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The Education Year in Review -- 2008-2009


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Legislative Issues

Illinois Education

The Federal Scene

Significant Developments

Participation in IASB Programs
Click here to download a table in portable document format showing numbers of participants in IASB programs for the past three years.

IASB Financial Report
Click here to download the IASB financial report for FY 2009 in portable document format.

Awards and Honors

LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

Under terms of the FY ’09 education budget approved by lawmakers in the spring of 2008, elementary and secondary education received an increase of approximately $515 million from the FY’ 08 budget levels. That was an increase of more than 7 percent.

A key piece of legislation, HB 5701 (Hannig, D-Litchfield), under the state budget as adopted increased the school funding formula’s foundation level by $225 per pupil, and fully fund the mandated categorical grant programs. It funded transition aid with $31 million, ensuring that no school district would receive less state money in FY ’09 than in FY ’08. Early childhood education funding was increased by $32.4 million, but the ADA Block Grant was held to the FY ’08 funding level. Other budget line items that received increases included:

  • Gifted Education $2 million Arts & Foreign Language $4 million
  • Free Breakfast/Lunch $5.3 million Teachers & Admin. Mentoring $2 million
  • Grow Your Own Teachers $500,000 Bi-Lingual Assessments $12.6 million
  • Response to Intervention $2 million Educator Misconduct Investigations $375,000

Unlike the previous spring, a budget implementation bill was adopted by the legislature along with the budget.   SB 773 (Schoenberg) was approved to implement the appropriations contained in HB 5701. It changed the language in the School Code to increase the per pupil foundation level by $225, bringing the total to $5,959 per pupil. It also continued the transitional aid provision and continued the poverty grant “hold harmless” provision.

The governor had claimed, however, that total expenditures were greater than revenues in the budget sent to him by lawmakers. A series of meetings with three of the top legislative leaders and the governor was launched during the second week of June in order to begin to iron out this fundamental stumbling block. But House Speaker Michael Madigan was noticeably absent from those meetings.  

That same week, Madigan sent out a 14-page memo to legislative candidates spelling out ways to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Gov. Blagojevich and some legislative leaders accused Madigan of blocking an agreement on a capital construction program and faulted him for not personally attending meetings with all the leaders on the capital program and the state budget.

Bill action

School lobbyists said a number of bills opposed by the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance in the spring session failed to receive approval by the legislature, including bills to:

- Create an “Education Inspector General” to investigate schools based on anonymous allegations, and to require school board members to receive specified training (HB 4194, HB 5769)

- Grant additional sick leave to ESPs outside of the collective bargaining process (SB 2689)

- Prohibit a school cafeteria’s use of trans fats in cooking (SB 2858)

- Prohibit a driver’s education program from buying a foreign car (HB 4387)

- Allow certain 4-year-olds to attend kindergarten (HB 4441)

- Require school districts to post detailed budget information for each school on the school district website (HB 5669)

- Require schools to adopt a cumbersome diabetes medical management plan (HB 5960)

- Increase separation benefits for members of IMRF costing school districts .05% of IMRF payroll (statewide cost of $3 million) (SB 1958)

- Increase the supplemental payment for IMRF members costing school districts .86% of IMRF payroll (statewide cost of $48.4 million) (SB 1959)

- Reduce the number of years to be vested in the IMRF system costing school districts .29% of IMRF payroll (statewide cost of $16.3 million) (SB 1960)

- Reduce the number of years of the probationary period (to 2 years) before certain teachers acquire tenure (SB 2686)

- Require public bodies to provide information in any form requested under FOIA (HB 4270)

- Require districts to transfer expelled students to another school in the district (HB 4268)

- Require seat belts on school buses (SB 2084)

- Require a specific grade point average (GPA) for participation in athletics (HB 5619)

- Create new requirements for school districts regarding special education transition services (HB 4822)

- Change the burden of proof for property assessment challenges (HB 2957)

- Impact IHSA’s governance of the annual basketball tournament. (HB 4582 / SB 1997)

- Expand the Senior Assessment Freeze to include the disabled (SB 2072)

- Disallow a school district from transferring a student to an attendance center on the academic watch list (HB 4442)

- Grant tenure to teachers after four non-consecutive years of service (HB 4546)

- Expand the “7% Solution” homestead exemption (SB 2398)

The governor signed a number of significant new education-related bills into law, including:

