Saturday, August 19, 2006

llinois not identifying weak teachers well enough: feds

The following article appeared in the Chicago Sun Times. We have a problem in Illinois with teachers who are not highly qualified to teach. School districts and unions insist we must pay more to get qualified teachers. This is absurd, because tenure and the unions refuse to let go of under-qualified teachers to hire more qualified teachers.

Anyone doubt this is happening? Crain's Chicago Business reported that "city schools this year got 18,000 résumés for 1,500 positions - a 12:1 ratio that any employer
would covet". Schools could hire more qualified teachers but unions
prefer protecting union members to serving the very children they are pledged to educate. The city of Chicago employed 25,501 in 2005, only 31.7% of students met or exceeded state goals. 41.7% of students met or exceeded state goals in reading. A humiliating 27.5% of students met or exceeded state goals in math. These teachers and the district are clearly failing to educate these children. There is no doubt that weeding out poor teachers and hiring new teachers from the pool of 18,000 resumes received could improve student performance. Heck even the threat teachers losing their jobs if they do not educate our children would improve performance. But Chicago teachers once tenured are nearly impossible to remove from the district. They have no motivation to improve their performance because their job and pay increases have nothing to do with how they perform in the classroom.

Will legislators change this so school boards can hire the most qualified teachers to teach our children? No way! They receive too much money from the unions, they are more interested in retaining their office and pandering to the unions. For more information on how unions influence legislators we direct you to Scott Reeder's Teacher unions' clout keeps tenure strong.

Illinois not identifying weak teachers well enough: feds
August 17, 2006
BY KATE N. GROSSMAN Education Reporter

Most states, including Illinois, don't do a good job of highlighting concentrations of the weakest teachers in the neediest schools and aren't doing enough to direct highly qualified teachers to those schools, federal education officials said Wednesday.

Each state gave the feds plans for ensuring a "highly qualified teacher" for every student by next June and, for the first time, "teacher equity plans" to ensure that poor and minority students don't get an unfair share of unqualified and inexperienced teachers.

These are elements of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law.

Federal officials said most states put forth a good faith effort but "the message we want to send to states is that the work is not done," said Rene Islas, chief of staff in the office of elementary and secondary education.

Just nine states produced good data and plans. Four missed the boat completely. Another 39 partly met federal requirements, including Illinois. All but nine must resubmit plans by Sept. 29 or face intense scrutiny, and, eventually, potential loss of federal funds. Plans were reviewed by 31 experts.

The feds cited Illinois for failing to document courses not taught by qualified teachers. Illinois also failed to identify schools with significant numbers of teachers who were not highly qualified, except in Chicago.

High marks for data system

Illinois also failed to specify when its professional development programs helped teachers in general versus helping teachers who lack the credentials to rank as highly qualified, the evaluators said.

But the feds noted a new data collection system in the works that will remedy many of these problems. It also said Illinois' plans to help direct highly qualified teachers to needy schools had "sufficient input and research involved to expect some success."

Elements include a "Grow Your Own Teacher" program, which supports residents and parents in becoming teachers in hard-to-staff schools and an "Administrator's Academy" targeted for high-poverty, low-performing schools.

"We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Education has recognized the work we have done so far to accomplish this mandate, and we look forward to working with them as we move closer to achieving the goal of a highly qualified teacher in every classroom," Illinois Board of Education Assistant Supt. Ginger Reynolds said in a statement.

The Education Trust, a Washington-based advocacy group, said most state plans fell short. It chastised the Education Department for failing to gives enough guidance.

"This is a move in the right direction," said Heather Peske, an Education Trust expert on teacher quality. "The department has been way too lax on the teacher-quality front for the last four years. Our hope is that they use this opportunity to take teacher quality seriously. The educational future of poor and minority students depends on it."

Friday, August 18, 2006

School tax increase again going to voters

The article below describes how the school district is going to the taxpayers yet again for a tax increase. Like a spoiled brat these board members just do not understand the word "NO". 70% of the voters said no to a tax increase in March. In essence, taxpayers told the board "You have enough of our money, now balance the budget!". Note that they have not had a tax rate increase in 39 years. That does not mean that tax dollars to the school district have not increased every year. The district has received more funding every year. The problem is their spending out paces their revenue.

Fiscally responsible pay increases would have avoided the budget shortfall. But the board has continually approved contracts that far outpace the CPI. This is an important distinction that must be considered before supporting a referendum. The tax rates are such that growth, appreciation and CPI increases account for increased tax dollars to the school without increasing the tax rate. Schools receive an increase in tax dollars every year without increases in tax rates. School districts are counting on their failure to properly educate people in the difference between the two so voters will blindly support their referenda.

