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New York: Promotion policy

Mayor Michael Bloomberg won approval from the Panel for Educational Policy of his strict new promotion policy for 3rd-graders. Just before the vote, Bloomberg fired and replaced three panel members who were against the plan, according to the March 16 New York Times. Students who score in the lowest quartile on citywide English and math tests will be retained unless they raise their scores after attending summer school.

Philadelphia: Teaching disparity

A federal complaint filed by an advocacy group for parents and students charges that the district violates the civil rights of minority students by allowing a disproportionate number of inexperienced and uncertified teachers to teach in low-income, minority schools. The Education Law Center wants the district to overhaul the assignment process, according to the March 9 Philadelphia Inquirer. The teachers’ union contract allows teachers to choose where they work based on seniority. Schools CEO Paul Vallas says the district is working to bring additional highly experienced teachers to poor schools.

North Carolina: Certification

Teachers with National Board certification are more effective in raising students’ test scores, a new study reports. Researchers found that students taught by certified teachers scored significantly higher on end-of-year reading and math tests, compared to students whose teachers started but did not finish the certification process, according to the March 10 Raleigh News & Observer. Poor students showed the greatest gains. The study analyzed three years’ worth of scores for 3rd- through 5th-graders. North Carolina has more certified teachers than any other state and pays those who earn the credential a 12 percent salary supplement.

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New York City: Contract talks

The first bargaining session in months between the teacher’s union and the city ended after barely two hours, with union President Randi Weingarten blasting the city’s contract proposal as an insult to teachers and “a total kick in the teeth,” according to the Feb. 7 New York Times.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration wants a streamlined contract eliminating most work rules and ending virtually all seniority rights, giving the city wide latitude to manage the system’s 1,200 schools. The city also wants to pay higher salaries to teachers in shortage areas like math and science and in troubled schools, and to teachers “who demonstrate the ability to positively impact student performance. The union wants raises for all teachers.

Talks resumed Feb. 12.

Oregon: School finance

Five foundations are taking matters into their own hands—and turning to the general public to make the case for reform of the state’s school funding system.

The Chalkboard Project, organized by Foundations for a Better Oregon, plans to hold town hall meetings, focus groups and Internet discussions to get input from the public on how to improve schools, according to the Jan. 19 Business Journal of Portland.

The first target will be school funding, says Doug Stamm, executive director of the Meyer Memorial Trust, one of the five foundations. “We feel that our kids are being shortchanged. There is no strong leadership on this issue,” Stamm said in the Jan. 7 Education Week. “There is a general consensus that [school funding] haunts the state as one of its top issues.”

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Ohio’s 4th Grade Guarantee…

Uniforms in Philadelphia…

Pay-for-performance in Cincinnati…

California civil rights lawsuit…

OHIO: ‘4th Grade Guarantee’ on hold

Ohio may have to suspend a controversial mandate that requires 4th-graders to pass a state reading test before advancing to 5th grade, after a May 11 state Supreme Court ruling. The court’s decision praised Ohio’s attempt to set higher academic standards, but called the “4th Grade Guarantee” an unfunded mandate that “must be addressed and immediately funded,” according to a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Justice Alice Robie Resnick, who wrote the court’s decision, said that the state could grant schools a moratorium until the state provides funding. One state report has put the cost of the guarantee and other state mandates at about $1 billion a year.

The 4th Grade Guarantee, part of a school accountability law enacted in 1997, was scheduled to take effect in the 2001-02 school year. Critics have charged that the state tests are not appropriate to decide promotions and that poor children will bear the brunt of the requirement.

In April, Ohio Gov. Robert Taft appointed a commission to study the state’s testing and accountability system.

The ruling was part of a broader school-finance decision that ordered the state legislature to come up with a new funding system for education by June 2001.

Links: The Cleveland Plain Dealer and other Ohio papers covered the judge’s ruling extensively. Education Week’s story Ohio High Court Again

Overturns Finance System is on-line.

PENNSYLVANIA: Philadelphia students to get uniforms

Philadelphia will be the largest city to require public school students to wear uniforms, according to a report in the May 17 issue of Education Week. The 212,000-student district board of education voted May 8 to require that all schools select a uniform.

“We are under no illusions that it’s a silver bullet that is going to make kids smarter,” said school board President Pedro A. Ramos. “We do think it will improve school climate. It removes a lot of anxiety and stress from lives of our students and parents.”

Punishment for failing to abide by the policy will not begin until September 2001. In the meantime, the board will appoint a commission to recommend guidelines for appropriate uniforms, discipline measures and other details.

School boards in other big cities, including Chicago and New York, have left the issue of uniforms up to individual schools to decide, although Chicago schools were required to at least consider the question.

