
May 30, 2000
Education Reform Newswire
June 8, 2000


Promoting Unions on the Taxpayer’s Dime

In the fall of 1999, the National School-to-Work advisory board awarded a $370,000 grant to the Teamsters International labor union to support a national School-to-Work technical assistance project. Comprised of leaders from labor, education, business, and government, the advisory board helps shape School-to-Work programs.

The programs educate students on the role labor unions play in education and the modern economy. Through work-study programs, mock collective bargaining sessions, and preparation for standardized testing, School-to-Work exposes students to real-world scenarios.

On June 9, 2000, the advisory board gave special recognition awards to nine International Brotherhood of Teamsters local unions for their unique work on the School-to-Work programs. For example, Local 11 in North Haledon, New Jersey, established a program that teaches students about work environments. As part of the project, Teamsters International unveiled a new Web site that spotlights School-to-Work activities at www.ibtstw.org. The union also is developing an occupational video that will be shown in schools across the nation.
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
News Release, June 9, 2000


Voucher Hopes Boosted by HOPE Ruling

Attorney General Thurbert Baker recently raised the hopes of voucher proponents by issuing a legal opinion that the HOPE scholarship program, which helps some students attend church-affiliated private colleges, does not run afoul of constitutional prohibitions against entanglement with religion. Baker pointed out that since the aid goes to individuals, this “means that the decision to support religious education is made by the individual, not by the state.”

“I think he has backed up the possibility of Georgia going to a voucher program,” Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) told The Atlanta Journal Constitution. “It knocks down one of the [anti-voucher] excuses.”
The Friedman Report
Issue No. 5, June 2000


For High Schools, Smaller Is Better

Students in Chicago’s smaller higher schools are less likely to miss class or become a dropout, according to a new study by Bank Street College of Education in New York. Moreover, students in smaller high schools had higher grade point averages than their peers in the Chicago Public Schools as a whole.

The results are welcome news to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and his Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, who have promoted the benefits of such schools since they were handed control of the city’s public school system in 1995.

There are nearly 150 small high schools in Chicago: some free-standing small school buildings, others small schools located in larger buildings, and still others small schools resulting from the subdivision of a larger school building. These schools include some of Chicago’s newer charter schools. While the average high school in the United States has 741 students, these smaller schools have between 200 and 400 students.

The authors of the report, “Small Schools: Great Strides,” attributed the improved results to a variety of factors, including teachers having higher expectations of their students because they knew them better and cared about what happened to them. Students seemed to agree.

“We have to show up here or the teachers will call your parents,” said one student. “They are on a first-name basis with our parents and they care that we come and that we get it.”

The authors of the report recommend that policymakers take whatever steps are necessary to “reduce the bureaucratic constraints that prevent educators from creating smaller schools that are responsive to local student and family needs.”
Bank Street College of Education
News Release, June 20, 2000


U.S. Vouchers OK, But Not State

Although the Kansas Bill of Rights and state constitution bar vouchers, the U.S. Constitution does not, according to a non-binding legal opinion issued by Kansas Attorney General Carla Stovall in early June. Stovall developed the opinion in connection with three voucher proposals introduced in the Legislature this past session. She found all three measures violated provisions of the state constitution.

“The funds may not be used to secure or maintain an institution in which religious doctrine is taught, nor may the funds be controlled by a religious sect,” she wrote.

Stovall’s opinion is unlikely to be taken as the last word on school choice in Kansas. A recent Emporia State University poll showed substantial public support among Kansans–more than 60 percent–for the use of publicly funded vouchers at religious schools. Legislators needn’t accept the attorney general’s interpretation of the state constitution, according to House Majority Leader Kent Glasscock (R-Manhattan), and they also could consider alternatives, like a tax credit, that do pass constitutional muster.

“I think the tax credit withstands scrutiny far better than the vouchers,” Rep. Tony Powell (R-Wichita) told the Wichita Eagle.
Wichita Eagle
June 10, 2000


Just the Good News, Please

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers supports school board policies that allow citizens to praise school employees by name at board meetings, but bars them from criticizing employees by name. The ACLU sued on behalf of a parent who was hit with a restraining order when she announced her intention to discuss her son’s teacher at an upcoming board meeting.

“A complaint about a teacher [at a public board meeting] is not protected free speech,” St. Charles Parish School Board attorney Robert Hammonds told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “Personnel matters are generally not considered to be matters of public concern,” added Frank Endom, attorney for the Orleans Parish School Board.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
May 30, 2000


Test Scores Sag Under “New Unionism”

Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast recently notified school board members that he had identified a “pattern of underachievement” in the district’s schools, where only 36 percent of students could meet the minimum passing grade of 60 percent in algebra. The bar was raised last year after decisions by individual schools in the Maryland county had dropped the passing grade to as low as 33 percent–a bar that more than a quarter of students still failed to clear.

The poor scores are a black eye for the National Education Association’s promotion of “new unionism,” since the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) had been touted for its embrace of the new governance model. The NEA lauded MCEA’s 1998-2001 contract as a landmark agreement that “gives teachers a say in school decisions–from how books and supplies are purchased to the most effective ways to discipline students.”

Teacher salaries exceed the state average, the teacher-student ratio is 20 to 1, and top MCEA representatives are members of the Quality Management Councils that govern each school.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
May 30, 2000


School Choice Effort Stymied

Parents supported by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty so far have run into a stone wall in their attempts to launch a voter initiative that would void an amendment to the state constitution that forbids public aid to parochial and private schools. The amendment in effect blocks any debate over school vouchers.