The following article appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

School tax increase again going to voters

Janice Neumann
Published August 18, 2006

OAK LAWN -- Undeterred by the defeat of their last effort to pass a tax increase, Community High School District 229 officials have decided to resubmit the measure to voters on the November ballot.

The board voted unanimously Wednesday night to ask voters for a 22-cent increase in the education tax fund rate. The hike, which would take effect in the 2006 tax levy and affect taxpayers in 2007, would add about $102 per year to the tax bill on a $200,000 home, according to projections.

With a $2.1 million deficit looming this year, the $2.3 million the increase would add is sorely needed, Assistant Supt. Rick Hendricks said.

"It's been 39 years since the taxpayers approved a tax rate increase in the education fund," Hendricks said. "We understand it's a lot of money, but at the same time, we're trying to do our best to get enough money to cover our deficit."

Nearly 70 percent of district voters turned down a similar referendum question in March, but Hendricks said that doesn't change the need for the funding. The district has kept down costs in all its departments and doubled student registration fees to $300 and technology fees to $75, he said.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Boards should be educated in self-restraint over perks

The following article appeared in the Northwest Herald. Mr. Lyons column speaks for itself, bravo Mr. Lyons.

Kevin Lyons
Boards should be educated in self-restraint over perks

[published on Thu, Aug 17, 2006]
One of the most interesting stories to me in Wednesday's Northwest Herald was Tom Musick's piece about Huntley School District 158's Human Resources Committee, which is taking a look at administrative perks.

They're taking a look into lots of things over there, including a forensic audit, payroll mismanagement, and who hid the chalk, but I'm glad that they also are taking a look at the administrative perks.

Administrators' salaries and benefits are things taxpayers do and should care about. They often are incorrectly blamed for all the ills in education funding because they're easy targets.

The committee recommended cutting vacation days from 20 to 15 for new administrative hires. That's a start. They already get 14 paid holidays and 14 sick days on top of the vacation days.

It took me about 10 years in the private sector to get 20 vacation days. I don't know how many sick days I get, because, knock on wood, it hasn't been an issue. I know from my pay stubs that I have several hundred hours of accumulated sick time that I can enjoy in the afterlife because, unlike a school administrator and like most of the rest of the world, I can't take them with me.

New Superintendent John Burkey didn't squawk too loud and likely is shrewd enough to pick his battles, but he did caution the committee not to cut such perks too deeply so that the district can remain competitive when recruiting new administrators.

"Whether it's right or whether it's wrong, we will be on the low end with 15 days," Burkey said.

Burkey's assessment is on the money. Some districts fork over 25 days with no questions asked.

How many regular people get offered 25 vacation days during a job interview?

You have the right to know what's going on with the tax dollars you've already forked over, and especially when school officials ask you to dig deeper. You have the right to expect the school board members you've elected to be good stewards of your tax dollars and not fret over whether some mid-level school administrator might not take up any desk space if he can't take that cruise in the South Pacific in year one on your dime.

In the private sector, 20 days of vacation isn't an unreasonable offer for a well-experienced high-level manager, as a negotiating point. But in District 158, it's a standing offer to any kid who just walked out of grad school.

So while I'm glad that members of this committee are examining this issue, don't you wonder why school board members across Illinois have allowed this environment where you have to give away the store to entice people to take well-paying jobs that already come with 14 or more paid holidays?

There is no alternative answer other than that if school board members weren't offering lavish job perks across the state, such perks wouldn't make this a competitive issue when looking for new candidates. So knock it off. Use a little self-restraint.

– Kevin Lyons is the news editor for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at (815) 459-4122 or via e-mail at


The following piece is brought to you by Kevin Killion of the


WOW -- Look at what a good PR effort can produce! Here's how the this year's release of ACT scores was headlines this morning:

Tribune: "Illinois ACT Scores Up Across Board"

Sun-Times: "City, State ACT Scores jump, Still Lag"

Daily Herald: "A Tough ACT to Follow / Test Scores Rise Across State ..."

Where the "good" news came from

Yesterday, the ISBE, our state's education bureaucracy, sent out a carefully worded press release selecting specific numbers from the ACT results, which they got to see in advance of the official release. As all good bureaucrats do, the news was spun to highlight the best stories possible.

