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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