State Education Roundup

Published March 1, 2001


New Rorschach Test?

Philip Morris Cos. have sent 13 million free illustrated book jackets to schools nationwide. The book jackets have seven different designs, none of which shows cigarettes or smoking in any form; each of which contains the surgeon general’s warning that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema; and each of which has an anti-smoking message, including the extremely unsubtle “Reflect Confidence. Think. Don’t Smoke.”

But high school students in Mesa, Arizona, saw more than an anti-smoking message on the covers and rejected them.

“Once on a book, it looked like a cigarette package,” said student Jessica Aguinaga. “The mountains below the snowboard looked like cigarette tobacco.”

Other students claimed the snowboard looked like a lighted cigarette. In response, the students wanted to burn the book jackets in a campus bonfire. The district said no.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
December 11, 2000


Private School Tuition Offer

Developer Steve Schuck believes strongly that all parents, regardless of their economic status, should be able to send their children to the school of their choice, private or public. Now, he’s generously putting his own money behind his convictions.

Schuck is offering to pay private school tuition for three years for any student at Colorado Springs’ John Adams Elementary School whose family’s income meets the federal definition of poverty. Alternatively, parents may use the aid from Schuck to pay for tutors and other supplementary materials if they wish to remain at Adams.

Schuck selected Adams because it is one of the lowest-performing schools in the district–only 9 percent of pupils scored “proficient” on the state-required writing test–and its students are among the economically poorest in the region. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, Schuck also hopes to prove the point that competition would force public schools to improve.

“The purpose,” he said, “is to empower parents to make whatever decisions are best for their children.”
The Friedman Report #11
December 15, 2000

District of Columbia

Last Chance to Blast Vouchers

More than 2,000 charter school operators and advocates convened at the National Charter Schools Conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Education in December, and for two days representative of the nation’s charter schools were treated–largely by federal dollars–to a wide variety of technical and support workshops and bolstered by the networking and fanfare that accompanies most such conferences.

But a sour note was struck by outgoing Education Secretary Richard Riley who, for the third year in a row, delivered a scathing attack on those who support full school choice. Calling vouchers “divisive,” “a distraction,” “a mistake,” and “fool’s gold,” Riley also charged that those who support providing educational opportunities for students in this manner are trying to “undermine our public schools.”
Center for Education Reform Newswire
December 12, 2000


Sweetheart Deal for Teacher Union

The Miami-Dade School Board approved nine charter schools to be jointly run by the local teacher union, the United Teachers of Dade, and Edison Schools. The unusual pairing itself raised eyebrows across the country, but the details of the agreement raised even more. The charter agreement waives many of the administrative fees that other charter schools are forced to pay.

“I don’t know how we can face the other charter schools,” board member Marta Pérez told the Miami Herald after voting against the charter, noting the board had denied a similar deal to Barry University. “People may say we did this because the union is powerful and they influenced us.”

UTD spokeswoman Merri Mann defended the agreement, saying, “Unless we do this, we can’t pay a decent salary for teachers.”

The Herald reports that the original union charter application called for a full exemption from administrative fees, but the district turned them down.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
December 18, 2000

Help in Choosing a School

A new Florida-based Web site has been established to help parents who want advice on how to choose a school: Started by Patrick Heffernan and Tina Dupree of Floridians for School Choice, the Web site answers parents’ questions about what education choices they have and sources of support.
The Friedman Report #11
December 15, 2000


The Little Guys Win

In a rare move, the St. Clair County Regional Board of School Trustees has approved the request of the citizens of Fairmont City to be “detached” from the East St. Louis Public School District and be “attached” to neighboring Collinsville Public School District.

The move, unanimously approved by the trustees, was opposed by both districts. East St. Louis prefers not to lose the students and the dollars. Collinsville claims the new students will overly crowd existing schools.

The move, which has been in the making for two years, affects about 80 K-12 students and becomes effective next fall.