Here are the key "good" stories that the ISBE managed to extricate from the ACT:

-- Illinois' "composite" score was higher than the previous year,
going from 20.3 to 20.5

-- Illinois' Reading score is 20.6 (which is up from 20.3 the previous year)

Now, the REAL story

But today the results are available to everyone, and the story about Illinois is less impressive than those headlines suggest.

It turns out that the ACT scores are up nationally, not just in Illinois.

The new composite ACT score is 21.1, up from 20.9, an "increase" of 0.2. So, Illinois' "increase" by the same 0.2 (from 20.3 to 20.5) turns out to be merely keeping pace with the national score!

So, can Illinois at least claim that it's improving along with the rest of the nation?

Well, we'd like to think that the whole country is improving. But we have to wonder: has the country improved, or has the test gotten a little easier? A rising tide raises all boats. If you see boats going up, that tells you more about the tide than about boats.

So, I looked at results for the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. It turns out that 45 -- 45!-- of them had ACT composite scores that were either improved (37) or unchanged (8). Only 6 states had drops!

Wow -- that means that just about EVERY state had a headline to crow about!
What about specific tests?

Illinois educrats will (no doubt) be cheering about results in each of the areas of the ACT. Illinois scores are up in English, Math and Reading. Only in Science were results flat.

But again, this "rising tide" MUST be compared to the national changes:

Composite English Math Reading Science
National +0.2 +0.2 +0.1 +0.1 0
Illinois +0.2 +0.3 +0.1 +0.3 0

The modest Illinois "math" improvement turns out to be the same as the national change.

Ah, but what about those English and Reading scores, that ARE better than the national changes?

For that, we really need to look at longer trends.

In Reading, the Illinois "improvement" this year (+0.3) is largely a recovery from a drop (-0.2) the year before. The English score is a more consistent increase. Here's the trend:

--Reading-- --English--
Rpt year Ill Natl Ill Natl
2002 20.3 21.1 19.4 20.2
2003 20.4 21.2 19.6 20.3
2004 20.5 21.3 19.7 20.4
2005 20.3 21.3 19.9 20.4
2006 20.6 21.4 20.2 20.6

So, the trends ARE up, and Illinois is at its best score in the five-year series. But once again, notice the "tide" effect: the national scores are up as well.

Finding Good News

The ACT results are a playground for eager public relations people looking for "good" news to crow about. With four subject areas plus a composite score, and then a "rising tide" of scores nationally in the ACT, wow, just about ANY STATE can find something good to announce!

I explored this a little further ...

As reported early only 6 states had declines in their composite scores, so everyone else gets to announce "Overall gains" or at least "Keeping pace".

When we break it out by subject, the spinnable good news (largely thanks the to national score increases). We find:

States that get to announce
Subject "improvements" or "keeping pace"
--------- --------------------------------
Composite 45
English 43
Math 46
Reading 44
Science 41

In another way of looking at the data, I found that 44 states would be able to announce "increases" in one or more of the test results! Only TWO states (Alaska and Rhode Island) were unable to announce even a "keeping pace" in one of the results.

Finding the Pony in the Bad News: The Woebegone Effect

A good PR effort doesn't stop even when it's hard to find the good news.

I wondered about that in looking at the results for our neighbors in Indiana. Poor Indiana! Down in English (despite national increases), flat in Reading and in the Composite (despite national increases), and math and science track at the national rate. Yikes, what can the Hoosier educrats crow about?

Well, I searched, and found that Indianapolis did indeed pull a rabbit from an empty-looking hat:

"Indiana ACT Scores Top National Average for 16th Year"
(See their whole PR release at

Yup, when all else fails, shout, "We're better than average!"

So, who IS better than average in the ACT? I found that Lake Woebegone is thriving at the ACT! We have 32 states that have composites better than the national average. Moreover, 36 states get to claim they are at the national average or better in Reading!


I have included all of the details behind these conclusions on an Excel workbook that is available for download on the Illinois Loop website:

Kevin Killion

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Private students have public options - They can officially take part in Geneva schools’ activities

The following story appeared in the Daily Herald. Gee how nice of the "public" (government) school to let district children use the school facilities. Parents who homeschool or send their children to private schools DO pay property taxes, essentially paying tuition twice. Private schooled children are a bonus to government schools that receive taxes without the expense of these students. The policy below should not even have to exist. Parents should be able to use the schools as they see fit. School districts should not be regulating how property tax-paying parents use these schools.

Private students have public options
They can officially take part in Geneva schools’ activities

By Gala M. Pierce
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Tuesday, August 15, 2006

What has been practice in Geneva’s public schools turned into policy Monday.

