Educators Find Little to Like in Bush Budget
President George W. Bush says increased funding for education is among the highlights of his proposed budget for fiscal year 2005. But educators aren't buying it.
Major organizations of teachers and principals point to elimination of dollars for key programs such as dropout prevention, gifted and talented children, guidance counselors in elementary schools, and increased parental involvement in poor communities.
Education Secretary Rod Paige, presenting Bush's $57.3 billion education proposal to the House of Representatives Budget Committee in February, said it provides the largest dollar increase of any domestic agency, representing a 3 percent increase over the current year's spending and a nearly 36 percent gain for education programs since Bush took office.
Among other things, Paige cited an additional $1 billion for Title I grants to help the neediest local schools and a $1 billion boost for special education grants to states.
But educators point to what the budget doesn't include. National Education Association President Reg Weaver says the "paltry" 1.8 percent increase Bush proposes for No Child Left Behind "in no way meets the federal government's obligation to fund the new law." Rather, Weaver contends, it "falls short of promised levels of funding by more than $9 billion for the coming year."
Weaver adds that while the budget eliminates funds for 38 programs, "incredibly, the President wants $50 million for a national experiment with school vouchers, which take away much needed resources from public schools."
Vincent L. Ferrandino, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, says Bush's budget represents "a broken promise to principals and school systems everywhere." He points to the proposal to ax funding for School Leadership which supports recruitment and professional development of school principals.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals says in a statement that Bush's proposal to aid middle and high school students in reading and math and expand Advanced Placement programs in low-income schools "is the kind of support long overdue" from the federal government. "Unfortunately," NASSP adds, "the president continues to play the shell game" by wiping out other vital programs. "We see one step forward with another step back," NASSP declares.
"There is a huge gap between the election year rhetoric about supporting education and the reality reflected in this budget," comments Alfie Kohn, an author and education expert. Bush's proposal favors programs reflecting his "ideological agenda," Kohn says.
Although Congress would like to complete work on the total budget and adjourn before the November elections, that is no certainty.
Evolution of Evolution: The Debate Could End
Ohio is teaching "Critical Analysis of Evolution" and Georgia is keeping evolution after getting flak for wanting to change it to "biological changes over time."
Missouri legislators are considering a bill that would teach both evolution and intelligent design.
Thus, the evolution debate continues to wax and wane in American schools, particularly now due to upcoming stringent requirements for science under the federal No Child Left Behind act. Such requirements are forcing states to take a second look at their science curricula.
And there is no federal law that requires states to teach evolution, so states are still being swayed by public opinion. "It's worse than a waste of time," says Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education. "It's divisive."
In Ohio, the Board of Education approved standards on evolution for 10th-grade biology as well as Critical Analysis of Evolution, according to Deborah Owens Fink, a member of the Ohio Board of Education. She says the lesson includes challenges to evolution. "I think it's a great model for education," she says. "I think one thing that needs to be recognized is that the U.S. is increasingly under pressure to remain globally competitive. Education can't be just about memorizing facts or data, but to think critically and respect different views."
Scott says it sounds logical, but she questions why only evolution is challenged. "Notice how one subject is pulled out to be critically analyzed," Scott says.
In Georgia, the Department of Education is revamping its entire curriculum because it is too broad, says Kirk Englehardt, department spokesman. School Superintendent Kathy Cox was trying to prevent controversy when she proposed taking the word "evolution" out of the biology curriculum and replacing it with "biological changes over time," Englehardt says. A huge outcry from educators and the science world forced Cox to keep "evolution."
Now, the biology curriculum includes national standards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he says.
Scott says he believes that when religious groups accept evolution as compatible with their theology the debate will vanish.
Religion Wins in School
Religious speech is strong and healthy in public schools after the U.S. Supreme Court let an appeals court decision stand. The case started when an Arizona district refused to distribute an organization's brochures that included religious speech. The appeals court overturned that decision, calling the ruling unconstitutional.
