State Legislative Roundup

Published October 1, 2001


Break-Up Movement Threatens L.A. Unified

A “break-up” movement in Los Angeles has the potential to completely dismantle the status quo in large urban school districts nationwide.

Attention currently is focused on the efforts of San Fernando to secede from Los Angeles Unified School District and form two districts, both of which would still be huge. But further along in the break-up process is the small community of Carson, with about 21,000 students–a drop in the bucket of LAUSD’s 740,000 students.*

What makes Carson special is that its population is 84 percent minority and its schools are middle-of-the-pack in quality. Nevertheless, residents feel the massive district bureaucracy is unresponsive to their needs. Their breakaway vote will occur this November. One prominent opponent of the break-up: the United Teachers Los Angeles.

“If Carson is successful, people like [UTLA President Day] Higuchi fear that Los Angeles Unified could splinter like a glacier rending itself into icebergs,” writes New Times Los Angeles reporter Michael Gougis in an article on the secession movement called “Bye Bye L.A. Mummified!” (See
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
August 6, 2001

* An audit by State Controller Kathleen Connell found LAUSD administrators routinely inflated student attendance figures for the last four years. Connell claims the district owes the state $120 million for student funds it didn’t deserve.


Schools Barred from Recommending Psychiatric Drugs

Responding to growing complaints and concerns, the Connecticut legislature in July unanimously approved a bill to prohibit teachers, counselors, and other school officials from recommending psychiatric drugs to children. Governor John Rowland has signed the bill into law.

Psychiatric drug use is on the rise in the United States. According to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, as many as 6 percent of all students in some elementary and middle schools take Ritalin or other psychiatric drugs.

Last year in the U.S., almost 20 million prescriptions were written for Ritalin, Adderall, and other stimulants used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, according to IMS Health, a health care information company. This represents a 35 percent increase over 1996, with most of the prescriptions written for boys under 12 years of age.

However, a 1999 study estimated a much higher figure than the DEA estimate, with Ritalin usage alone estimated to be 15 percent of all American children, and even higher percentages in affluent communities. A preliminary report by the Express Scripts corporation reveals more than one-third (37.5 percent) of Utah children aged 5-14 years are participating in ADHD drug therapy, with Utah leading the nation in adult anti-depressant use.
The Sutherland Report
August 8, 2001



Tough Standards Adopted

More than half of Delaware’s public schools could be in the lowest category allowed and would need to show significant improvements in order to meet standards in the next two years, under a new set of performance standards the State Board of Education adopted in July.

The rating system adopted by the board was based on a proposal from state Education Secretary Valerie A. Woodruff, developed with input from parents, teachers, school administrators, and representatives from the business community.

The framework of the rating system was established by legislation passed by the General Assembly. It requires scores from the Delaware Student Testing Program to be considered in three areas:

  • absolute scores;
  • overall improvement in scores in the current two years compared to the previous two years; and
  • improvement in scores for students who did not meet the standards in previous years.

In finalizing the rating system for absolute scores, the board took Woodruff’s advice and adopted a system with a sliding scale of improvement requirements. Schools with low scores would be required to improve by a larger number of points than schools with high scores. Woodruff explained this was to avoid penalizing very high-scoring schools for not going even higher the next year, as had occurred when Kentucky established its school accountability program.
July 19, 2001


Punishments and Rewards in Accountability Plan

Under a draft plan from the state’s Assessment and Accountability Commission, Idaho public school principals and teachers could get bonuses and their schools could get extra funding if their students showed continued improvement. On the other hand, if their students failed repeatedly, principals could lose their jobs and teachers lose their licenses to teach.

“What we want to say to school districts that work is that, ‘You know what, we’re going to reward you,'” said Idaho State Board of Education Chairman Karen McGee, who presented the plan to educators on August 8 in Nampa.

The plan calls for paying performance bonuses to teachers and principals based on student achievement. Schools that improved also would get more funds and greater discretion over spending.