Geneva school board members unanimously adopted a policy that would allow district students who are home-schooled or in private schools to enroll in any curricular, co-curricular or extracurricular activity in District 304.

A committee of staff members will draft guidelines that will accompany the policy in the next couple of months, Superintendent Kent Mutchler said.

“This is really an effort to come closer to compliance with state legislation,” school board President Dean Kilburg said.

It’s a growing trend, school board member Timothy Moran said.

“I think this policy gives a great deal of enlightenment to parents who might otherwise not know what this district is willing to do for those students,” Moran said.

Jane Gazdziak, assistant superintendent for curriculum, said the district already has allowed students to enroll in its programs and most of her requests relate to band activities.

Families often turn down the invitation, though, when they realize they have to provide transportation.

The policy will accommodate private students only if there’s space available and if they pay any relevant participation, tuition or materials fees. If a waiting list exists, students enrolled full time in the school will be given first priority.

It’s possible that on Geneva High School varsity teams for which students try out, such as basketball, that a private student might win a spot on the team and not a student at the high school, Kilburg said. However, the athletic director will give input on the guidelines.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Education Intelligence Agency

I just want to remind people of a great resource the Education Intelligence Agency.
Below is the partial posting for the Communique for August 14, 2006 ,to view the full Communique visit the the Education Intelligence Agency website.
The full Communique is a must read for all taxpayers (that is everyone) and parents.

The Story Thus Far. I realize not all of you travel over to Intercepts during the week for the latest, so allow me to quickly recap.

Since last week's communiqué revealed the contents of AFT's communications audit and a number of audio files of interviews with AFT staffers, there has been widespread action and inaction – depending on where you sit and who you are. Inside AFT headquarters, there has been a lot of activity, not only as a response to EIA's story, but as a response to the recommendations of the audit itself. Personnel changes have been made, which EIA will report once they are confirmed.

Outside of headquarters, however, AFT has been silent. Not a single official or semi-official word has been uttered publicly. AFT's web sites and listservs merrily pretend everything's normal, which is either an indication that union officers hope the whole thing will dry up on its own, or they aren't yet primed to release a response. The media, for their part, don't seem to quite know what to do with it. If I remember correctly, the Kamber report didn't get a whole lot of mainstream press in 1997, either. The education blogosphere has been quicker, but still tentative.

Meanwhile, CleverSpin tried to cover all the bases by claiming it had notified the FBI and "state and federal law enforcement officials," while at the same time demanding, under threat of legal action, that EIA destroy the evidence (the audio files) those officials would undoubtedly want to see. Happily, EIA was able to quickly retain top-notch legal representation to attend to any harassment on that front.

Rumors, witch hunts and conspiracy theories are running rampant, all for naught, since AFT officials already know how I obtained these materials – because I told them, one hour before releasing the report last Monday.

Where it goes next, nobody knows, but EIA is ready for anything.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mounting school fees taking toll on Southland parents

The following article appeared on the Students First website and in the Daily Southtown newspaper. When will we finally stand up and just say
no? How long are we going to put up with this? School districts are walking all over us. The richer they become the more powerful they become. What kind of future are we leaving our children and our neighbors children? Do not think that passing a referendum is the solution, the same tactics and threats will continue as our districts rate of spending outpaces revenue. Fee increases and referenda will not cease. They won't stop; they're already pressuring legislators into income tax increases. Once passed, the spending will increase and referendum cycle will continue. Think it won't happen? History has proven it time and time again. What drives a person to pay 2,500 dollars to 10,000 dollars in property taxes for schools and accept without resistance registration fees, books fees, etc?

Mounting school fees taking toll on Southland parents


By Angela Caputo
Daily Southtown

Students at Oak Lawn Community High School grabbed their books, maps of the school and new identification cards at registration.

But their parents were left to do the heavy lifting - picking up the tab for school fees, which essentially doubled this year.

"Now I've got to figure out a way to pay for it," Colleen Lesko said after getting the $1,568 bill for her three teens to attend school.

Even with a two-income household - she drives a school bus and her husband is a mechanic - they don't exactly have that kind of cash lying around.

Lesko's bill included $300 registration fees and $75 technology fees for each student plus between $15 and $25 per class that require workbooks and other class materials.

Last year students were charged $150 to register and a $50 technology fee.

The Leskoes may divert some money from a home equity loan they recently took out to rebuild their garage to cover the fees, which are at least $100 per student more than in neighboring districts.

