Saturday, September 09, 2006

Hold elected officials accountable for poor public school outcomes

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Courier News Newspaper on 9/9/06.

Hold elected officials accountable for poor public school outcomes

A recently released research paper shows that out of every 100 Chicago public school freshmen, only six will earn a bachelor's degree — the certificate to a middle-class lifestyle.
When only six out of 100 Chicago students graduate from a four-year college, it means 94 percent of city school children are doomed to low-paying, low-status prospects in a changing world economy that will be driven by highly-skilled, professional jobs.

This is outrageous and unacceptable. All of our elected officials should be held accountable for this systemic failure.

In this election year, Illinois voters must demand that candidates commit to a necessary part of the solution: fixing our unfair, broken system of funding public schools based on local property taxes. Without this reform, far too many kids across Illinois will continue to struggle to learn in schools with huge class sizes, outdated textbooks and materials, and few college-bound course options.

Sadly, they won't get a second chance to repeat their school years, and neither should state leaders who fail to push for comprehensive reform have a second chance to repeat their sorry performances.

Anthony Ryan


Friday, September 08, 2006

Educrats Spin Poll

The following piece appeared on the Campus Report Online website.

Educrats Spin Poll
by: Malcolm A. Kline, August 24, 2006

The Gallup poll released on Tuesday will probably be promoted by public school officials as evidence that they are doing a great job but the survey requires close examination.

“In contrast to the public’s pessimistic view of [No Child Left Behind] NCLB, the poll finds strong support for the public schools,” according to Phi Delta Kappa International. PDK conducted the poll in conjunction with the Gallup organization.

Clearly, the poll takers harbored an animus towards NCLB. Thus, it came as something of a surprise when PDK executive director Lowell Rose admitted, “Test scores have gone up and I credit NCLB and they have gone up among blacks and Hispanics.”

Actually, one of the poll questions was, “Let’s say that large numbers of public schools fail to meet the requirements established by the NCLB law. In your opinion, which would be more to blame for this—the public schools themselves or the NCLB law?”

Nearly half—48 percent—blamed the public schools while less than half—41 percent—blamed the law itself. Nonetheless, Dr. Rose concluded that, “The public holds schools blameless.”

To read the rest of the article and learn more about Campus Report Online click here.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

California class size reduction. Great expenditure with minimal to no improvement in outcomes.

The following piece appears on the Education Intelligence Agency website.

California Redoubles Its Efforts. George Santayana once famously wrote: "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim."

Fix your gaze upon this story from the Sacramento Bee, concerning the $2.9 billion deal to reduce class sizes in additional grades at California's 500 lowest performing schools. The legislature passed a law in 1996 lowering K-3 class sizes to a maximum of 20. While the article goes further than most by suggesting "the jury's still out" on across-the-board class size reduction, it seems 10 years of data should be sufficient to judge whether the tens of billions of dollars Californians have dropped into the well are making our wishes come true.

In 1998, before 4th-graders had the benefit of smaller classes, California's 4th-graders ranked ahead of only those in Hawaii and Louisiana in reading (NAEP test). The benchmark for math is 1996, where California's 4th-graders finished ahead of those in Mississippi and tied with those in Louisiana.

In 2005, California's 4th-graders beat out Mississippi in reading. Hawaii and Louisiana passed us. The brightest picture is 4th-grade math. California finished ahead of Alabama, Mississippi and New Mexico, and tied with Louisiana and Nevada.

What's worse is that we have had class size reduction for so long, we can now compare the NAEP scores of 8th-graders under the old class sizes with 8th-graders who experienced four years of 20-student classes. They are virtually indistinguishable.

Everyone loves class size reduction. Parents love it. Politicians love it. Teachers love it. And unions especially love it (the new bill will mean up to 3,000 new CTA members). We all love ice cream, too. But we shouldn't pretend it's the best use of our money.

To view more stories on the Education Intelligence Agency website click here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

D-50 board approves teachers' contract

The below letter was written to the reporter in response to her District 50 article in the Northwest Herald.

Dear Jenn,

Without having seen the contract, let me make two surmises.