H.B. 4705, (Currie, D-Chicago) continued the state’s early childhood program, “Preschool for All,” for two more years by providing $380 million in funding. Co-sponsored by Senator Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester), the bill extended the preschool program through June 30, 2010.   In 2006, the program first became law, making Illinois the first state to make preschool available for all three- and four-year-olds.   Funding was made available to public and private schools, child care centers, and licensed family child care homes, private preschools, park districts, faith-based organizations, and other community-based agencies. The program requires preschools to be staffed by experienced teachers who hold bachelor’s degrees and specialized training in early education, and provide at least two and a half hours per day of high-quality programming designed to foster all of the skills – social, emotional, physical, and cognitive – that all young children need to achieve success in school and later in life. In Fiscal Year 2007, the state program served 85,186 children ages 3 to 5 years. During Fiscal Year 2008, more than 90,000 children were served statewide, according to the state board of education, which administers the program. All three and four-year-olds in Illinois are eligible, totaling nearly 350,000 children.

S.B. 1874 helped school districts that receive money from the Special Education Extraordinary Services program. Under the bill, more than 200 Illinois school districts received a total of $21 million for special education programs. The bill made a significant change in the way the state allocated money for special education. The bill essentially made sure no districts lost money.

Public Act 095-0155 amended the Childhood Hunger Relief Act (105 ILCS 126/20) to require summer school lunch and/or breakfast programs in many school districts.   It newly required that a school district must, in all schools in which 50 percent or more of the student population is eligible for free or reduced-price meals AND having a summer school program, implement a summer breakfast and/or lunch program for the duration of the summer school program.   This amendment applies to all schools that meet the above criteria, including those that do not currently participate in any of the Federal Nutrition Programs.   ISBE administers two federal nutrition programs: the National School Lunch Program’s Seamless Summer Option or Summer Food Service Program to assist in implementing a successful program and to supplement the cost of providing school meals.

NCLB scores delayed

In July 2008, State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch ordered nearly a million reading and math tests to be re-equated and rescored, “using a more appropriate process.” “This process will delay the release of scores for several weeks,” he said.

A spokesman for Koch said the final scores should be released by mid-September at the latest. Scores and AYP determinations had been scheduled to be posted the first week of August.  

Annual school report cards will still be available for release to the public by Oct. 31 as scheduled, state officials said.  

The foul-up was discovered after Illinois students graded out so much better, in some cases and worse in others, on state tests this year that the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) was compelled to pay for an independent review to help explain the fluctuations. The board hired the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation to review the situation. Working with test developer Pearson Education, it found an insufficient scientific method was used to ensure different questions between the two years carried the same scoring weight.

The swings in scoring followed the state’s decision to use Form F of a national exam after using Form B for the two previous years, ISBE said. At least six forms exist.

A standard equating method, used to ensure that each year’s test is as difficult as those in previous years, did not adequately adjust for the new form, ISBE explained, thus a new equating method is being substituted.

The fluctuations in scores bolstered criticism that a single test should not be used to measure students, evaluate teachers or penalize schools. Some experts have also raised questions about the reliability of all three years of the new ISAT because it is unclear whether it was this year’s test that was skewed or the tests from the previous two years.

Scores on the ISAT taken in March by students in third through eighth grades showed steeper-than-normal increases or decreases, depending on the grade tested. The changes were most clear cut in reading in third, fourth, sixth and eighth grades, but math scores also were impacted, according to ISBE. In some cases, the change in the passing rates was 10 percent or more.

ISAT is a standardized test that measures individual student achievement in third through eighth grades, relative to state learning standards.

Schools are waiting for ISAT scores both to make data-driven decisions about curriculum, and also to learn if they have reached the 62.5 percent passing rate required for all groups of students under the Adequate Yearly Progress provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Under the law, schools that repeatedly fall short of their targets, even for a single subgroup, must offer school choice or after-school tutoring.

Koch has offered some state guidance about AYP concerns to school administrators. “We are working to get these scores to you as soon as possible. In the past when these determinations have been late, the advice given to districts was to err on the side of caution and begin making plans to provide school choice and/or supplemental education services in situations where there was a chance that the test scores would trigger these actions,” he said.   

Statewide trends seen

Koch informed local districts earlier in the summer that scoring swings “are not limited to a single district or set of districts; nor are they confined to a specific subgroup. Instead, we are seeing statewide trends.”