But if schools didn’t meet expectations, “We may need to bring in some intervention,” warned McGee. Initially, this would include increased budgetary oversight and prescribed professional development for teachers and principals. Continued failure could lead to loss of accreditation of the affected schools, firing of the principals, and revocation of teaching licenses.
The Idaho Statesman
August 9, 2001



Teachers Study “Real World” at Racetrack

In 1999, a new law required Illinois teachers to accrue professional development credits in order to renew their teaching certificates. In August, Chicago Tribune reporter Stephanie Banchero found that 45 teachers from the Chicago region received professional development credit for a day at the racetrack. It was part of a two-day course called “Probabilities in Gaming” in which teachers learned about betting odds and how to pick a horse.

“This is math in the real world,” explained David Spangler, the adjunct professor who teaches the course. “We want to give these teachers a way to integrate probability in a meaningful way into their curricula.”

A professional development workshop sponsored by the Illinois Education Association offered certification credit for Tai Chi and personal massage. Special education teacher Elizabeth Read explained her students needed to learn to reduce their anxiety, and the classes might help.

Despite the instructors’ interpretations of the benefits of gambling, mysticism, and back rubs in the elementary school curriculum, a lot of people are upset.

“It’s a shame and a huge disappointment,” said Carolyn Nordstrom of Chicago United, a business group involved in negotiating the recertification program. “We expended all this energy and time to meet the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law. Many people, teachers included, are viewing the end result as a joke.”
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
August 13, 2001


Vigilant Students and Cameras Best for School Security

Costly security systems are not making schools much safer, according to a recent study from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Researchers surveyed the effectiveness of security equipment used by 41 school districts in 15 states.

The study was conducted last year by Crystal Garcia, an assistant professor in IUPUI’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, after many districts responded to a series of school shootings by installing security systems such as metal detectors, cameras, PIN codes, and scanner cards.

Though 22 of the districts in the study used metal detectors, fewer than half said they were effective in reducing crime. Only one-third of the school districts that used entry-control devices–scanners, PIN codes, and turnstiles–reported they were effective.

But two-thirds of the districts using cameras and recording devices said they were effective in reducing overall crime in schools, and even more effective in reducing property crimes and disruptive behavior. Cameras cost up to $4,000 each and a recording system costs about $8,000.

Because most weapons are found through information from other students, not metal detectors, students are the best weapons detectors, says Indianapolis Public Schools Police Lt. Jim Stepancik.
The Indianapolis Star
August 6, 2001



General Teacher Shortage Questioned

A large part of the argument for higher teacher salaries in Kansas has rested on the number of vacant teaching positions as the fall semester gets underway. However, the Kansas Public Policy Institute points out:

  • The number of vacant positions this year is smaller than last year;
  • The vacancies are confined to just two out of five (41 percent) of the state’s school districts;
  • Nearly half of all vacancies are for special education teachers with unique skills–a problem unlikely to be solved by a general teacher salary increase.
  • As the school year progresses, vacancies usually drop to less than 1 percent of the state’s total teaching positions.

As of August 1, a Kansas State Department of Education survey reported a teacher shortage of approximately 492 positions statewide in public schools. A year earlier, KSDE had reported 530 teacher vacancies, a number that dropped to 280 unfilled positions as the year progressed. From 1996 through 2000, the number of statewide teacher vacancies settled down each year to a range of 111 to 196.

Full-time equivalent teaching jobs in Kansas during 2000-01 totaled 35,468, a number that has risen from 32,723 just since the 1998-99 school year even as the total number of students has declined. Thus, vacancies last year began at 1.5 percent of total positions and finished at less than 1 percent of the total.
Kansas Public Policy Institute Free-State Weekly
August 16, 2001



School Rating Plan Killed

Saying the system relied too much on state test scores, Michigan’s new Superintendent of Schools, Thomas D. Watkins, has scrapped an accreditation plan for the state’s public schools. The State Department of Education had developed the plan over the past four years.

While educators applauded the decision, GOP Governor John Engler was reported to be disappointed that the performance-based ratings had not been released.

“It’s not fair to the parents . . . that want to get information on the quality of education in a particular school,” said Susan Shafer, a spokesperson for the governor. While the governor and a business leaders’ group supported the plan, public school officials and the state’s largest teacher union vehemently opposed it.

