Saturday, August 12, 2006

Illinois lowers required score on a key exam for teachers

The following story appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
If this is not a solid reason for Education reform, we do not know what is. Our children continue to suffer under the draconian system controlled by the unions and the legislators and boards that pander to their every whine. The understanding of history is crucial so that history does not repeat itself.

Illinois lowers required score on a key exam for teachers
History/social science exam was too tough, officials contend

By Stephanie Banchero
Tribune staff reporter
Published August 11, 2006

The Illinois State Board of Education voted Thursday to lower the passing score on the social science/history test that teachers must pass before receiving their licenses, saying that too many prospective teachers were failing the exam.

The board voted unanimously to drop the bar from 64 to 57, making it significantly easier for teacher candidates to pass. A score of 57 means the test taker answered 57 of 100 questions correctly, state officials said.

Under the old bar, only 56 percent of test takers would have passed the most recent social science/history exam, administered in June. Using the new lower standard, 82 percent will now pass.

The social science/history exam is taken by college students who hope to teach middle school or high school history.

"There were concerns about the test and the fact that the scores have been continually low," said Linda Jamali, who oversees teacher certification for the state board. "We have a process in place where we look at the test itself and ensure that everything is OK, that there is no bias. The group looked at all the evidence and decided to lower the score."

The board also voted to set at 30 the number of questions testees must get correct (out of 100) to pass a newly created special education licensing exam.

The votes come about seven years after state officials launched an aggressive effort to ratchet up requirements for becoming a classroom teacher.

In the late 1990s, Illinois had one of the most lax teacher certification systems in the nation. Prospective teachers had to graduate from an accredited teaching program and pass relatively simple basic skills and subject matter tests to get a license. They could renew it simply by paying an annual $4 fee.

But the previous board of education and state lawmakers began cranking up the demands. In 2000, the board scrapped the much-maligned 8th-grade-level basic skills test, replacing it with a college-sophomore-level licensing exam.

Now, prospective Illinois teachers must pass three tests before they can obtain a license. College students who want to enroll in an Illinois teacher college must pass the basic skills test first. They must then pass a specific subject matter test before they can work as a student teacher.

Finally, the state board has added a third exam, which measures knowledge of teaching methods.

Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business RoundTable, said the Thursday votes by the state board roll back the progress Illinois has made. "We are backsliding," said Mays, whose group has been active in teacher reform and student testing efforts. "Every survey you see, in terms of impacting kids' learning, the teacher is the most important factor. We should not be lowering the scores. We should be bumping them up and then putting the resources behind making sure folks can meet the higher standard."

State officials said the history test has long been one of the most troublesome for prospective teachers. "We've had a lot of calls on this and letters from people who simply cannot pass it," said Lori Gibler, a principal consultant with the state board.

Board member Ed Geppert, the former chief of staff for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the test is difficult for potential teachers because it's "extremely broad" and covers a range of subjects. "I think it would be very difficult to prepare someone academically for this exam," he said.

But board member David Fields suggested that the state's colleges of education might bear some of the fault. He suggested that colleges of education should be held to the same standard that elementary and high schools are held to under federal No Child Left Behind reforms.

"I would think that they would want to see a higher percentage of their students passing," he said.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Monkey business afoot in D-300 - Monkey Business afoot at the Northwest Herald

The following piece appeared in the Northwest Herald. Allison Smith's bias continues to be all too apparent in her reporting. What a deal D - 300 has a public relations person working for the local paper without having to pay her one dime. Equally disgusting is that D - 300 and Crates think that depriving hard earned dollars from D -300 residents based on half-truths, shoddy accounting and extremely poor projections to pass the referenda is something to joke about.

Monkey business afoot in D-300

[published on Fri, Aug 11, 2006]
CARPENTERSVILLE – The first monkey memento appeared in Cheryl Crates' office a month after the School District 300 referendums passed this spring.

Someone had nailed above her computer a framed pair of drawings of Curious George, who poured dark liquid into a funnel, then keeled over as if dead. Below the drawings was a playful message typed by a prankster.