The ISBE contracted with the Kansas-based Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, a firm with substantial testing experience, to review the scoring, logistical processes and the testing methods to find out the reasons for the fluctuations. The state also had asked its test contractor, Pearson Education, to review how it scored students’ longer, written answers, and the weighting factors assigned to questions based on ease or difficulty.

“The fact that these issues were identified early in the scoring process shows that the safeguards we have in place are working to ensure the most accurate scores possible,” said Koch, in a message to school districts in late July.

The delay is not unprecedented. In fact, last year was one of the few instances when the state provided the assessments on schedule and on time for the beginning of the school year.

Results were delayed two years earlier because of late exam document delivery and error-riddled test booklets provided in the spring of 2006. Ever since testing was first ramped up by NCLB in 2002, testing results were typically rife with errors, late, or else showed significant or unexpected shifts in scores.

Such problems caused difficulties for many schools and districts, particularly those required by the NCLB Act to communicate the option of school choice and supplemental education services to parents.

Many educators said they had been anticipating a downturn in passing rates for non-native speakers because such students were newly required to take the regular ISAT test in 2008 with accommodations, rather than a test designed just for them. The 2008 aberrations, however, were not limited to English Language Learners.

The score fluctuations raised some concerns among local school officials about the reliability of the testing system itself.

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ILLINOIS EDUCATION

State Board of Education Developments

June 2009 – Illinois joins with 45 other states to develop common learning standards in English and math for elementary and secondary students, according to ISBE. Called the “Common Core State Standards Initiative,” the project will be jointly led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to create a common core of learning standards based on the best evidence, research and academic performance of countries around the world.

May 2009 – The percentage of Illinois students who meet and exceed state standards on all standardized tests in all subjects rises for the sixth consecutive year, according to figures released by ISBE. But the number of school districts clearing the ever-rising bar of No Child Left Behind standards in order to report Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for every subgroup of students declines for the second straight year.

April 2009 – The Illinois State Board of Education is chosen by the U.S. Department of Education to receive nearly $9 million for a statewide Longitudinal Data System (LDS) to help local districts improve analysis and use of data to better prepare students for success. Another key aim is to make data more accessible to educators, especially when it comes to helping children reach the standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act.

March 2009 – The Illinois State Board of Education’s budget, and the governor’s recommendation, aim to begin phasing out a special state payment called the general state aid “hold harmless” that 86 school districts received in FY 2009.  

February 2009 – ISBE announces that the lion’s share of Illinois’ stimulus allotment for education — nearly $2 billion — is targeted to prevent school layoffs and cuts, and will be distributed through Gov. Patrick Quinn’s office over the next two years. The state launches a website about the stimulus money distribution.

January 2009 – A count of heads at ISBE shows the agency has been whittled down from 900 employees a decade earlier to just 477 employees. No one in the agency is a content specialist, critics say, and ISBE is sometimes charged with not having enough staff to monitor local school districts.

December 2008 – State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch serves on a new presidential transition task force. Koch and education officials from around the country examine issues the next U.S. Secretary of Education should address in the first 100 days.

November 2008 – The ISBE first publishes a resource on its website devoted to the American Diploma Project (ADP), at http://www.isbe.net/ADP/default.htm.   It explains that ADP is a collaboration of school leaders from many states aiming to review and revise standards on what students need to know and to do.   ISBE announces it will be using the national benchmarks to refocus the Illinois Learning Standards and make them clearer and more rigorous.

October 2008 – ISBE names Linda Smerge, a teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Cicero, as Illinois Teacher of the Year. Smerge said she had decided to leave a lucrative law practice after 13 years because of a feeling something was missing in her life, and she later realized that her true calling was in the classroom.

September 2008 – Revision of the ISBE’s board’s five-year strategic plan leads to the release of its new mission statement, which reads: “The Illinois State Board of Education will provide leadership, assistance, resources and advocacy so that every student is prepared to succeed in careers and postsecondary education and share accountability for doing so with districts and schools.”

August 2008 – State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch orders nearly a million reading and math tests to be re-equated and rescored, “using a more appropriate process.   This process will delay the release of scores for several weeks,” he says.

