11/1999 State Education Roundup

Published November 1, 1999



Using Grades 11-12 for College Courses

Some students could graduate from high school and go straight into their junior year in college under a plan being discussed among officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Community College.

While large numbers of high school students already take classes at community colleges, the current discussions hold out the promise of much closer coordination between the two institutions, blurring the distinction between high school and college for the students involved.

“We have all met high school students who are way ahead,” Kelly Candaele, president of the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees, told Times reporter Jill Leovy. “They could benefit from a year or more of college when they graduate from high school,” she added. “If the traditional pattern is not working, why be stuck with tradition?”

School board member David Tokofsky agrees that it’s time to challenge the traditional kindergarten through twelfth-grade model–particularly the four-year high school format, which seems slow for some advanced students. Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, called it “a powerful and creative idea.”

The initial plan under consideration by officials in Los Angeles could serve as many as 6,000 students, with a new high school built on each of four local college campuses. The college-based high schools would offer a combined high school/college curriculum.
Los Angeles Times
September 27, 1999


Tracking Special Education Costs

After finding that the reported data often were inaccurate, the U.S. Department of Education in the mid-1980s told the states they no longer were required to report special education expenditures to the Department.

As a result, today there is a lack of accurate data about the overall costs in this field. With rising enrollments and rising costs in special education, such data are needed now more than ever, according to the Center for Special Education Finance, a group based in Palo Alto, California.

The Center has an opportunity to determine the real costs of special education services, thanks to a five-year $4.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Researchers plan to survey at least 250 randomly selected districts to assess recent expenditures.
Education Week
September 22, 1999


Less PE, More Overweight Youngsters

With about 25 percent of youngsters now overweight, obesity among children is at an all-time high, double what it was only 30 years ago.

At the same time, both recess and physical education have been crowded out by the pressure to pack more and more academics into the limited school day. And in today’s fear-ridden environment, parents add to the problem by wanting their children to stay indoors at home instead of going outdoors to play.

Only a quarter of the nation’s children get the daily physical education that health experts consider essential to fitness. For elementary students, that’s an average of 30 minutes a day, and 45 minutes a day for middle school and high school students. Children in the elementary grades also need a daily recess to unwind and have some time for themselves, according to health experts.

“Kids need activity,” said Judith Young, executive director of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education in Reston, Virginia. “They need to move.”

In Florida, no physical education is required until high school, where only one year of gym is required. While some elementary school students have half-hour PE classes every two weeks, Broward County students get them once a week, and Miami-Dade students do PE every day. (The Miami-Dade schools had to give up recess to fit in the daily PE.)
Miami Herald
September 27, 1999


Qualified Substitutes Difficult to Find

Although Hawaii has about 12,000 public school teachers, an additional 700 to 800 substitute teachers are needed on an average day, because about 6 percent of the full-time teachers are absent from school. In the spring, when most professional training programs are conducted, teacher absences can reach 12 percent, or 1,500 to 1,600 a day.

While the state has an abundant supply of some 3,900 substitute teachers, it is often difficult to find qualified substitutes for certain grades, subjects, and locations.

“Teachers are having trouble getting quality subs,” commented Danielle Lum, a spokesperson for the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

The healthy supply of substitute teachers is a result of the state’s weak economy, which has encouraged out-of-work college graduates to turn to substitute teaching at $97.90 to $113.20 a day, depending on qualifications. However, even college graduates are difficult to find as substitutes in some parts of the islands. In fields where specific expertise is required–such as special education or the state’s recently revised standards-based education–the state Department of Education is running training classes to increase the pool of qualified applicants.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
September 22, 1999


Principal Pay Tied to Test Scores

Although teacher unions strongly oppose the idea of linking pay raises to student performance on the grounds that too many variables are involved, principals in Lynn Public Schools won’t get any more money until their students show at least a 10 percent improvement on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.

Lynn Schools Superintendent James Mazareas believes principals can exercise a great deal of influence over student performance. Moreover, that’s the way Mazareas himself is rewarded by the school board.

“Last year when I began this job, the School Committee and I established goals for myself that included test gains,” he said. “I wouldn’t get a pay increase if I don’t meet those goals. I want students to improve quickly.”

The contracts with principals expired on June 30 and won’t be renewed until MCAS scores are released in early November. If student test scores go up by at least 10 percent, principals will be awarded raises of 3 to 5 percent.

Now teachers are concerned that they will be the next to have their pay tied to the performance of their students. That idea has the support of State Education Commissioner David Driscoll.

“I do think tying incentives is reasonable and should be extended to teachers, but it needs to be done carefully,” he said.
Boston Globe
September 28, 1999


Good Advice, But Use Your Own Money

The Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance declared the Nebraska Teachers Credit Union insolvent amid charges that its former manager had embezzled between $200,000 and $500,000. Members of the Nebraska State Education Association will not lose any money because all accounts were federally insured.

The credit union had been advertised as a member benefit by NSEA. One such ad lists “The Secrets of Savings,” including this advice: “The best way to start a savings program is to ‘pay yourself first.'”
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
September 27, 1999


Union Pushes for Tax on Profits

The Nevada State Education Association is planning an all_out campaign to place an initiative for a 5 percent tax on business profits on the ballot. And in testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, National Education Association President Bob Chase hinted about where states could find additional funds for education.

