News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Calif. Expands Rules On Reporting Charges
A new state law will require the California Highway Patrol to notify a school district any time one of its teachers has been charged with a sex or drug offense.
Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, signed the measure Sept. 26. The law goes into effect Jan. 1.
Currently, only local sheriffs and police departments are required to report teachers' arrests to local school district officials, according to David Heckler, the legislative aide to Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher, a Republican, who sponsored the bill.
The bill also clarifies that the state teacher-credentialing commission must inform a school district whenever it becomes aware of drug or sex charges filed against a teacher. Now, two separate laws give conflicting directions to the commission, Mr. Heckler said.
The bill was enacted without opposition in either the Assembly or the Senate, Mr. Heckler said.
—David J. Hoff
Massachusetts Scraps Math Tests for Teachers
State education officials in Massachusetts will focus on improving teachers' knowledge of mathematics through a series of training initiatives, rather than by requiring teachers in the lowest-performing schools to take a controversial exam.
While David P. Driscoll, the state education commissioner and a former math teacher, had previously supported the use of a competency exam for math teachers, he now says better alternatives exist.
Mr. Driscoll announced the plan at a Boston middle school Sept. 24.
Among other steps, the new state effort will include using money from the federal No Child Left Behind Act to help teachers take math courses, develop a CD-ROM for teachers on the state's math standards, and come up with an optional self-diagnostic exam posted online that would allow teachers to assess their own skills.
Achievement Gap in Kentucky Demands Action, Report Says
The achievement gap between minority and white students in Kentucky continues to be "alarming" and demands a comprehensive response from state education officials, the state's commission on human rights says.
In analyzing state test scores, the commission found that the proportion of whites who scored at the "proficient" and "advanced" levels exceeded the rates for African- Americans, Hispanics, low-income students, and students with disabilities by more than 20 percentage points.
"Ensuring Education Equality: Understanding the Achievement Gap in Kentucky's Public School System," which was released last month, also faults the state for lacking "a definitive and holistic plan specifically targeting a reduction in the achievement gap."
"We've known [about the gap] for years and have been pretty focused on it for the past four or five years," said Lisa Y. Gross, the press secretary for the state education department. "It drives everything we do."
The department is working with the seven districts with significant minority populations to come up with strategies for closing the disparities in achievement, she said.
—David J. Hoff
N.C. Governor Orders State To Pay Out Teacher Bonuses
North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley has directed the state budget office to pay out the maximum amount in bonuses to teachers and staff members under the state's accountability program, despite an unexpected $44 million increase in the cost of the incentives.
Under the state's ABCs for Public Education program, established in 1996, educators in schools that meet or exceed state expectations on tests in a given year can receive up to $1,500 each in additional pay.
The state education department had requested nearly $100 million to pay those bonuses. But test results released last month showed that many more schools met the standard, meaning the state owed some $140 million in bonuses. With a tight state budget, one made even tighter by the costly cleanup from the recent Hurricane Isabel, some educators worried their bonus checks would be smaller.
"[W]hile providing a lower bonus might be technically legally permissible, it does not keep the promise to our teachers," the Democratic governor wrote in a letter to state Budget Director David T. McCoy last week. "The full amount of the bonus can be paid within the appropriation to public schools."
The state will use surplus money from other programs to make up the cost of the bonuses.
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Bay State Sees Big Jump In Student Suspensions
Massachusetts education officials are reporting a record increase in student suspensions in the state.
New figures from the state education department show that in the 2000-01 school year, Bay State schools meted out 1,621 student "exclusions." An exclusion is any time a student is removed from school for disciplinary reasons for more than 10 days in a row.
The new number, the most recent available, represents a 15 percent hike over the 1,412 exclusions reported the previous year and marks the highest figure since the state began collecting such information eight years ago.
Further breakdowns show a 70 percent jump in the number of African-American students excluded since 1998-99, compared with 7 percent for white students.
Education department officials point out that changes in state policy in the mid-1990s shifted the authority to expel students from school boards to principals in cases involving drugs, weapons, or assaults.
Minnesota Auditor Blasts Superintendent-Pay Plans
A top state official has heavily criticized the pay packages for Minnesota schools superintendents. Too many of them, she says, receive hefty severance benefits paid out in the form of unused sick leave and vacation days.
In a report released Sept. 25, State Auditor Patricia Awada says school boards' practice of fattening superintendent employment packages with high-priced benefits has increased since 2000.
The trend is particularly pronounced in metropolitan areas, she said, where severance payments sometimes exceed a superintendent's annual salary.
"The legislature provided that these public employees could only receive six months' worth of salary plus their accrued leave as severance," she said in a statement. "Little did the legislature know that the leave days themselves often add up to an additional 12 months worth of pay."
Charging that school boards may be trying to hide the true cost of their superintendent employment packages from taxpayers, the state auditor recommended the legislature consider placing new limits on superintendent salaries and severance benefits.
In response to the state auditor's report, the Minnesota Association of School Administrators said it would provide school boards and superintendents with guidelines for informing the public about superintendent compensation.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
Vol. 23, Issue 6, Page 19