First, the Contract is not a 34 year contract. It will in fact be superseded by others which will increase the base salary for entry level teachers and make other adjustments up the longevity ladder. Experienced teachers would come into the system with credit for years teaching at other schools. Regarding this, it may be the first push towards an industry wide (as opposed to a factory) wage scale.

Second, the published information makes no reference to the other source of increasing salaries, commonly found in most contracts: the educational attainment part of the matrix. Credit is given and wages increased if the teacher goes back to school (evenings and summers). Usually it is increments of fifteen hours of credited additional schooling -- one semester worth. Unfortunately for the students most teachers do not take subject matter courses -- they do not, for instance, have a math degree, they are only certified to teach math. They are not qualified to take graduate level courses in the subject they teach. Some do, some have. but their numbers are quite small. So raises flow naturally through the medium of education courses.

It is the combination of longevity raises and education rewards that turn a three percent contractual raise into an actual eight percent increase in the budget.

It is important that all education reporters, all parents and all taxpayers understand this.

pete speer

D-50 board approves teachers' contract

[published on Wed, Sep 6, 2006]
HARVARD – The District 50 school board approved a base teacher salary increase of almost 11 percent at a meeting Tuesday and revamped the schedule by which raises are granted for longevity and education.

According to a joint statement from the school board and the teachers union, the Harvard Education Association, the changes were made "to help in recruitment and retention of quality teachers."

The board increased the base teacher salary to $32,000 this year and $32,500 next year from $28,860. It also changed the set salary increases for years of service and additional education from a percentage to a flat dollar amount, eliminating the compounding that gave teachers high on the pay scale larger increases each year while the teachers nearer to the base salary had comparatively small increases, school board President Ken Book said.

"In the long run, the flat-salary schedule will benefit the district and the teachers," said Book, who abstained from the 5-0 vote to approve the contract because his wife is an employee of the district. Board member Diana Bird was absent.

Mary Cooke, president of the union, said she was pleased with the contract. Going to a flat-salary schedule was necessary to accomplish the teachers' other goals, she said.

"In order to really raise our base salary, with the compounded salary schedule it became too costly," Cooke said.

Teachers also will be able to receive longevity raises for up to 34 years in the district under the new contract. Until now, their salaries topped out at 17 years.

No cuts to other education fund expenditures were made to fund the salary increases, Book said.

"We're dead on for what we had budgeted," he said.


Can we assume since they are dead on for what they budgeted that a referendum will not be needed? Probably not, a referendum will probably be likely come next spring or within the next year because the board will have underestimated the impact of the new contract. The excuse will be growth. But growth with fiscally responsible budgets and good planning can pay for itself. Let us hope Mr. Book does not let the community down.

According to a joint statement the board and the union said the contract will ".. help in recruitment and retention of quality teachers." However this does nothing to get rid of underperforming teachers protected by tenure.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Parents to launch campaign for support of referendum

The story at the end of this post appeared in the Northwest Herald and on the Students First Website. Parents who oppose this referendum must step up to the plate and start fighting this referendum now. The tactics that were used recently in Carepentersville-District 300, Huntely-District 158 and McHenry-District 15 will certainly be used to pass this referendum in Riley District 18. Ward states below "And we are being very aggressive." You can count on this. Expect literature to be sent home with your children threatening increased class sizes and program cuts, letters to the editors from teachers and their relatives, letters from children pleading emotionally for passage of the referendum, a door to door campaign by children who do not know better, announcements during school hours and encouragement from your child's teacher to encourage you to vote yes for this referendum. At the polls people from the school will check to see if you voted, if you have not voted expect a phone call on election day.

If this referendum truly had merit an "aggressive" push would not be needed. Passage of the referendum would occur on merit alone. Passage of the referendum will not ensure lower fees, reduced class sizes, improved educational outcomes but it will benefit the pocketbooks of the very people who educate your children. It will also ensure the same tactics and even larger tax burdens on your children when they are adults. Is that the kind of future you want to leave your children? Throwing more dollars at a corrupt system that refuses to spend only the revenues received ensures the perpetuation of the broken system.