Fairmont City, a mostly Hispanic community, has historically been split between the two districts, with about 40 percent of students attending Collinsville schools. Parents feel Collinsville schools have provided better academics and more services for the many Spanish-speaking children than the East St. Louis schools. The East St. Louis District #189 is one of the highest-taxing but lowest-performing districts in the state.
The Illinois Charter School Facs
December 8, 2000
January 10, 2001

Charter School Success

While only in their second year, two downstate Illinois charter schools exceeded the student achievement results obtained by other Illinois charter schools that administered state achievement tests to grades 3, 5, and 8 last year.

In fact, results from the two schools–Fort Bowman Academy Charter School of Cahokia and the Ball Charter School of Springfield–surpassed state averages on achievement tests.

The Fort Bowman School received belated recognition of its achievement in late December when a misplaced proclamation arrived from the offices of John Baricevic, St. Clair County Board Chairman. In August, Baricevic had issued a proclamation making August 21, 2000, Fort Bowman Academy Charter School Day in recognition of the school finishing its second year not only with a $150,000 surplus, but also with its students outscoring other students on 24 of 30 academic standards.

Baricevic’s staff apologized profusely, but Fort Bowman students and staff were completely and appropriately jubilant.
The Illinois Charter School Facs
December 29, 2000
January 10, 2001


Teacher Strike Looms

The Hawaii State Teachers Association is demanding a 22 percent raise over four years and the state is offering 11 percent. An independent fact-finding panel recommended a 19 percent increase, which Democrat Governor Ben Cayetano immediately rejected.

During a 60-day cooling-off period now underway, teachers can authorize their union to strike, but they cannot walk out until the 60 days are up.

Republicans in the state legislature plan to introduce a proposal to create individual school districts in the state, thus eliminating Hawaii’s unique method of negotiating teacher contracts at the state level.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
January 16, 2001


Voter Error, Machine Error, or Fraud?

In December, the Detroit Federation of Teachers announced that Executive Vice President Janna Garrison had been elected president of the union with 53.5 percent of the vote. Challengers Christopher Zavisa (40.7 percent) and Stephen J. Conn (5.8 percent) rounded out the field. But there’s a problem with these results, according to some DFT members.

Members who were cleaning up afterwards claim to have found a voting machine report issued with a “7:36 p.m.” time-stamp on it showing Garrison’s vote to be only 49.4 percent. The report with Garrison’s winning 53.5 percent vote has a “7:34 p.m.” time-stamp on it. DFT bylaws call for a runoff if no candidate wins a majority.

Outgoing DFT President John Elliott claimed the second count contains ineligible ballots and said reports of a disputed vote were “flat-out wrong.” Candidate Zavisa is consulting a lawyer.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
December 11, 2000

Objector’s Union Dues Go to Charity

A teacher in Livonia, Michigan, is giving a portion of his union dues to a charity instead of state and national unions after winning a year-long battle with the Livonia Education Association.

Under the “religious objectors” law, Rawland Storm is able to divert his union dues to charity. Storm told The Detroit News that his religious beliefs do not agree with union positions that support abortion and birth control.

Unions spend portions of their member dues to support political causes. Last year, the National Education Association and Michigan Education Association spent over $4 million combined on lobbying.

Few teachers are aware of the law that allows religious and political objectors to opt out of paying dues that go toward political purposes.
Michigan Education Digest
January 8, 2001


Pastors Push Charter School Plan

A citizens’ group that includes almost 30 St. Louis pastors is proposing a plan that could create eight new charter schools, possibly quadrupling the number of children enrolled in charter schools in the Missouri city.

The schools, which would be non-sectarian, would provide programs aimed at a variety of interests, such as math and science, technology, the arts, and vocational education. The local organizers said they felt an obligation to improve education in the city.

“We’ve got kids in Sunday school in the sixth grade [who] cannot read at the second-grade level,” one of them commented.