Links: See Education Week’s story, Philadelphia To Require Students To Wear Uniforms

OHIO: Pay-for-performance for Cincinnati teachers

Teachers in Cincinnati public schools may soon be paid based on their performance rather than seniority, under an agreement recently approved by the city’s board of education, according to the May 24 issue of Education Week. Teachers union president Rick Beck expects members to ratify the agreement, which is required for the plan to take effect.

Under the new compensation system, teachers would receive more comprehensive evaluations than before under a set of 16 new performance standards. The results of those evaluations would enable teachers to advance through five career levels, each with its own pay scale.

New teachers with bachelors degrees would start at the “apprentice” level, at $30,000 a year; at the top end, “accomplished” teachers with bachelors degrees would earn $60,000 to $62,500, which is higher than the district’s current top salary level.

Board administrators and union officials worked together to develop the new system.

Links: See Education Week’s story, Cincinnati Board Approves

Pay-for-Performance Initiative

CALIFORNIA: Lawsuit on basic school needs

Civil rights groups cited clogged toilets, crumbling buildings and shortages of textbooks, trained teachers and classroom space in a class-action lawsuit against the state of California in May. The groups charged that the state had failed to ensure that public schools met bare minimum standards.

“The failures this lawsuit addresses are not randomly distributed,” said Julie Su, Litigation Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, one of the organizations that filed the suit. “They’re concentrated in communities of color, in economically struggling communities and in immigrant communities. The state’s neglect has a clearly discriminatory impact.”

According to a May 24 report in Education Week, the suit differs from many recent, legal actions in that it does not call on the state to define an adequate education and raise spending accordingly. Rather, it charges the state with neglecting its role as a regulator of the education that local districts provide. “The state has no system of accountability—that’s the problem,” says Chris Calhoun, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “They don’t establish standards, they’re no enforcement mechanisms,” says Calhoun. “There’s nothing to ensure that schools aren’t just taking [state] money and rat-holing it.”

Links: The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has posted a lengthy press release and an Adobe Acrobat version of the legal complaint filed in state court. See also Education Week’s story, Calif. Schools Lack Basics, Suit Alleges

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MICHIGAN

Charter schools spur public schools. Researchers from Western Michigan University and a Lansing-based consulting group question the quality of the state’s charter schools but say that public schools have become more creative in response to the new competition. Their report is the first major study of Michigan’s charter schools, which were approved in 1995.

The report praised some individual charters but criticized many as “cookie-cutter” schools run by for-profit corporations. Charter schools generally scored lower on the state’s standardized test than their public school counterparts. The report also noted that average class sizes are only slightly smaller in charter schools and that the percentage of minority students attending them is declining, reports the Associated Press.

But researchers praised one significant charter effect. “They are forcing more accountability on the public schools,” Gary Miron of Western Michigan University told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re seeing marketing, professional development, after-school programs, all-day kindergarten, introduction of foreign languages, more magnet schools.”

MASSACHUSETTS

Teacher test challenged. When Massachusetts launched a new teacher certification test last spring, more than half the candidates failed. Now a study by three education experts is calling the test unreliable, the Feb. 12 Boston Globe reports.

The experts compared candidates scores with their other qualifications and found little correlation—low-achievers sometimes passed while those with strong track records failed.

The report also noted the tests’ high degree of error. As a result, students who retook the test could come out with widely different scores. Furthermore, scores on the reading and writing tests were inconsistent, which the experts found peculiar since both measure verbal skills.

The Massachusetts Teacher Test should be replaced with a national certification test, say the authors, an education writer and two college professors, one a testing expert.

Candidates should also be reimbursed the $150 it cost them to take the test, the experts insisted.

Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, who supports the test, ridiculed the authors: “These are the same people who would say ‘Well, we’re going to pass Johnny to the fourth grade because we don’t want to give him a failing grade because it might affect his self-esteem’ … and then he gets socially promoted to the teacher college. And then when he gets his teaching degree, he can’t pass a literacy test.”

NATIONWIDE

School reform models rated. Only three of 24 popular school reform models have proven that they can raise student achievement, according to a recent study sponsored by five national educator associations. The report gave the top ratings to Direct Instruction, Success for All, and High Schools That Work, reports the Feb. 17 Education Week.

The study was conducted by an independent Washington, D.C.-based research group and funded by the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals and National Education Association.

“We wanted to have a document that really, critically evaluated the evidence base underpinning these programs,” Marcella R. Dianda of the NEA told Education Week.

To earn a “strong” rating from “An Educators’ Guide to Schoolwide Reform,” a model needed four or more studies documenting improved student achievement.

However, according to Prof. Henry M. Levin of Stanford University, the report discounted factors other than the reform models that might have had an impact on a school’s performance. Levin’s Accelerated Schools program received a “marginal” rating in the report.

