Saturday, March 10, 2007

All quiet before the vote $10M school renovation on warrant Tuesday

The following piece appeared in the Eagle Times. Take note of the following line from the article below "Establishment of a land purchase capital reserve fund." What the most likely means is that they are going to eventually ask the voters for more money to purchase land, than they will ask for more money to purchase a school, than they will ask for more money to staff the schools. When will the cycle end? If the district is concerned about growth impacting the need for the new schools. The district needs to work with the City of Newport. New developments should not be approved unless the new developments pay for future schools that need to be built. Current residents should not be responsible for the building of new schools that should be the responsibility of the developers of new homes. The city of Newport needs to grow responsibly.

All quiet before the vote
$10M school renovation on warrant Tuesday

Aaron Aldridge
Staff Writer

NEWPORT - Although the public was invited to attend a forum Thursday night on next Tuesday's vote on a $10 million school renovation plan, no residents arrived to discuss the proposal or the budget with board members.

School Board Chairperson Anthony McConnell gave a presentation on the proposed $10.5 million warrant article for an addition at Richards School and renovations at Towle School and the middle high school.

The proposed project includes moving the sixth grade back to Towle School, moving the fourth grade to Richards School, building a large addition at Richards and renovating all three schools in the district to bring them up to health and safety code standards.

A 60 percent majority is needed to pass the bond issue which will have a tax impact of $1.23 per thousand dollars of property value the first year, $2.95 the second year and about 10 cents less each of the following years until the bond is paid off in 2027.

The original proposal before the school board had included a two-story addition at the high school which would have housed all of the middle school students. That proposal was in excess of $15 million and was deemed too expensive by the school board.

The budget plan was also reviewed

"We've kept the budget within a very tight limit this year," board member Kathy Sarles said.

The proposed budget of $14.4 million represents a 3.6 percent increase over this year's budget.

"The budget has no extras that aren't important to our kids' education," board member Holly Harrison said.

"We want folks to understand it is intrinsic to pass this budget," board member Patricia DiPadova said. "I think our budget reflects keeping things pretty much the way they are now."

Reasons for the increase in the budget this year include special education costs, retirement contributions and a possible decline in federal grant revenue, DiPadova said.

If the school budget is approved, the estimated tax impact is $3.21 per thousand dollars of property value. The current local school tax rate is $14.62 per thousand dollars of property value.

"There is the possibility the tax impact could be a lot less," DiPadova said.

Other articles to be voted upon are:

• Withdrawal of $100,000 from the school building capital reserve fund to replace part of the roof at the high school.

• Establishment of a fund for out-of-district placement.

• Add an additional $50,000 to the school renovation capital reserve fund.

• $20,000 for continued planning should the $10.5 million bond fail.

• Establishment of a land purchase capital reserve fund.

Residents will cast their votes 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Newport Opera House.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Newport School Warrant Articles

I was listening to WNTK 99.7 and heard a radio ad for the Newport School Tax Warrant. Some of the questions that came to mind were who was paying for the ad and do any of the people who are on the committee for the tax warrant benefit from the tax warrant increase if it passes? If the warrant truly has merit why must they advertise for the warrant? It would seem if the warrants were necessary persuasion of the passage of the warrant would not be necessary.

The ad stated that the State would be paying for 60% of the costs of the school renovations. Where do the members of the committee think the money from the state comes from? The state does not grow money on trees, it is coming out of someone's pocket.

Residents should strongly consider the impact of a possible property tax increase to their wallets with the possibility of an income tax increasing looming in the near future.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Fixing No Child Left Behind

The following piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Fixing No Child Left Behind

WSJ Editorial: March 6, 2007; Page A18

The No Child Left Behind education law is up for renewal this year, and an independent commission recently released some recommendations for improvement. Not to be outdone, the White House has also put out its own "blueprint" for strengthening the law. The legislation could use a serious reworking, but any fixes won't go far enough unless they do more to expand public and private school choice.

NCLB's political bargain was that, in return for a big increase in federal education spending, the government would hold schools more accountable for results in the classroom. Six years later, taxpayers have done their part. Since 2001 overall NCLB funding has risen by 34%, and federal spending on Title I schools serving low-income students has gone up 45%.

NCLB and the Bush Administration also deserve some credit for shifting the terms of the education debate. The law has focused attention on learning gaps between students of different races and economic backgrounds that persist even at some of the nation's best public schools. The law's requirement that schools test annually in grades 3-8, and report both averages and the results of racial and economic subgroups, has made it much more difficult for administrators to hide the fact that all students aren't learning.

NCLB has been much less successful in bringing pressure to bear on states and school districts that fail to implement the law. That's especially true of the school choice provisions, which are the best way to get the attention of the education bureaucracy. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration abandoned its voucher proposal very early in the 2001 negotiations. What passed was a watered-down version of public school choice, which in theory allows a child in a failing school to transfer to a better public school or get free after-school tutoring from private providers.

* * *

In practice, however, the Education Department has too often allowed school districts to skirt even these limited choice provisions, either by granting exemptions or looking the other way. It took a formal complaint from the Alliance for School Choice before Secretary Margaret Spellings did anything about Los Angeles failing to notify parents of their transfer rights as required under the law. So far she's sent the district a sternly worded letter.