We suggest parents read John Stossel's report titled Stupid in America

Three books we recommend include "Angry Parents, Failing Schools: What's Wrong With the Public Schools & What You Can Do About It" by Dr. Elaine McEwan, "Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why it Isn't So" by Jay P. Greene, and "Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education" by Joe Williams.

There is one or two things the voters of Marengo can count on, passage of this referendum without vocal parental opposition and excessive salary increases if this referendum passes.

Parents to launch campaign for support of referendum
By Brenda Schory

Northwest Herald

MARENGO - With barely two months to shape up a vote "yes" campaign for Riley School District 18, Lori Ward has high hopes that the public will support her cause.

"We have our committees organized. We're getting all our ducks in a row," said Ward, who co-chairs three committees and serves on a fourth. "We have about 10 weeks. And we are being very aggressive."

Riley school officials are asking voters for a 43-cent rate increase on the Nov. 7 ballot. The financially troubled district has a debt of $1 million, 40 percent of its $2.5 million operating budget.

More than program cuts or larger classrooms are at stake: State school officials warned the district that if it does not cut its spending or bring in more revenue, the state could take over running the district.

For Ward, who has one child who has graduated and another still in the one-school district, every effort counts.

"We want the public to be informed," Ward said.

"We're calling it the 'Save Our School' campaign. We're going to start pounding the pavement."

Ward co-chairs committees for printed information, canvassing neighborhoods, and telephone canvassing. She serves on the signs and public messages committee.

Board member Donna Wardzala said having parents take the lead instead of the school board might make all the difference in getting it passed.

Wardzala served as chairwoman of three previous referendum efforts, all of which failed.

"We did not have a parent group to go out and get the message out, and I think we have that now," Wardzala said.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Camel’s Nose Of School Choice.

Our friend Ralf Seiffe sent us the following piece which is posted on the Illinois Reveiw Website.

The Camel’s Nose Of School Choice.

By Ralf Seiffe

Ever since I installed a TIVO on the television, I’ve been vaccinated against television advertising. Except for the old car shows that feature ads for carburetors and automobile tools that interest me, I have not watched general interest advertising for some time. Over the weekend, however, my ten-year old controlled the remote and I’m glad he did because he hasn’t yet figured out how to zip through the advertising clutter. As a consequence, we saw two important commercials. One illustrated the least common denominator approach to public policy while the other showed a path to school choice. The way to reform the schools is beginning to take form and for supporters of free markets, the news is good.

To view the full piece visit the Illinois Reveiw Website.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A bold plan to set black boys up for success

The following article appeared in the The Chicago Sun Times. The Chicago Public Education System is failing this population. Choice is an excellent step to improve the future of this group and all groups. All parents should have the right to choose the best education opportunity for their child that will ensure success and a productive adult life.

A bold plan to set black boys up for success

September 3, 2006

BY KATE N. GROSSMAN Education Reporter

One hundred forty black high school boys, sharply dressed in polo shirts and khakis, stood silently in five long lines in an auditorium in West Englewood on a recent Tuesday.

It was the final week of summer school for the new Urban Prep Charter Academy, the city's first all-boys public high school in 35 years. The school officially opens Tuesday.

"There's a vibe, a feeling in this room -- some of you are losing focus!" bellowed Ben Blakeley, one of three Urban Prep administrators leading the school's daily "community'' meeting in the auditorium. "When we lose focus, something bad happens, we stray off our path!"

Their misdeeds?

Three came late. A few forgot their belts. A handful stared into space.

In many schools, those infractions might go unnoticed.

Goal is 5 schools

Not so at Urban Prep, one of 14 new schools opening this fall as part of Renaissance 2010, the city's controversial plan to close and re-create its most troubled public schools, including Englewood High, which Urban Prep is replacing. When Englewood's phaseout began in 2005, just 16 percent of its juniors read at grade level.

As an antidote, Urban Prep's founders opted for something radically different. They've designed a school they believe will work for boys, particularly black boys, who have only a one-in-four chance of graduating from a Chicago public school. They're starting with 160 freshmen on one campus. They hope eventually to open five all-boys schools.

