CITY SCHOOLS Officials: U.S., state impede progress

School officials are concentrating efforts in Washington, D.C., this month.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Members of Youngstown Board of Education say their message is not getting out.
Over the past months they have devoted meeting time to listening to the progress of principals from schools with dismal proficiency test scores. They have reviewed district plans to beef up curriculum and target struggling pupils. They've considered hiring a company to perform a "curriculum audit." And they are searching for ways to fund ever-changing state and federal mandates.
But, some say the public has a perception that they're sitting on their hands.
State Department of Education report cards released last month show the district's meeting four of 22 standards and languishing in "academic emergency." The reports cards are a measure of the performance of district fourth-, sixth-, ninth- and 10th-graders on 2001-2002 tests that gauge proficiency in math, science, reading, writing and citizenship. They also measure a district's attendance and graduation rates.
Board members have said they are dissatisfied, frustrated and determined.
"This board is not attempting to make excuses for the schools in relation to the test," said John J. Maluso during a recent board meeting. "I'm not happy with those tests. ... There is great concern on this board that those scores improve."
Tracey S.M. Winbush expressed frustration that many parents are not involved, as evidenced by weak showings at parent-teacher conferences. She said pupils will continue to struggle "until this community comes together as one and decides it is going to have a good education system."
But, Winbush also has praised the gains made by the district: "The climate is changing," she said. "We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow ... but I'm quite sure there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
Winbush also said federal legislation known as the "No Child Left Behind Act" has mandated many new programs without providing funding.
Beseeching Congress
Last week board President Lock P. Beachum Sr. attended a National School Boards of Education Federal Relations Network Conference in Washington, D.C. As part of the event, he joined the group in asking Congress to increase funding for public education.
The conference also requested Congress to;
U Reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Act to address challenges with implementation.
UDefeat all voucher and tax subsidy proposals that would give public funds to private schools.
UAddress unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind, including the costs of requirements.
"The legislation, which is an unfunded mandate, is causing deep concern for districts throughout the United States," Beachum said in a prepared statement. "Urban schools must become more proactive in the challenges that lie ahead under this act."
This week, Superintendent Benjamin L. McGee will head to Washington for the "Ohio Eight Conference" of school district administrators from the state's eight largest urban areas. There, McGee hopes to help gain support for issues that are unique to urban communities.
Effects of rules changes
McGee has pointed to some areas where Youngstown has been hit the hardest as a result of the state's changing the rules on proficiency tests.
Twelfth-graders, he said, have generally performed well on proficiency tests. But their scores were dropped from this year's report cards. If they had been retained, he said, it is likely the district would have been pulled out of academic emergency.
Another concern is that the state has said 2004 report cards will contain the test results of special education pupils. While nationally, districts have an average of 8.5 percent special education pupils, Youngstown has 20.1 percent, McGee said.
While all such pupils were once exempt from proficiency testing, now districts may exempt only 5 percent, McGee said. It is one issue the Ohio Eight will discuss.
Sees little help from state
Board member Clarence Boles has argued that state lawmakers fail to give districts what they need to make positive change.
"There are some people in the state that have a death wish for public education," Boles said, encouraging the community to contact lawmakers and ask for change.
Boles referred to a recent state Supreme Court decision that ruled unconstitutional the method by which public education is funded in the state and ordered the Legislature to reform it.
"The governor and the state Legislature are blaming the Ohio Supreme Court, and the Ohio Supreme Court is blaming the governor and state Legislature. ... Nobody in Columbus has done anything," Boles said. " ... To me this is tantamount to academic genocide."

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