Sunday, August 25, 2002

Schools eye education law's effects

Teachers, kids facing changes

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The new federal education law signed by President Bush in January will have far-reaching implications this fall for everyone from teachers to students to parents to teacher assistants.

        School officials across the Tristate have been working to meet the law's requirements, while state officials continue to work on interpreting the nearly 700-page law.

        “Our whole vision is this is a process, not an event,” said Terry Joyner, chief academic officer for Cincinnati Public Schools. “This is not going to be a static law.”

        The state in July reported which schools are considered underachieving by state standards and has since been revising that list with consultation from district officials. The federal law requires districts to offer students transportation out of those sub-par schools to more successful schools within the district where there's room, or to public charter schools.

        Districts recently began informing parents of their rights, and some parents have already applied for their children's transfer.

        Educators say the federal bill will have the greatest implications for schools that receive federal money for poor children, called Title I funding.

        The law also states:

        • Beginning this year, states have to test children in reading and math in one out of three grades for the following groupings: 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12. In 2005, children will have to be tested annually in grades 3-8 and one grade within grades 10 to 12. Requirements for testing in science will begin in 2007.

        • Title I-funded schools that haven't made adequate progress in student achievement for three or more years must offer tutoring or other academic assistance services to low-income children. Parents will be notified which schools need to provide such services after the state distributes a list of providers to school districts in early fall.

        • Every child must be taught by a qualified teacher by 2005-06. Parents can request to be notified when a child is taught by an underqualified teacher for four or more consecutive weeks in a Title-I-funded school. That applies to teachers who aren't certified by the state. Parents have a right to know whether teachers meet state licensing requirements for the subjects they teach and grade level they're teaching.

        • Instructor assistants, or people hired to help teachers with classroom instruction, must have a high school diploma or the equivalent this year. Those hired after Jan. 8, 2001, must have an associate's degree or have completed two years of college or must take a state or local assessment to show their ability to assist in instructing reading, writing and math. Those who are already employed, and are in a program supported by federal Title I funds, must meet those requirements in four years.

        The transportation out of sub-par schools and other requirements, such as tutoring services, can be financed from a portion of the district's Title I funds, which has increased 14.4 percent for fiscal year 2002 from $19.3 million to $22.1 million, according to a congressional analysis.

        Sue Taylor, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, said she's glad the federal law acknowledges the need for qualified teachers, particularly for impoverished students.

        “(The union) realizes teacher quality is the most important factor in the success of students in the classroom,” she said. “Students at the most risk are those who should be taught by the most qualified teachers.”

        The challenge, she said, is providing incentives to draw those teachers to urban districts. The Cincinnati school district in March offered a monetary incentive to draw teachers to hard-to-fill subjects, such as special education.

        The new requirements may be hard to take for instructor assistants, who have been working in schools for years. Some won't be able to afford higher education.

        In Cincinnati, more than 600 instructor assistants have a high school diploma or the equivalent, which means they'll have to continue their education or pass a new assessment. About 200 have a two-year degree or bachelor's while another 100 have some college.

        “I don't see myself going to college,” said 59-year-old Margie Wernsing, an instructor assistant who assists a teacher with kindergarteners at Whittier Elementary in Price Hill. “I can't afford it.”

        Ms. Wernsing, who has a high school diploma, made $14,450 last year.

        “With my husband retired, I cannot quit and go to school,” she said. “I've been in this job 27 years. I feel my experience should count for something.”

        It might. The district now is considering developing a local assessment to test the qualifications of instructor assistants. If instructor assistants pass an approved assessment, they won't have to go back to school.


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