SAN FRANCISCO

Desegregation curtailed. A legal settlement has ended a policy that helped Latino and black students in San Francisco enroll in the public schools of their choice, according to the Feb. 18 San Francisco Examiner.

The policy was part of a 15-year old federal desegregation decree to integrate the city’s nine major racial and ethnic groups. Under the decree, no group could make up more than 45 percent of a school’s enrollment, and schools had to enroll at least four ethnic groups.

“Without such racial engineering, schools will swiftly become less diverse,” the Examiner predicted.

Five years ago, Chinese Americans filed a class-action lawsuit against the district, charging that the decree denied them equal access to selective schools, which considered race and economic status as well as prior achievement. Most black and Latino students admitted last year to the city’s top school would not have met entrance criteria on test scores and grades alone, notes the Examiner.

The district will still give some priority to students who live in the poorest neighborhoods, the Examiner reports.

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INDIANAPOLIS, IND.

City wants blacks back. In February, a federal judge rejected a bid by the Indianapolis public schools to reclaim 5,500 black students who are currently bused to suburban schools under a 16-year-old court order, according to the March 12 issue of Education Week.

Judge S. Hugh Dillin ruled that an arrangement under which black students from the city attend school in six predominantly white townships should continue indefinitely. Indianapolis school officials are appealing Dillin’s ruling.

The receiving suburbs, which initially resisted Judge Dillin’s earlier orders to accept poor black students, are now fighting to keep them. “It’s extremely ironic,” says David R. Day, a lawyer for two of the townships. “But as the kids have gone to school together, people have gotten to know each other. When you treat someone as a neighbor, you can’t just say, ‘You’re no longer my neighbor.'”

City school officials say the economics of the system are unfair. They say the townships are paid an average of $2,400 more per transfer student than the state allows Indianapolis to spend on its own pupils.

“If you live on one side of the street, the most the school district can spend on you is $5,455, but if you live on the other side of the street, the amount spent on you will be anywhere from $7,781 to $9,517,” says Rodney Black, the district’s business administrator.

The state pays the townships $47 million to educate Indianapolis transfer students this year, including $3.5 million for transportation. The townships argue that the higher spending is needed to overcome the disadvantages faced by inner-city children. Their representatives, including Day, deny that money is their prime motivation in wanting to keep the transfer students.

OMAHA, NEB.

Random drug testing. Next fall, middle schools and high schools in Omaha’s District 66 will ask parents for permission to test their children for the use of marijuana and other drugs, according to the March 12 issue of Education Week. The district seems to be the first in the nation to approve such testing for all students.

NATIONAL

Health agency push for P.E. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control urges schools to require students to participate in daily physical activity in grades K-12, according to the March 19 issue of Education Week.

Illinois is in a minority of states that have a daily P.E. requirement. Locally, the Chicago School Reform Board is seeking permission from the state to drop the daily requirement for high school juniors and seniors, beginning in September 1999.

Construction-aid debate. Republicans in Congress question President Bill Clinton’s proposal to boost spending on school construction and repair, according to the March 19 issue of Education Week. Clinton’s plan would give $5 billion to pay up to half the interest on school construction bonds floated by local districts.

Republican legislators warn that federal labor laws that apply to federally financed construction projects could drive up costs in some districts and wipe out the value of the interest aid. They also dislike what they call federal interference in a local issue.

Funding gap study. Illinois does less than other states to lessen the disparity between wealthy districts and poor ones, according to a study released in March by the General Accounting Office. Illinois ranks 46th of the 50 states in such efforts.

The study also shows that in Illinois, the level of school funding is tightly linked to the wealth of the local community. Illinois ranks 8th among the states in the effect of local poverty or wealth on local education funding, according to the report, “School Finance: State Efforts to Reduce Funding Gaps Between Poor and Wealthy Districts.”

Teacher salaries. Illinois ranks 10th in the average salary paid to public school teachers in 1995-96, according to the National Education Association. The Illinois average was $40,919; the national average, $37,685. Connecticut was highest, at $50,254; South Dakota, lowest, at $26,346. Chicago’s average was $43,867.

POMONA COUNTY, CAL.

Pants OK. To settle a lawsuit, the Pomona Unified School District has agreed to suspend part of a dress code that required female teachers to wear skirts or dresses, according to an article in the March 12 issue of Education Week. The district has also agreed to pay $10,000 plus lawyers’ fees to Roxanne Pittman, the 5th-grade teacher who filed the suit 18 months ago.

“I couldn’t see a logical reason for the rule, and that added to how I felt about it,” says Ms. Pittman. The dress code, which dates back to 1979, also violates a 1994 California law guaranteeing women the right to wear pants in the workplace.

The dress code applied to three “fundamental” elementary schools, where female students and teachers were required to wear skirts and dresses, while male teachers had to wear dress shirts, slacks and ties. The student dress code stands.