And the Chicago public school system, which has been repeatedly labeled "in need of improvement" and thus should be banned under NCLB from offering its own after-school tutoring, has been given a waiver to do exactly that. So while it would be nice if the Bush Administration enforced its own law, the larger lesson is that school choice "lite" turns out to be no substitute for the real thing.

To be fair, some of these problems are structural. Even if more school districts were implementing NCLB's transfer provisions, there often isn't enough room in decent schools to handle all the children who qualify for a transfer. And many of the private after-school tutoring services allowed under the law are simply employing the same teachers from the local public school system who are failing the kids during regular school hours.

There's also the problem of allowing each state to develop its own standards and tests to determine proficiency in reading and math. The Administration was deferring to federalist principles on an issue that's traditionally been handled at the state and local level. But the reality has been a "race to the bottom," with some states constructing easy tests to avoid federal penalties.

"If you're in Oklahoma right now, you're told that 95% or 96% of your schools are doing fine," says Frederick Hess, who follows education at the American Enterprise Institute. "And if you're in Massachusetts, you're told that 40% to 45% of your schools are doing fine. But if you look at the actual achievement data, it suggests that kids in Massachusetts are doing far better than kids in Oklahoma."

Some education reformers are now calling for "national standards" to address this problem. But we tried national history standards in the 1990s, and the politicized results weren't pretty -- unless, of course, you favor a history curriculum that downgrades the Founding Fathers while playing up the working experiences of midwives in 19th-century Nebraska.

Rather than force a national test on states, the best compromise here may be to require them to benchmark their own assessments against the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a federal standardized test that already exists and that most educators agree is fairly rigorous. "So people at least have a common metric by which to judge the rigor of the state assessment," says Mr. Hess.

It's worth considering, and we wish we could say the same about the Commission on No Child Left Behind, which was funded by private foundations and co-chaired by former Governors Tommy Thompson and Roy Barnes. But the panel's report is more interested in tinkering than fundamental change, and its 75 recommendations don't include the one that would make the biggest difference: school vouchers.

* * *

The Administration's proposed fixes are bolder and potentially more consequential. President Bush's 2008 budget sets aside $250 million for "promise scholarships" for low-income students in schools that have consistently underperformed for five years. The scholarships would average about $4,000 and "the money would follow the child to the public, charter or private school of his or her choice."

Them's fightin' words for the Democrats who now control Congress. But Mr. Bush has the bully pulpit, as well as the moral authority from five years of evidence on failing schools. We hope his Administration uses them to explain why real school choice is essential to any reform in K-12 education.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Students still lag on reading, math tests - More challenging courses not helping

The following piece appeared in The Birmingham News newspaper. Our public education system is failing our students. More money is not the answer real reform and competition is the only solution.
Without reform we will continue to see lagging scores, reduced literacy rates, billions spent on remedial education at the college level and essentially flat dropout rates.

Students still lag on reading, math tests

More challenging courses not helping
Friday, February 23, 2007
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - High school students are getting better grades and taking more challenging courses, but that is not showing up on national math and reading tests.

"The reality is that the results don't square," said Darvin Winick, chair of the independent National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the tests. Scores were released Thursday.

Nearly 40 percent of high school seniors scored below the basic level on the math test. More than a quarter of seniors failed to reach the basic level on the reading test.

"I think that we are sleeping through a crisis," said Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David Driscoll, a governing board member. He said the low test scores should push lawmakers and educators to enact school reforms.

The new reading scores show no change since 2002, the last time the test was given.

"We should be getting better. There's nothing good about a flat score," Winick said.

The government said it could not compare the math results with the previous scores because the latest test was significantly different.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress - often called the nation's report card - is viewed as the best way to compare students across the country because it's the only uniform national yardstick.

The tests were given in 2005. The government released the scores Thursday along with a report examining the high school transcripts of 2005 graduates.

The transcript study shows students are earning more credits, taking challenging courses and getting higher grade-point averages than in the past.

In 2005, high school graduates had an overall grade-point average just shy of 3.0 - or about a B. That has gone up from a grade-point average of about 2.7 in 1990.

It is unclear whether student performance has improved or whether grade inflation or something else might be responsible, the report said.

More students are completing high school with a standard curriculum, meaning they take at least four credits of English and three credits each of social studies, math and science. More students also are taking the next level of courses, which generally include college preparatory classes.

"I'm guessing that those levels don't connote the level of rigor that we think they do. Otherwise kids would be scoring higher on the NAEP test," said David Gordon, a governing board member and the superintendent of schools in Sacramento, Calif.

The study showed no increase in the number of high-schoolers who completed the most advanced curriculum, which could include college-level or honors classes.

On the math test, about 60 percent of high school seniors performed at or above the basic level.

Just one-fourth of 12th-graders were proficient or better in math, meaning they demonstrated solid academic performance.

On the reading test, about three-fourths of seniors performed at or above the basic level, and 40 percent hit the proficient mark.

© 2007 The Birmingham News© 2007 All Rights Reserved.