"The law is clear on this issue," says Walter Weber of the American Center for Law and Justice, which filed a suit against the district, Scottsdale Unified School District No. 48. "If a school district permits distribution of material from private groups, it cannot prohibit the distribution of literature simply because it promotes an event with a religious viewpoint."
In the last three years, the number of public schools offering single-sex education has quadrupled to 90.
Leonard Sax, executive director of National Association for Single Sex Public Education, says two factors account for the boom. Districts know more about research regarding the benefits of single-sex education and a No Child Left Behind amendment legalized single-sex classrooms. Until NCLB passed, the U.S. prohibited single-sex classrooms in co-ed schools, Sax explains. Now, districts have a new option.
The San Antonio (Tex.) School District initiated single-sex classes in math, science, social studies and language arts in sixth- through eighth-grade at 12 middle schools in 2003, enabling teachers to tailor lessons to specific learning styles of both genders.
Proponents assert the single-sex approach benefits all students.
"Single-sex education may help minority males close the math and science gap by appealing to gender differences in learning styles," says Peggy Stark, executive director of Non-Traditional Campuses and Special Programs in San Antonio. For example, a confrontational approach works well with most boys. A direct challenge, such as "Prove it to me!", motivates boys to work harder. To nurture girls' interest in science, teachers are encouraged to show them how science can be used to improve the world. For example, they can build filters to clean dirty water.
Single-sex education does have drawbacks. The regulations based on the NCLB amendment had not been published as of press time, creating a state of legal limbo as the federal government could investigate complaints of single-sex classrooms. San Antonio circumvents this problem by providing mixed gender alternatives to all classes offered in the single-sex format, Stark says.
Sax predicts single-sex education will boom when regulations are published, which was to take place last month.
"For every district that has [implemented single-sex education], there are 10 more that would like to do it," Sax says. Many interested districts have been reluctant to proceed without the new regulations, claims Sax.
Take Saginaw City (Mich.) School District, which plans to launch single-sex classrooms at three elementary schools in 2004-05. Professional development and curriculum need to be ironed out, but principals, teachers and parents are enthusiastic about the new option, says spokesman Mike Manley.
Professional development to educate teachers about gender differences in learning styles is critical for a successful single-sex program. "You don't have to have single-sex classrooms," Sax says, "but teachers do need to understand the innate hardwire differences between girls and boys."
Report Urges Parents to Be More Involved
In Louisville, Kentucky, some Noe Middle School parents felt that sixth graders coming to the school would adjust better if they had some help.
The parents, using money they raised themselves, created Transition Night, an evening of workshops on adolescent development, school safety and academic standards.
Across the state, some Paducah high school parents did not know what classes their children should take to best prepare them for college. So, a pair of parents put together a multi-grade college application resource--complete with a 30-page college planning guide--and a workshop.
KSA-Plus and the Center for Parent Leadership want parents and school officials to work together. They recently published the report, The Case for Parent Leadership. It outlines how parents and school officials can forge a partnership. "When I was a kid there was no opportunity for parents to participate in school improvement teams," said Adam Kernan-Schloss, president of KSA-Plus Communications.
"Schools need parents," the report states. "There is no way that schools can do the daunting job of improving chronic low achievement by themselves."
Kernan-Schloss attributes the decline in parental involvement in schools to several factors: Fewer parents stay home now than 30 years ago and many of the country's growing immigrant population are not confident about the idea of participating in their children's school.
Kernan-Schloss says often parents don't know what to expect from schools or understand what their responsibilities are. On the other hand, schools need to reassess whether their current policies make the school environment a welcoming one for parents, the report says. Districts should also explore programming that would build parent leadership.
Related Information: 8 Steps to Open Communication.
Laptops at Work
A recent report shows that Maine students who use laptops are more engaged in learning and produce better-quality work.
Most of Maine's middle schools have implemented the program, which started with seventh-graders in 2002 and expanded to include eighth graders. Students use them most to find information, and teachers use them most to develop instructional materials.