ABS School Services, an Arizona-based for-profit company that runs two dozen charter schools nationwide, would operate the St. Louis facilities.
The Friedman Report #11
December 15, 2000

New York

Some More Equal Than Others?

Every union member shares equally in the benefits of collective bargaining–unless that member belongs to the Auburn Teachers Association near Syracuse, New York.

As a last-minute addition to a new, seven-year contract, the union proposed, and the district negotiator accepted, a provision that the $6,500 stipend paid by the union to union President Sally Jo Widmer be included in the calculation of her taxpayer-funded retirement benefits. Widmer has been union president for 20 years, and retirement benefits are paid out based on the average salary of a teacher’s final three years.

The provision was removed after the contract was reviewed by district lawyers.

“I had never seen such a plan in all my years in this business, which includes administering hundreds of contracts,” said one labor relations attorney.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
January 16, 2001

New Yorkers Pan Schools, Praise City

A poll of 1,063 New York residents conducted in December by Quinnipiac University found that only 16 percent of city residents believe the government schools are “excellent” (just 1 percent) or “good” (15 percent). An overwhelming 76 percent thought they were “not so good” (49 percent) or “poor” (27 percent). On the other hand, 77 percent of city dwellers consider the overall quality of life in New York to be excellent or good.

While suburbanites felt better about their schools, only 47 percent rated their schools as good or excellent. Among upstate dwellers, the approval rating rose to 60 percent.
New York Post
December 28, 2000


If It Moves, Regulate It

Since Oregon passed its charter school law in 1999, organizers of 12 schools have won charters and the state Department of Education has awarded federal start-up grants to 16 applicants. But in the words of The Register-Guard of Eugene, the road to charter school independence has been “bumpy,” despite the clear demand for increased parental choice.

For example, the Eugene School District rejected its first charter school applicant, The Village School. After the school’s organizers appealed to the state, the district eventually dropped some of its more dubious requirements–such as the requirement that every officer of a charter school undergo a government check of his or her personal credit history. Recently, however, the Eugene School Board voted to impose new curbs, including a cap on funding for charter schools at the 80 percent minimum required by the state law.

To protect their common interests and share information, the state’s charter school backers are forming a statewide advocacy organization called the League of Oregon Charter Schools. Organizers said they may hire a full-time advocate after they secure their status as a nonprofit corporation.

“We need to set up a way to be heard,” said Cate Lay, financial officer for Pioneer Youth Corps Military Academy, one of three charter schools in Eugene.
The Friedman Report #12
January 15, 2001


Drop in Poverty Concerns Officials

New figures from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that the percentage of Philadelphia school-age children living in poverty fell by about 19 percent over the last three years. Since poverty correlates with poor academic achievement, this should be good news . . . but school officials did not greet the news with smiles.

“It could mean a decrease in federal funds,” Jim Sheffer, chief of federal programs for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“We’re very concerned,” added William Kozlowski, director of the Philadelphia district’s Office of Grants and Fiscal Services. “We’ve already been talking to people about expecting less money. We’ll have less of the national population, and less of the poverty population. We knew all along this could be a problem.”
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
December 4, 2000


Wake Up, Class of 2004!

A majority of Texas students taking the end-of-course state algebra test are flunking it, the Houston Chronicle reported December 4. That serves as a wake-up call for students who in a few years will have to pass similar tests under the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills in order to graduate. Today’s eighth-graders will be the first to face a graduation test in 2004 that will include algebra and geometry.

In Houston Unified School District, only 37 percent passed the current end-of-course exam. In suburban districts, the scores were better, but not glittering. District passing rates ranged from 47 percent to 61 percent.

Some instructional supervisors blamed the low passing rates on a mismatch between coursework and what was tested. The Texas test contains many word problems calling on students to relate computations to “real-life” situations rather than simply being able to do abstract computations, they said.
The Friedman Report #11
December 15, 2000