“State and local systems are not prepared to tap the tremendous growth in the service economy or in business activity increasingly oriented toward electronic commerce,” he said.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
September 27, 1999


Constitutional Amendment Gains Favor

A constitutional amendment to take the New Hampshire Supreme Court out of education funding decisions is gaining favor among the public and legislators, according to House Speaker Donna Sytek.

When Representative Gene Chandler introduced a constitutional amendment to that effect last spring, the House finance subcommittee sent the resolution back to the committee at the end of the legislative session in June because it had little chance of passing. But the mood has changed since then, says Republican Sytek.

“More and more members of the public are asking, ‘Are we going to get that constitutional amendment?'” she said. “The environment is more favorable than it was a year ago.”

In 1997, the state Supreme Court ruled that legislators had to find a different way to pay for the state’s public schools, rather than rely on local property taxes. Although lawmakers didn’t like the idea of being told how to do their job, they failed to approve several constitutional amendments in 1998 that would have curbed the court’s authority.

But after passing an $825 million plan and coming up $100 million short on funding, the lawmakers’ mood seems to have shifted in favor of Chandler’s proposal. The proposed constitutional amendment says that while it is the state’s duty to assure the opportunity for an adequate education, it is up to the legislature to decide how that is achieved.

Newly installed Senate President Beverly Hollingworth doesn’t like that plan. She favors an income tax, an option that has been rejected by her fellow Democrat, Governor Jeanne Shaheen.
Foster’s Daily
September 26, 1999


There Are No Stars Here

School isn’t the only place where there’s concern about how new students can be intimidated by the polished performance of those with more experience.

Acting on just such concerns, the organizers of this year’s Clownfest, an annual clown convention held in September in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, decided to eliminate the competition for various categories of “best clown”–best “character” clown, “best “white-face” clown, best use of single balloons, and so on. Instead, judges will use their own standards to rate each clown against him or herself alone. The change is part of the group’s new “Red Nose” clown recruitment program, designed to encourage novice clowns.

Now clowns “are not under the pressure of losing to other people,” said Vince “Vappo the Clown” Pagliano, Clownfest’s chairman. “There are no stars here,” he added, noting that multiple gold, silver, and bronze medals will be awarded.

Not everyone agrees with the change. “Clowns are driven by competition,” protested Leo “Dapper the Clown” Desilets. “Clowns want the trophies.”
Wall Street Journal
September 17, 1999


Vouchers the Issue in Mayoral Race

School vouchers have become the big issue in the Philadelphia mayoral race between Republican Sam Katz and Democrat John F. Street.

Street says he has long opposed the idea of giving public money to parents to provide for their children’s education outside of the public school system. Katz supports vouchers as a way of stopping the city’s population exodus, by giving parents with school-age children a reason to stay in the city and not move to the suburbs.

‘If we’re not responsive to our customers, we lose them,” said Katz. “My responsibility as mayor is to help all of our children, all 350,000 who go to public, private, and faith-based schools. We as a community should be less concerned with where they get their skills than that they get their skills,” he added.

Street says vouchers will draw valuable resources from already underfunded public schools, and draw away good parents and good students. He estimates that the most ambitious voucher program would allow only 44,000 students to leave Philadelphia’s public schools and do nothing for the 165,000 left behind.
Philadelphia Inquirer
September 19, 1999


Change Teacher Training, Says Panel

Teachers should be educated differently, trained differently, certified differently, and rewarded differently, according to a nine-page report released on September 21 by Governor Lincoln Almond’s Teacher Preparation Task Force.

The task force report advocates the adoption of alternative certification in order to open up teaching to professionals in other fields. In addition, prospective teachers should be more knowledgeable about the subjects they will be teaching, the report said, and they should spend time training alongside the state’s best teachers.

“These recommendations will serve as a blueprint for K-16 education, and will achieve results: The improvement of student performance,” said Sally Dowling, chairwoman of the Board of Governors for Higher Education and chair of the Task Force.

The task force identified teaching children to read as the most critical responsibility not just of reading teachers but of all teachers. All teachers of all subjects at all levels should be taught how to teach reading, says the report. Teachers also need to know how to identify reading problems among their students.

The task force also expressed its concern that not enough top students and members of minority groups are entering the teaching profession. The report recommends enhancing the standing of teachers so as to attract the “best and brightest.” Further, the report recommends higher salaries for starting teachers, and differential salaries and other incentives for master teachers. There should be incentives, for example, to encourage veteran teachers to take on the most difficult classroom assignments and to be mentors and trainers for beginning teachers.
Providence Journal
September 22, 1999


When in Doubt, Shred the Evidence

The Washington Education Association is loudly celebrating its courtroom victory over the Evergreen Freedom Foundation . . . but it’s not taking any chances with future battles. Judge Thomas McPhee ruled EFF failed to prove that WEA is a political action committee.

During the court case, WEA successfully kept thousands of documents from public disclosure. The union also was hurt repeatedly by revelations about its campaign practices during an investigation by the state attorney general.

To make sure this doesn’t happen again, WEA has drafted a new “retention/destruction policy” for anyone who handles union documents. WEA General Counsel Jerry Painter has been touring UniServ Councils, reportedly telling staff “When in doubt, shred!”
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
September 27, 1999