In Michigan, a plan is in the works to provide notebook computers to sixth graders, if funds are available. Hewlett-Packard finalized a $68 million deal with the state in February. The four-year agreement will provide computer access to thousands of public school children. It is part of the state's Freedom to Learn Initiative, a program aimed to increase academic performance.
Achievement Punished in Tennessee?
When is recognizing achievement a violation of student privacy? One Tennessee school district came face-to-face with this issue when an elementary student's desire to remain off the school honor roll prompted a second look into the practice of posting names.
The issue arose in February at Davidson Public Schools in Nashville, a district of 71,000 students and 129 schools. School spokesman Craig Owensby says the student was concerned that her friends would feel bad seeing her name because they didn't make the list. The student's mother called the school to find out if it was legal to post her name if she didn't want it listed.
No one at that school district had ever raised that issue before. The debate called into question the posting of individual athletic records, such as points scored in a game, and other information on school Web sites, Owensby says. The school attorney found that state law allows districts to disclose student grades, as long as parents give permission. Complicating the issue was the fact that one school principal in the district never posts honor rolls. Principal Steven Baum of Julia Green Elementary in Nashville recognizes students in more private ways, such as with personal notes, school officials say.
In an e-mail to school principals, however, Director of Schools Pedro E. Garcia, said the district would continue to post honor rolls, alleviating some parents' concerns. "Students who do well should be rewarded, and honor rolls are an important way of recognizing their achievements,'' he wrote.
School officials say they had no intention of banning the honor rolls. "It was a legal issue of permission, but widely understood to be an issue of political correctness and hurting students' feelings and that mistake fed on itself," Owensby says.
The district mailed permission slips to parents and plan to have the slips back in time to post the March and May honor rolls.
State Department of Education spokesman Kim Karesh says the department received about five calls from other Tennessee districts concerned about the issue, but that most districts comply with the law. "We encourage schools to celebrate academic achievement in any way they see fit,'' she says. "We just want to make sure they are celebrating it in a way that also protects privacy."
Ins and Outs Of Computers
Middle school students in Kentucky are learning the ins and outs of computers--literally.
At-risk students in Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington are participating in a 40-hour after-school pilot program where they take computers apart and piece them back together again. After they master disassembling and assembling the hardware, they learn about software and how to use the computer. When they complete the program, they can take the computers home to keep.
The students are part of the Dell TechKnow program. The program, launched in 2001 in Denver, partners school systems, communities and corporations to bridge the digital divide and stem the dropout rate. Students in about a dozen urban school districts across the nation are participating in the program.
In Lexington, 30 students from five of the district's 10 middle schools are enrolled in the pilot program, which the district hopes to expand to all 10 middle schools next year. "What it tries to do is single out kids who have low self-esteem, don't attend classes, and have low grade averages and tries to get them interested in school and to attend class,'' says Van Florence, director of the Tubby Smith Foundation. Students who are selected for the program must maintain a 2.0 average or show significant progress in grades. They cannot miss a class. The classes are given twice a week from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at a community center, to where they are transported and served dinner. "It seems to invigorate students' learning habits,'' says Terry Wicker, Fayette schools director of technology.
Parents, he says, have also inquired about the class, asking the district to hold one for them as well.
Meditation Lowers Blood Pressure
A first major school study shows Transcendental Meditation helps lower blood pressure.
A study of 100 high school students, aged 14 to 18, showed that the group who used TM regularly showed greater decreases in daytime blood pressure compared to little or no change in the control group at the end of the eight-month study.
The recent study, Impact of Transcendental Meditation on Ambulatory Blood Pressure in African American Adolescents, was conducted by Dr. Vernon Barnes, a research scientist at the Georgia Institute for Prevention of Human Disease and Accidents at the Medical College of Georgia. It was published in the American Journal of Hypertension in late March. Other research has shown that meditating students handle stress better, are happier, have higher test scores, less anxiety, and less substance abuse.