The family is bracing for even more back-to-school expenses: Daughter Amanda Eversole, 16, is in theater productions, on the color guard squad, the forensics team and in the choir, all of which have extra expenses.

And her sons Ken, 15, and Josh, 14, are always needing new athletic gear and school supplies, which add up quickly.

"(With each activity) it's $20 here and more money there. It never stops," Lesko said.

The higher fees are expected to give the district a $420,000 boost, which will help trim the deficit to $2.1 million this year.

The school board is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to ask voters in November to approve a tax rate increase.

The proposal likely will mirror a referendum question that taxpayers overwhelmingly rejected last spring. That measure asked voters to pay, on average, an additional $102 a year for a $200,000 home.

If the referendum were to pass, it would bring in an additional $2.3 million to offset the district's annual deficit.

"Next time not only will fees be impacted but we're going to see some major cuts," Supt. Jim Briscoe said.

"Everything would be considered."

Teachers, extra-curricular activities and the number of courses offered could be affected.

Maureen McLaughlin said she's not thrilled with the $990 bill to register her two daughters, Emily and Cathleen Litz.

But she prefers it to a property tax increase.

"I'll pay the fees," she said. "Other people shouldn't have to pay for them to go to school."

Even with some cutbacks, McLaughlin isn't worried her daughters, who are honor-roll students, will meet her ultimate expectation of going on to college.

"You can't have everything you want," she said. "If you have to cut stuff, you have to cut stuff."

Kate O'Brien has a hard time saying "no" when it comes to making sure her three teens have more than just the school basics.

Even if it means running a tab on her credit card, she said.

After dropping nearly $1,500 on registration fees this week, O'Brien bought three yearbooks, two sets of school pictures and gym clothes for her 17-year-old daughter Claire, and sons Conor, 16, and Christopher, 14.

She also joined the booster club and the PTA, which brought her bill to $1,607.

O'Brien admits she could have cut corners in the registration line or told her kids "no" to joining some extra-curricular activities.

"But that's the kind of stuff you want to do for your kids," she said.

If the referendum question makes it on the November ballot, O'Brien, who is a teacher, said she'll support it. But like most Oak Lawn residents, she isn't excited about it.

In light of the new fees, Lesko said she's tapped out already and has had enough.

"Give us all a break," she said. "Granted they're getting an education, but do we have to go poor for it?"

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fees commisery loves company

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Daily Herald. We say don't pay those fees see article on our CRAFT front page. .

How do we resolve this problem? Get involved. Go to the school board meetings with your friends and neighbors and tell the board to stop charging fees. You and your friends and neighbors need to write the school board and letters to the editor and tell them to stop charging fees. Do not re-elect the current board, stop voting for incumbents or run yourself. Stop re-electing legislators all across Illinois who pander to school boards, administrators, service unions and teachers' unions. In McHenry County both Jack Franks and Pam Althoff except union and teacher union dollars. Do not re-elect them. More often than not they support legislation that hurts children and taxpayers and both have proposed legislation that favors school employees and hurts taxpayers and students.

Fees commisery (sic) loves company

In response to Sandy Karmen Wisiniewski’s letter (Fence Post, Aug. 7), don’t feel too badly. I’ve been paying school fees for five children for eight years. We moved to Illinois nine years ago this September, and every year I still can not get over the fact that I have to pay to send my children to public schools. What are my taxes for? How are the school districts allowed to get away with this?

It’s only gotten worse as the years have gone by. Fees have steadily increased and now the K-8 district charges a late fee if we don’t have the fees in by a certain date. The high school district is no better.

The base fee is $127 with an added $10 “technology fee”; and the driver’s ed fee went up $100 from what I paid in the past, and is also included in the school fee at the beginning of the year. The high school also wants a signed statement that if books are lost, they will be paid for in full, along with a $10 “processing fee” for each lost book. If any fees are not paid by the time of graduation, the diploma will be withheld.

Then, of course, there are also lab and activity fees tacked on. The fee for my two high school students was over $800 this year. That’s one month’s grocery money for us. I had to use a payment plan.

I can honestly say we do not live an extravagant lifestyle. Until recently, we were only a one-car family and even the second car we recently purchased is 16 years old.

Do Illinoisans realize other states do not charge yearly registration fees for public schools? We moved from upstate New York and there were never any fees.

It also seems that no one can give a straight answer on what all this money from fees is actually going for. I have heard things like “it’s for testing,” and “it’s for books.” Again, then what are my taxes for? Thanks for allowing me to sound off.

Gina Rehberg