July 2008 – It is announced that a record number of Illinois high school students took Advanced Placement (AP) tests in 2007-2008, with more than 60,000 public and non-public juniors and seniors taking AP exams. That is an increase of 8.1 percent on the year, according to a report released by the College Board. In addition, the state also saw a significant increase in all minority groups taking AP classes.

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THE FEDERAL SCENE

Moment of silence requirement is banned. A federal judge on May 29 widened the ban against requiring a “moment of silence” in schools from a few districts around the state to all schools statewide. Judge Robert W. Gettleman stated at a court hearing he will soon issue a written order directing schools to stop enforcing a state law requiring a moment of silence at public schools, said Ronak Patel, an attorney for Dawn and Rob Sherman, the plaintiffs. The Illinois State Board of Education said the board sent an e-mail to schools on May 29, telling them “in essence, they should immediately cease enforcing the law,” according to Andrea Preston, an ISBE spokeswoman. A student at Buffalo Grove High School had sued Northwest Suburban School District 214, alleging the “moment of silence” law was unconstitutional. Judge Gettleman agreed. The student had argued that the law’s wording made prayer more than just an option; it constituted an explicit suggestion from authorities that students pray, thus violating the freedom of religion.

Illinois is chosen to pilot new NCLB flexibility.   Illinois was chosen as one of six states to participate in a federal pilot program to provide additional flexibility and tools to assist schools in meeting federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law requirements. While some school administrators said the new project was a good idea, because it would concentrate resources in needy schools sooner, others claimed the changes appeared only to create new labels and categories while NCLB standards continued to clamp down with ever greater pressure. Specifically, under the pilot program, the state could now allow low-performing schools to offer tutoring to students earlier. In the past, schools that failed to make AYP in the same subject area two consecutive years were required to offer public school choice and tutoring services after three years of AYP failure. It never made much sense that tutoring came after school choice, critics of NCLB had argued.

Stimulus money arrives. A total of $1.4 billion of initial payments of federal stimulus dollars began flowing to local educational agencies in Illinois in late April of 2009, part of a nationwide effort to stave off mass layoffs and program cuts stemming from the national recession and worsening state budget shortfalls. Illinois was among the first three states getting the funds and eventually received $3 billion in federal aid.   The money was used to pay general education expenses and avoid state funding cuts for schools, particularly cuts in General State Aid.

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SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENTS, 2008-2009

SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENTS, 2008-2009

July 2008 – It is announced that more than 98 percent of all school districts in Illinois belong to IASB. That represents the highest proportion of membership the Association has ever had.

August 2008 – IASB begins assisting Lt. Governor Pat Quinn in conducting a two-part survey on the nature and quality of the state services to school districts. The Association contacts the board presidents of all member districts about this Survey of Illinois School Districts, which is directed by the lieutenant governor’s office.

September 2008 – IASB offers its first-ever diversity workshops. A new Diversity and Inclusion Awareness workshop is held on Sep. 4 at IASB offices in Springfield, and on Sep. 10 at IASB offices in Lombard. Included are engaging, interactive exercises in a half-day workshop aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion awareness — the first step in the diversity education process.   At the conclusion of the workshop, participants are expected to understand why “diversity and inclusion” is not simply the phrase du jour, but a vital component of ensuring the future success of a school district.

October 2008 – Staff members present the last three workshops at five selected dates and locations for district employees who serve as the board secretary and/or superintendent secretary and elected board secretaries. The workshop is intended to assist board secretaries in their role as the “local election official” for the April 2009 school board elections.

November 2008 – At its organizational meeting after the Joint Annual Conference, held on Nov. 23, 2008, the IASB Board of Directors assigned various committees for the coming year. Board members elected to the Executive Committee include: Roger Edgecombe, Roger Pfister, Karen Fisher and Joanne Osmond, in addition to President Mark C. Metzger, Vice President Joseph Alesandrini, Past President Marie Slater and Treasurer Carolyne Brooks.

December 2008 – IASB releases final figures showing a new record for total attendance was set at the 2008 Joint Annual Conference, as 12,261 people registered for the event. That is 199 more than 2007, when registration topped 12,000 for the first time.   

January 2009 – IASB publishes a new, fourth edition of its best-selling book Good School Maintenance, last updated in 1996.   The book has been a bible for thousands of physical plant managers since it was first published by the Illinois Association of School Boards in 1976.