Tim King, the school's president and driving force, says research suggests boys learn better under conditions of stress. So he and his 17 teachers and administrators -- including 15 African-American males -- are ladling it on.

The students will face a rigorous college prep curriculum taught in an in-your-face, Socratic style, with double periods of English, an eight-hour school day and required after-school activities, community service and internships. They're already greeting teachers with handshakes. Starting Tuesday, they will wear red ties and black blazers.

The idea is to create a sense of community and brotherhood and give the boys enough support so they know their teachers truly want them to succeed.

'There's no power struggles'

So far, they are lapping it up.

"I came because I felt they were going to make me work for my education," said Andre Young, a freshman from Englewood. "Here, you feel like you're someone important."

Nearly all of the freshmen showed up for summer school at Lindblom High, where Urban Prep will be this year while nearby Englewood High is renovated. For three weeks, boys took standardized tests, read silently for 25 minutes daily and were drilled on school rules. They met in small discussion groups daily.

Many were uneasy about a single-sex school but were starting to see the big picture.

"I don't want to be around all boys, but I came because they said it would prepare me to be a man and go to college,' said Melvin Brown, who lives in Chatham.

Even the teachers were floored by how quickly the boys fell in line.

"There's no power struggles -- and I've seen different," said Chezare Warren, who taught eighth grade at a North Lawndale school last year. When he took on that class in December, five teachers had already left in frustration

Residents skeptical

The Urban Prep boys graduated from 52 elementary schools, including parochial ones, but about 70 percent live in Englewood.

When King proposed his idea to people in Englewood, some thought his design team -- a group of well-dressed, well-educated African Americans -- couldn't relate to poor kids from Englewood. At a community forum last fall, several people asked pointed questions suggesting the team was underestimating the intense social problems some Englewood kids might face.

King, an easygoing 39-year-old, is former president of Hales Franciscan, an all-boys Catholic High School on the South Side where most of the African-American families struggle financially. During his five years as president, 100 percent of each graduating class was admitted to college. He has been working on Urban Prep since 2002.

'We believe in them'

King says his staff is fully aware of the social problems his kids may face and is tackling that head-on with the highly structured day, an experienced staff and extra student supports, such as daily advisory sessions and school meetings, low student-to-staff ratios, access to teachers via cell phones and black role models.

"How can we not manage that?" said Eric Smith, an African-American English teacher. "For too long, we've said, 'Those kids,' but they were our kids, dead, in jail, working minimum-wage jobs. They're my babies, and we believe in them. It's idealistic but not so farfetched to believe we can set them up for success."

With three successful weeks of summer school behind him, King took a moment to enjoy the victory.

"We've got a group that has really bought into what we're selling," he said in late August.

But no one at Urban Prep is naive enough to think the battle is won.

"We have no illusions," King said. "We know it'll be incredibly difficult and challenging, but it's very encouraging to see the group taking steps to at least meet us halfway."

Along with this story we suggest the book Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It by Juan Williams.

Here is one of the editorials that appears on the site.

Editorial Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
When Bill Cosby addressed a 50th-anniversary celebration of Brown v. Board of Education, he created a major controversy with seemingly inoffensive counsel ("begin with getting a high school education, not having children until one is twenty-one and married, working hard at any job, and being good parents"). Building from Cosby's speech, NPR/Fox journalist Williams offers his ballast to Cosby's position. Williams starts with the question, "Why are so many black Americans, people born inside the gates of American opportunity, still living as if they were locked out from all America has to offer?" His answers include the debacle of big-city politics under self-serving black politicians; reparations as "a divisive dead-end idea"; the parlous state of city schools "under the alliance between the civil rights leaders and the teachers' unions"; and the transformation of rap from "its willingness to confront establishment and stereotypes" to "America's late-night masturbatory fantasy." A sense of the erosion of "the high moral standing of civil rights" underlies Cosby's anguish and Williams's anger. Politically interested readers of a mildly conservative bent will find this book sheer dynamite. (Aug.)
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