States

News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

September 26, 2001 4 min read
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W.Va. Steps Up Action on
Teachers’ Licences

West Virginia’s department of education took action against more teachers last year by revoking, denying, or suspending their licenses than in any previous year, state education officials say.

In the 2000-01 school year, the department took action against 31 teachers, compared with 16 in 1999-2000. From 1992 to 1998, the department took a total of only 15 similar actions.

The department does not break down the number of such actions into categories, but officials said the reasons teachers lost their licenses included credit card fraud, drinking with students, and using the Internet at school computers to view pornographic Web sites.

Rebecca Tinder, a lawyer for the state education department, said the increase came because the department cleaned out a backlog of licensure complaints. Last fall, the department hired two full-time lawyers to work on such cases, compared with one part-time lawyer who did so previously.

Teachers’ union leaders in the state have complained that the state has launched a crackdown that is too harsh. William B. McGinley, the general counsel for the West Virginia Education Association, said the state was usurping the power of local school boards to handle professional-discipline issues.

“We believe they are being overzealous in their approach,” Mr. McGinley said. “The local boards know the individuals. There’s no reason for the state board to then impose their views about whether the teacher is fit to teach.”

But Ms. Tinder said the state is not overreaching, noting that teacher licensing is a state responsibility. “We are obligated to investigate any complaint we receive,” Ms. Tinder said. “People are reporting things more than they used to.”

—Lisa Fine

Arkansas Can Delay Finance Changes

The Arkansas Supreme Court has granted the state’s request for a delay in changing how Arkansas finances its public schools.

In May, a judge in the state’s chancery court found Arkansas’ school funding formula unconstitutional on the grounds that it fails to provide equitable or adequate funding for poorer districts. In that opinion, Pulaski County Chancellor Collins Kilgore said the state had done little to address the disparity in resources between the richest and poorest school districts since the state supreme court struck down the system in 1983. The judge ordered the legislature to come up with a better funding system. (“Arkansas School Finance System Overturned,” June 6, 2001.)

But on Sept. 6, the state’s highest court ruled that changes in the financing system could be delayed while the state awaits the outcome of its appeal of the trial court’s decision.

Raymond Simon, the director of the state education department, said state officials were pleased by the high court’s ruling.

“This allows us to proceed, in a more orderly and structured atmosphere, to study and research those issues raised by Judge Kilgore,” he said.

—John Gehring

Okla. Weighs Requiring More Math

Oklahoma students will be required to take four years of mathematics in high school if the plan that state schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett proposed to the state board of education last week is approved.

At present, Alabama is the only state that requires students to take math throughout high school, according to Kathy Christie, a policy analyst at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

Students in Oklahoma are currently required to study math for three years in high school, and English is the only course they need to take each year to graduate.

Ms. Garrett said she was proposing the change, which would start with the class of 2006, to place as great an emphasis on math as now exists on reading and writing. She added that her plan would not require schools to follow a specific curriculum.

To address the demand for math teachers, Ms. Garrett said the state should offer a $2,000 stipend to teachers of other subjects to return to school and become certified to teach math.

That’s good in theory, said Carolyn Crowder, the president of the Oklahoma Education Association. But, she said, she was waiting to see if that money would be a one-time offer, and if teachers would have to pay for their recertification. “The devil is in the details,” she said.

Before the state board can vote on whether to approve the change, the proposal will need to go through a year of public hearings, Ms. Garrett said.

—Michelle Galley

Colo. Unveils First School Ratings

Colorado has released its first-ever school accountability reports, rating nearly all of its 1,400 public schools according to student test scores.

The legislature early this year dropped plans to assign letter grades to schools, and instead adopted ratings of “excellent,” “high,” “average,” “low,” and “unsatisfactory.” When the ratings were released Sept. 17, 18 elementary schools were rated unsatisfactory statewide, as were seven middle schools and five high schools.

Unsatisfactory schools have the opportunity to improve over three years, and will be provided with teacher-pay incentives and grants of as much as $250,000. If they fail to improve, they could be turned into charter schools and their governance would be turned over to private organizations or school-management companies. Schools rated excellent may receive awards of as much as $15,000.

The 71,000-student Denver district fared worst in the rankings, with 11 elementary schools, five middle schools, and five high schools receiving the bottom rating. The district also had 74 schools ranked low, leading Superintendent Jerry Wartgow to announce a 60-day plan to try to jump-start improvement in those schools.

—Mark Walsh

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