The picture was the first of several monkey items to appear unexpectedly in her Carpentersville office. The insiders' joke had grown legs – long, hairy ones.

To view the rest of this piece of useless reporting go to the Northwest Herald.

To view exceptional reporting by a journalist on education issues visit Scott Reeder's website with his series that appeared in the Small Newspaper Group newspapers.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Two retired school officials take over D-36 superintendent duties

The article below appeared in the Northwest Herald.

Mr. Dodds retired in 2004. In his first year of retirement his pension was at least $116,036.62. This amount is paid annually. After five years this amount will increase 3% per year. By his ninth year of retirement he will have collected over 1 million dollars in primarily taxpayer funded dollars. While collecting this retirement of $116,036.62 in retirement he is allowed to continue to work without a decrease in this pension. District 36 is paying him 400 dollars a day, it is also likely that his old District 15 is paying his medical insurance until he reaches medicare age. Likewise Ms. Fleshman is earning $75,992.25 in retirement while collecting 400 dollars a day from District 36. The TRS system as it is set up allows able-bodied people to retire at 55 with full pensions many well over 100,000 dollars a year and still allows them to work part-time. Illinois taxpayers could be saved millions of dollars annually if teachers retired at 65 like social security recipients. We would also save millions of dollars annually if teachers and administrators were not allowed to work and also collect a full pension.

Two retired school officials take over D-36 superintendent duties
Publication Northwest Herald

WONDER LAKE - Two retired administrators are leading Harrison Elementary School District 36, which paid former Superintendent Charles Barber $60,000 last month as part of a resignation agreement.

JoAnne Fleshman, Barber's predecessor, and William Dodds, who retired as McHenry District 15's superintendent in 2004, began sharing superintendent responsibilities July 5, with only one working each day, board President Linda Amettis said.

The district is paying them a $400 daily stipend, or a combined $96,000 for the academic year, Amettis said. State law allows a retired administrator to work up to 120 days a year; the district does not provide medical benefits.

That cost is less than the $113,667.79, including retirement contributions, that the district paid Barber last year. Barber, who completed the second year of a five-year contract, offered his letter of resignation and signed the deal May 23. He worked through June 30.

Under the agreement, the district provided a recommendation letter that characterizes Barber as a "people person" who improved the district's deficit budget, facility needs, and staff concerns.

"I think it just wasn't a good fit," school board Vice President Karen Parks said. "Hopefully, there's no hard feelings on either side."

Amettis added that Barber's personal life changed recently but declined to offer further details.

Attempts to reach Barber for comment this week were not successful. He said in his resignation letter that he was proud of the district's progress over the past two years, but "I feel the need to serve education in another role for the rest of my career."

A longtime district resident, Bob Anderson, said he was disappointed to see that the district had paid Barber such a large sum.

"I'm very disappointed that the board would give him $60,000 to get rid of him," said Anderson, who drove a district school bus for 35 years.

"But I'm not shocked," Anderson said. "I'm sure the taxpayers won't be happy to see that."

Meanwhile, Fleshman and her husband, John, a retired principal, are conducting the search for a permanent replacement. The board will review applications and conduct several interviews after the Fleshmans advertise the position and create a list of qualifications with public input.

The couple, who conducted a similar search for Grass Lake School District 36 in Antiochin 2004-05, are donating the time for the search. The district will reimburse their travel and phone expenses.

"We [will] facilitate by talking with different groups of people," JoAnne Fleshman said. "We're going to set up a meeting with the community and teachers where we talk about the different roles and characteristics."


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gas tax approved

The following article appeared in the Northwest Herald. Bravo to the three Aldermen who did not raise the gas tax. Shame on those who did vote for the tax increase. Remember Harvard you will have another tax increase to face in November or next spring. District 50 will push hard to pass the referendum. This one you will get a chance to vote on. The more times a referendum is pushed on the public the more likely it is to pass. This is why you must get to the polls and vote no when and if the school referendum is on the ballot.