Teen Pregnancy Drops
The national teenage pregnancy rate declined by 2 percent from 1999 to 2000 and fell by 28 percent from its 1990 peak, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. The pregnancy rate among black teenagers dropped by 32 percent in the same period.
About 33 percent of pregnancies among 15- to 19-year-olds ended with abortion in 2000, down since 1986. But abortions among black teenagers rose to 41.5 percent, from 39.6 percent in 1995.
In a state-by-state analysis, The New York Times reported, teenage pregnancy rates in 2000 were highest in Nevada, at 113 per 1,000, and lowest in North Dakota, at 42 per 1,000. Abortion rates were highest in New Jersey with 47 abortions per 1,000 women and 13 percent of pregnancies in Kentucky and Utah ended in abortion.
Weak Grades for Chicago Schools On Finances, Special Ed
In separate reports by the Illinois State Board of Education, the Chicago Public Schools system has garnered less than stellar grades for its fiscal management and for allegedly segregating some of its special education students from mainstream peers.
In a February report, the state board reported 49 Chicago schools it monitored had not educated disabled students in the "least restrictive environment" possible as mandated by federal law. Among the complaints, the report states not all special education students had been tested under requirements in the No Child Left Behind act and that adequate services had not been provided to special education students in charter schools.
Michael Vaughn, a Chicago Public Schools spokesman, criticizes the state report for highlighting what he says is a relatively small sample of Chicago schools that "does not adequately reflect" the system's overall commitment to special education students. Chicago Public Schools' special education services has improved dramatically since a new head of the school system's specialized services, Renee Grant-Mitchell, took over last year, Vaughn says. "We're streamlining the process for evaluating the needs of special education students and getting services to them in a more timely fashion. She's instituted a new process for doing that," Vaughn says of Grant-Mitchell.
Under separate state scrutiny, an audit by the Illinois State Board of Education found that Chicago Public Schools misspent about $1.5 million of federal Title I funds earmarked for poor students. Instead, state education officials say, the funds have gone to pay educator salaries and summer sessions, among other places.
Similar to his criticism of the 72-page state report on special education, Vaughn says funds in question amounted to only 1 percent of the total Title 1 allotment. He emphasizes that their misappropriation has not amounted to fraud or malfeasance. The audit covered 108 schools and found that 17 had misspent money.
State education officials were more conciliatory on the Title 1 funding issue than on the special education report. David Wood, director of operations with the State Board of Education, says this has been the state's first intense audit mandated under No Child Left Behind, and that financial errors have been found at other Illinois school systems as well.
Chicago Public Schools mostly failed to "cross their t's and dot their i's," but have been responsive to making improvements, Wood says.
Soda Ousted in Philadelphia
Soda, iced tea and sweetened drinks are banned in Philadelphia public schools.
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission allows only water, milk and 100 percent fruit juice to be sold in the district's roughly 260 schools, effective July 1. Sport drinks will be available only in vending machines near sports facilities in the district. The goal is to improve nutrition, reduce childhood obesity and send a message to corporate America to look closely at products for youths.
Pick a School, Any School
Visit www.SchoolResults.org and find access to information on public school performance.
While it is still compiling data for every district in every state, the Web site, launched by federal, state and private education leaders, will serve as a clearinghouse for new state report cards on education, including data broken down via district and school building.
It will answer No Child Left Behind law requirements to report a plethora of data, including teacher qualifications and student achievement in major student groups so parents and policy-makers can compare districts and track student progress.
8 Steps to Open Communication
Here are several ways educators can improve the lines of communication.
1.Share power, such as expanding decision-making, so families have a voice.
2.Communicate expectations to parents and staff.
3.Open doors, or give families full access to the school building.
4.Answer hard questions, such as fully explaining school test results and report cards.
5.Offer training to parents about standards, curriculum and assessment.
6.Recognize and work with parent-led organizations
7.Support regular, positive, two-way communications between staff and parents.
8.Give parents information about how the school system works, including school improvement plans.