Right Of The Star

Thursday, May 05, 2005

NCLB Follies!

ROCKFORD Register Star April 5, 2005 -- Rockford is one of only two Illinois school districts to lose federal money earmarked for improving reading. The reason: Superintendent Dennis Thompson turned away monitors who came in February to see whether the money was being spent correctly.

The cost: At least $681,000. The grants are the federal government's way of paying for the No Child Left Behind Act, the sweeping law that forces districts to improve or face sanctions.

Thompson told monitors to come back after making an appointment in advance. The state, which runs the Reading First grant for the federal Department of Education, says rescheduling an investigative visit is not acceptable. The state has been under increasing pressure from the federal government to improve how it monitors the grants.

Thompson, who got word of the grant loss last week, said Monday that the incident was an unfortunate miscommunication that doesn’t matter.

“The issue with the grant is that it is so restrictive that you can only use it in so many ways,” Thompson said.

Those ways did not jibe with his plans for the district’s reading program, so he didn’t plan to pursue more Reading First money for 2005-06, he said.

Still, Thompson said he has talked with the state to improve communication. He didn’t like being told about the visit with one day’s notice.

“Could I have done things better? Certainly,” Thompson said.
Districts around the country have opted not to take the federal money because Reading First endorses and pays for just a handful of reading programs. In Wisconsin, the Madison district declined $2 million last year because the district had its own reading program and wanted to stick with it.

The loss will hit 10 schools in the 2005-06 school year: Lewis Lemon, Ellis, Beyer, Jackson, Spring Creek, Summerdale, Westview, McIntosh, Nashold and Swan Hillman.

The schools will lose literacy coaches, training for teachers and money to buy reading materials. Thompson said the money was paying for programs that are out of step with the reading approach he wants used, called “balanced literacy.”

That approach relies on training teachers to discover where students are struggling and beefing up lessons.

Thompson’s chief academic officer, Martha Hayes, introduced testing three times a year to identify elementary students’ strengths and weaknesses.

The 10 Reading First schools had to give the district-endorsed tests and another round of grant-endorsed tests. Thompson said that was too much.

In addition, all teacher training and materials went to programs that differed from the balanced literacy approach.

The shift to balanced literacy has not been without controversy. Former Lewis Lemon Principal Tiffany Parker resisted the move away from “direct instruction,” a scripted phonics program that Parker said led her school’s third-grade students to some of the district’s top test scores in 2003.

Parker was demoted to an assistant principal at Lincoln Middle School in January. Shortly after, Thompson hired private attorneys to probe the Lewis Lemon scores. Parker, in turn, filed a civil suit against Thompson.

In earlier interviews with the Rockford Register Star, Parker said she told the state that the new wave of reading was hurting her ability to run the program supported by Reading First. She won’t comment now because of her lawsuit.

After years of minority litigation and millions in settlement costs the taxpayers of Rockford can't afford this incompetence - gee, wonder why the left says the NCLB isn't working and is not funded. I don't want to hear another word about NCLB being underfunded, ever!


And another thing - Silly Superintendent, for nearly $700,000 he couldn't find it in his heart to make direct instruction work? WTF, the district's budget is $226,700,000 for 2005. Every penny is important to taxpayers, but not to the administrators!

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