One last question. Will nepotism play a part in the hiring of the new position now created because of this tax increase?

Gas tax approved

[published on Wed, Aug 9, 2006]

HARVARD – "Boos" rang out from the audience Tuesday when the Harvard City Council passed a 5 percent natural-gas tax in a 5-3 vote.

"We're very, very disappointed," said Ruth McCarthy, representing a group of about 20 older Harvard residents who spoke against the tax at the City Council meeting. "I think if they would have even gone down to 1 percent or 2 percent, we could have lived with that, but to throw in that 5 percent is terrible."

The tax will increase Harvard residents' natural-gas bills by 5 percent beginning in two to three months, Harvard Mayor Jay Nolan said after Tuesday's City Council meeting.

He said the city would not receive any of the tax's expected annual revenues of $177,600 for four or five months.

Money from the tax will be used to hire a code enforcement officer, pay for more police gang enforcement, buy a piece of land adjoining Milky Way Park, and pay for tree planting and city beautification.

Aldermen Brian Leyden, Phil Ulmer and Joel Berg voted against the tax. Berg said he cast his "no" vote "with great reluctance," saying that the community likely would be "worse off" without the tax.

But he put aside his own opinion to represent the strong opposition of many of his constituents.
"I haven't gotten this many phone calls in the six years I've been on the City Council for any single issue," Berg said.

Alderman Tom Hay voted for the tax, which he said was the only way the city could raise money to pay for things that residents complained about, such as code enforcement.

"If we had gotten home rule ... we wouldn't be imposing a gas tax because under home rule, there would have been numerous other ways in which we could have generated the revenue," Hay said.

Harvard residents had voted against home rule in March with 286 in favor and 798 against.

P.S. Check out the article on Cal Skinner's Blog.

D -158 did the right thing and appointed a fiscally responsible candidate for the vacant school board position.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Wondering about those Dist. 128 fees - Don't pay your fees.

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Daily Herald.

Letters to the Editor
Wondering about those Dist. 128 fees
I’m curious to know if you Libertyville District 128 parents believe we shouldn’t be paying the yearly fees and extra charges the schools are charging us. This year, I wrote two checks for $160 for both of my high school kids totaling a whopping $320.

We were also charged for fees we did not pay during the school year. They included keyboarding ($100 per child), Spanish ($25 per child), and miscellaneous classes were an additional $30 charge.

Article 10 of the Illinois Constitution states that the public schools are free. The law states that public schools’ budgets are supposed to come from our taxes. So what happened here?

I don’t know about you, but I look at my tax bill, scratch my head and think, aren’t we paying enough in taxes? Since when does the school, which is part of the government, not have to obey laws? Where is that money that we’re sending in going anyway?

I’d be interested in your feedback. Please e-mail me at

Sandy Kamen Wisniewski

Jim's don't pay fees Letter to the Editor.

August is here. According to the school districts it is time to pay those school fees, I say do not pay. The school districts are hoping you forget that you have already paid for your child's schooling with huge property taxes and they are also hoping you forget you have another huge property tax bill due in September.

School districts routinely punish voters who turn down their demands for more money by forcing them to pay fees. Some like Fox River Grove have the gall to charge you fees even though they passed referenda. To impose fees is not only disgraceful, but flatly unconstitutional.

Lets have a look at Article X of the Illinois Constitution ( Pay attention, school
boards. Right there in black and white "Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free." Not "free if you're poor", just plain, honest-to-goodness "free". What part of "free" do school boards not understand? Amazingly, school-wide registration fees at public schools are common.