Earlier this year, the Detroit News had estimated that one in six, or 17 percent, of the state’s 660 high schools would be classed as “not accredited” under the proposed new system. In the Detroit area, the figure would soar to 40 percent. The “not accredited” label would be earned by a school with:

  • fewer than 80 percent of students taking the required tests; or
  • fewer than 25 percent of test-takers passing any one of the tests.

If fewer than 25 percent of test-takers passed two or more tests, the school would have been classed “unaccredited.”
Education Week
July 11, 2001



1,000 Teachers Quit Union

The Clark County Education Association in Nevada, at 10,000 members one of the largest local affiliates of NEA, lost about 1,000 members during the union’s one-month “drop” period.

“In normal times, the number would be extraordinary,” CCEA Executive Director John Jasonek told the Las Vegas Sun. “But these are not normal times.”

The union is claiming the membership loss is due to teachers leaving Las Vegas because of poor salaries and working conditions. But the district believes the teachers didn’t quit . . . they just left the union. “My sense is that most of these teachers are still with the district,” said George Ann Rice, assistant superintendent for human resources.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
July 23, 2001



No Refund of Illegally Collected Fees

Based on a consensus of state and local school officials, there will be no refund of the school fees North Dakota school districts illegally collected from parents for at least the last 10 years.

In a decision dated August 10, state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem ruled schools are barred from charging all students any across-the-board fees because North Dakota’s constitution guarantees a free public education. The legality of the fees was questioned by a Fargo district parent this summer. However, the issue of reimbursement was not raised.

“I can only answer questions put to me,” Stenehjem told The Fargo Forum, saying the Department of Public Instruction was “the arbiter of these fees.” A DPI spokesperson said the department’s current position was that past years’ fees did not need to be refunded, but some parents don’t like that.

“I’d like to see a refund just on principle alone,” said Fargo parent Brenda Dissette. “If the roles were reversed and I had taken it illegally, I’d have to reimburse.”

According to Stenehjem, the only fees that are legal are book deposits and fees for classes or activities where the student has the option not to take part, such as sports participation, materials for an industrial arts class, and a parking permit.
The Fargo Forum
August 16, 2001



Gov: Not Educating a Child Is “Child Abuse”

Reacting angrily to news of a drop of three-tenths of a point in this year’s average ACT scores for Oklahoma high school students–the most significant decline in more than 10 years–Governor Frank Keating charged, “It is child abuse not to have a well-educated child.” He said it was “utterly scandalous” to spend “all this money” and end up with a child that was “stunted for life,” unable to read or do math at grade level.

“What in the world has been done to them?” he asked at a press conference on August 15 in the state Capitol. “We have accepted a culture of mediocrity in academics, though we’d never tolerate a culture of mediocrity in athletics,” he added.

To address the poor performance of students, Keating proposed more after-school tutoring and summer school for students who fall behind, plus a requirement for four years of math, English, science, and social studies for high school graduation. He also asked for merit pay and bonus pay for schools and teachers.

“We are spending a lot of money on public education and in many cases we are not getting the results we deserve,” said the GOP governor.
The Oklahoman
August 16, 2001



Should Students Come to College Ready to Learn?

Under an idea floated by the Tennessee Board of Regents in July, remedial and developmental instruction programs would be removed from the state’s six Regents four-year universities and placed in the state’s 13 community two-year colleges.

The idea, which is to be discussed further in the fall, would save money in a time of tight budgets, according to Regent Board vice-chairman Jack Fishman, since the state pays universities $5,587 per full-time student while community colleges get $4,153 for each full-time equivalent.

According to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, 49.4 percent of all first-time freshmen at Tennessee state schools took one or more remedial or developmental course last fall. Those figures included community colleges, where 72.1 percent of first-time freshmen needed the catch-up courses, and state universities, where 32.9 percent needed them.

For freshmen aged 18 or younger, statewide figures were 36.2 percent, which included 52.1 percent at the two-year colleges and 28.4 percent at the universities. From time to time, state legislators propose making high schools pay colleges for every graduate who needs to take the catch-up courses.

At 63.7 percent, Tennessee State University had the highest proportion of first-time freshmen taking at least one remedial or developmental course last fall. At Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, the figure was more than 46 percent last fall.

“We could lose half our freshman class,” said Austin Peay’s developmental studies director, Meredith Gildrie.
The Tennessean
July 23, 2001