The parents argued the state’s law against voter initiatives is an unconstitutional remnant of ugly anti-Catholic bias of a century ago. U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole refused May 8 to issue an injunction that would have put the issue in the legislature’s court. But Representative John H. Rogers (D-Norwood), a voucher opponent, said the House would request the state supreme court to issue a ruling enabling lawmakers to debate the issue in June.
The Friedman Report
Issue No. 5, June 2000


Audit Finds Problems in Newark District

Although the state of New Jersey took over the Newark public school system in 1995 in part to correct financial management problems, an audit into the district’s current-year budget shortfall of $74 million has found major financial problems remain.

State education officials reported on June 19 that four teams of accountants and consultants had uncovered lax budget controls, management inefficiencies, and possible misspending. One team discovered duplicate payments, unrecorded checks, and expense payments without supporting documentation.

Earlier this year, State Education Commissioner David Hespe admitted that several years of shoddy bookkeeping had caused the district to lose track of its finances, even though it was under state control. A draft management review by Deloitte & Touche recommended cost-savings for district security, building maintenance, and food services. For example, the district employs 17 food service administrators and clerical staff in the central office.

“This is a high level of oversight for a business operation where two-thirds of the services are contracted out,” the report said.

In addition, the consultants found savings of some $11 million could be achieved if the district’s 660 custodians were reduced by 284 positions. Doing this would bring the square footage maintained by each custodian closer to the industry standard. Currently, each custodian is responsible for maintaining some 12,000 square feet, about half the industry standard.
The Star-Ledger
June 20, 2000


Takeover Bill Signed

On May 10, Governor Tom Ridge signed into law the Education Empowerment Act, a sweeping use of state power for school reform. Philadelphia will be one of nine districts facing a state takeover unless student achievement rises substantially within three years. The districts of Harrisburg, the state capital, and a small district outside Philadelphia face more immediate action.

Under the law, the districts will have expanded authority to privatize, create charter schools, reassign staff members, and waive state regulations as part of improvement plans they must submit to the state this summer. Enactment makes Pennsylvania the 23rd state to embrace some form of takeover of academically deficient schools, according to the Education Commission of the States.
The Friedman Report
Issue No. 5, June 2000


Exodus in Dallas

Education experts report that many parents in the Dallas/Fort Worth area are giving up on the government schools and sparking a boom in private schools across the region, The Dallas Morning News reported May 28.

Over the past decade, the number of private schools in the area has more than doubled, to 275 campuses. About 90 percent are schools that receive support from religious denominations.

The newspaper reported that parents shopping for private schools most often cite safety, quality, and a desire for faith-based instruction that’s verboten in government schools. Moreover, while private schools once may have been havens for the affluent, middle-class children now predominate. Lynn H. Magid, a consultant who helps families find private schools, said supply has not caught up with demand.

“There are more families wanting private schools and not enough private schools to match. Five years ago, you could apply to three and get into one. Now, people are applying to eight, and they only hope to get into one,” he said.
The Friedman Report
Issue No. 5, June 2000


State Board of Ed Endorses Brainium

Utah’s State Board of Education and Utah’s State Textbook Commission have endorsed the use of an interactive science curriculum, Brainium.com’s Science Brainium™, for public elementary and middle schools in the Beehive State.

The endorsements will make the award-winning software available to some 490,000 students in 747 schools across the state during the 2001-2002 school year. In the past three years, Brainium.com has served over 7,000 paying school organizations and 200,000 users worldwide.

Science Brainium, launched in November 1999, is designed to engage and challenge K-8 students as they study hands-on science subjects though intensive activities, such as multi-media games, animation, and following timely news stories. The product encourages and coaches students to be participative and creative. The four interactive sections–Infomactor, Mondo Brainium, The BugZone, and The ‘Zine– invite students and teachers to integrate online and classroom teaching.

“Science Brainium offers a variety of interesting activities and concepts which are presented in a creative way,” concluded the Utah State Textbook Commission as part of its evaluation report to the State Board of Education.
News Release, June 20, 2000


How Phonics Helps Dyslexic Children

Educators increasingly recognize that phonics instruction is an important part of teaching children to read. Now, researchers at the University of Washington say phonics instruction is absolutely essential for teaching dyslexic children to read.

That’s because scientists now believe the reason dyslexics reverse letters in words–seeing “was” as “saw” or “barn” as “darn,” for example–is related to the way the brain processes the sounds of language. If a child cannot process those sounds, written words–which are based on the sounds of individual letters–become virtually indecipherable.

“The brain has to connect the written with the spoken form of the word,” University of Washington educational psychologist Virginia Berninger told The Seattle Times.

According to Berninger, a dyslexic child may have difficulty in attaching the correct sounds to letters. Thus, she says, it’s essential for dyslexics to get lots of practice in detailed and intense phonics instruction at an early age. In a three-week-long experiment conducted on dyslexic children with severe reading difficulties, Berninger, together with research radiologist Todd Richards and other University of Washington researchers, provided intense phonics instruction coupled with high-interest subject matter. The treatment boosted the reading skills of the children, who made significant strides in reading ability.

Brain imaging conducted after the experiment showed a reduction in brain energy required to read, indicating the intense phonics instruction had eased the task of language processing. According to Richards, this shows it is possible to “re-train the brain” in processing language.
The Seattle Times
June 21, 2000


Wyoming Charter Effort Launched

The grassroots group Wyoming Citizens for Educational Choice announced on June 7 that it had received a grant from a national foundation and was on its way to creating a charter school, tentatively named the Snowy Range Academy. Now the group must fulfill the state’s law by getting parent and teacher signatures and then approval from the school board.
Education Reform Newswire
June 8, 2000