Since our schools have no respect for the rule of law, perhaps its time for parents to drive the issue home. Across the state,
parents should simply refuse to pay any fees not used for their children's extracurricular activities. Tear up your checks in
front of them for dramatic effect. If questioned, simply indicate that you're complying with the terms of the Illinois Constitution. The ISBE has already made it clear that schools cannot punish parents who do not pay. (Ask District 36 Superintendent Charles Barber if you have any doubts)

A failed referendum means "Don't take any more of our money". It doesn't mean "Please find devious, unconstitutional ways to take the same money we denied you in the referendum and it does not mean cut programs either." This practice must stop.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Parents at Neubert decry class sizes in District 300

The below article appeared in the Northwest Herald. We told the voters of District 300 they were lying to the voters and many did not listen. We told you this was for the teachers and the administrators and not the kids. Again, yes voters did not listen. We unlike you are not surprised. Maybe if the teachers were teaching a full day of classes instead of having 1 - 4 free periods including lunch free, class sizes could be smaller. Darlene Warner states that teacher quality does matter and they have fine teachers. Yet another worthless statement. Tenure prevents schools from getting rid of poor teachers. Each year a school can not go out and hire the best and the brightest because of tenure. Also the legislation that unions have lobbied for limits public schools from hiring the best possible teachers for students. Good teachers would not have used their students as political pawns last spring and pressured them into pressuring their parents into supporting this money pit of a referendum.

Parents at Neubert decry class sizes in District 300

[published on Mon, Aug 7, 2006]
ALGONQUIN – When Karen Kucharski voted for the District 300 tax-rate increase this spring, she thought her elementary-school daughter would be guaranteed smaller classes – or at least no bigger than those from last year.

Kucharski was frustrated to learn that Neubert Elementary School will have one fewer section of first grade this fall.

Her daughter Victoria's class could be as big as 29 students, which is as many as four students more than Neubert's first-grade classes last year.

"I'm being raked over the coals in taxes, and yet it's not even helping class sizes," she said.

Fellow Algonquin mom Maritza Witte, whose daughter, Sarah, also will begin first grade at Neubert this fall, shared the concern.

"I love the teachers, but I'm pretty disappointed," Witte said. "I wouldn't vote for another referendum. I feel somewhat misled."

But John Light, District 300 human resources director, said the district had kept its pledge.

He said that 97 new teachers had been hired this summer with referendum proceeds, which was five more teachers than expected.

"The commitment we made was to keep class sizes at [defined] levels in return for voter support," he said. "But the growth was even more than anyone expected. The class sizes got to the trigger point for adding even more sections."

Several classes have been added at many schools, including two in Neubert's upper grades. The result is an average class size at each school that is down to the average of the 2002-03 school year, Light said.

Part of the misunderstanding might be that some parents thought that the average class size the district promised from the tax increase would be the cap, or maximum number of students per class.

According to the Community Finance Committee report, which the school board followed in seeking the tax increase this spring, "The staffing ratio is an average that is constant; the class size may vary widely." The report was posted before the referendum and remains online at

Officials said the district had fielded "very few" calls from parents upset about class sizes as they registered their children for fall classes. But for those families, there's just one class that matters.

"I only care about the numbers that affect me and my child," Kucharski said. "I feel that first grade is one of the most important years of your education."

Darlene Warner, Neubert principal, said she cut one first-grade section this year to match the number of kindergarten classes last year.

"It's very noteworthy to remember that class size is one variable in the success of a child," she said. "The quality of teachers is important, and we have great teachers."

Cheryl Crates, finance chief, said the district closely followed the Community Finance Committee's year of intensive research on class sizes. The panel advised a cap of 28 students for kindergarten, 30 in first and second grades, and 32 in third to fifth grades, she said.

Principals contact district headquarters daily to monitor classes that are nearing the caps. Crates said District 300 was trying to begin this fall with no more than 29 students in first- through fifth-grade classes, allowing a bit of room for growth during the year.

To view the rest of the article go to Northwest Herald.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Learn in Freedom

We just ran across a website that some of you may be interested in reading called
Learn in Freedom. The below quote was obtained from that site.

Together we have come to realize that for most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school.
Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society (1971) (In saying "we," Illich is referring to his fellow teacher, Everett Reimer, author of School Is Dead (1974).)

To view more quotes and learn more information about the site go to Learn in