February 2009 – The annual lobbying effort by school board leaders, the Annual Federal Relations Network Conference, is held in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 1-3. Organizers say it is the only national meeting that offers school board members an inside track to influence public education law.   Attending from Illinois are four IASB officers and five other school board representatives, plus four Association staff members.  

March 2009 – IASB hosts its 14 th annual job fair for teachers, administrators and education majors on March 7 at Shannon Center on the campus of Saint Xavier University in Chicago. The purpose is to assist districts in finding and hiring qualified teachers and administrators.

April 2009 – Results from both the board member survey and the superintendent survey, each broken down into results for four regions of the state, are released for downloading from the IASB Web site.   IASB received surveys back from 1,699 board members and 404 superintendents, yielding participation rates of approximately 28 percent and 47 percent, respectively.  

May 2009 – The law firm Franczek Radelet & Rose announce that founding partner Charles P. Rose has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as General Counsel for the federal Department of Education. Rose is a former IASB employee who got his start at the association.

June 2009 – The IASB staff co-hosts the annual joint conference of the American Association of State Policy Services (AASPS) and the NSBA Trainers group meeting in Chicago.   IASB staff also hosted the event in 2007.   The AASPS is organized for the purpose of providing continuing education and networking opportunities for state association staff in their roles as policy and governance consultants to school board association members.  

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AWARDS AND HONORS

Thomas Lay Burroughs Award. Joanne Zendol of Berwyn South SD 100, was honored as the year’s Thomas Lay Burroughs Award winner at the 2008 Joint Annual Conference in November. Zendol, who won the award that goes to the outstanding board president of the year, reflected on a 20-year career serving a district of 3,900 students. Specifically, the award is presented annually by the Illinois State Board of Education to local school board presidents who have shown outstanding leadership on behalf of improved student learning, educational excellence, equal opportunity, and crisis resolution. The award is named in honor of the late chairman of the State Board of Education.

Superintendent of the Year.   Mark Friedman of Libertyville SD 70 was awarded the Illinois Superintendent of the Year honors from the Illinois Association of School Administrators at the 2008 Joint Annual Conference. Award winners are selected based on their work demonstrating: creativity in meeting students’ learning needs; strength in personal and organizational communications; commitment to growth through upgrading their administrative knowledge and skills; and their community involvement.

Cole Awards. Fourteen different newspapers received honors in the 2008 Robert M. Cole competition for best coverage of local school board issues. The contest is sponsored by IASB and conducted by the Illinois Press Association. Winning newspapers in the 28th annual Cole Awards event included the Quincy Herald-Whig, which earned first place in the large daily newspaper category. The Quincy paper joined The Times, Ottawa (mid-size dailies), Breeze-Courier, Taylorville (small dailies) and Ledger-Sentinel, Oswego (non-dailies) in earning the year’s first-place awards. Other winners in the large daily category were the News-Democrat, Belleville, which earned both 2nd and 3rd place, followed by the Northwest Herald, Crystal Lake, with an honorable mention. The NewsTribune, La Salle, earned 2nd place in the mid-size daily newspaper category, followed by the Pekin Daily Times, which earned both 3rd place and honorable mention. Second prize for small dailies went to the Morris Daily Herald. Earning 2nd place in the non-daily category was the Kendall County Record, Yorkville, with 3rd place going to The Galena Gazette, and honorable mention to the Evanston Review. Named in memory of the first executive direction of IASB, the Robert M. Cole Award recognizes outstanding newspaper coverage of education issues that emphasizes the community’s connection with its local public school district.

Those Who Excel. Five school board members and one entire school board are honored by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2008 for their outstanding service to Illinois schools. One board member receives the top-level Excel award, the Award of Excellence, namely Teri L. Ehrenhardt, a member of the Eureka CUSD 140 Board of Education.   Three school board members win the Award of Merit. They are: Tony J. Brunson, Rich Township High School District 227, Olympia Fields; Donald Shannon, Kildeer Countryside Community Consolidated School District 96, Buffalo Grove; and Juanita Wells, Aurora East School District 131, Schaumburg.   Brunson is also an IASB leader in the Association’s South Cook Division. The entire school board that received an Award of Merit was the Schaumburg CCSD 54 Board of Education. The board was honored as a team. One other board member honored in the school board category of the Excel Awards was Debra Shipley, Naperville CUSD 203. She received an Award of Recognition.

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