August 2006

Do you miss it? It's been a couple of months since we've run a reader poll in our Short Stuff section. That's the feature that asks readers to write in and share their answers to the questions we pose.

The feature is missing because for several months we have heard from only a couple of you. While we're always glad to hear from anyone, we think the lack of response might indicate, well, a lack of interest. Maybe you're too busy to answer our questions. Or maybe you don't really care what other parents have to say.

Of course, it's possible this is our problem. Maybe we're just asking dumb questions. So here's the plan: We still want to hear from you. But this time, tell us what questions you'd like to see other parents address in the reader poll. Should it be more of a parenting advice column? Do you like hearing funny kid stories? Do you want to know another parent's secret to getting the baby to sleep or getting Grandma to back off?

If we hear from enough of you, and we get some great questions, we'll keep this feature going. If not, we'll say goodbye.

Send your thoughts and question ideas to: Reader Poll, Chicago Parent, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302. E-mail: [email protected], with "reader poll" in the subject line. Fax: (708) 524-8360.

Send us your kids' pictures Break out your picnic baskets and blankets. August is national picnic month. Send us photos of your kids enjoying summer foods in the park or even in your backyard. Deadline: July 10.

In September, it's back to school. Send us photos of your kids decked out in their new school clothes. Deadline: Aug. 7.

Please include the first names of everyone in the picture, your children's ages, your hometown and telephone number for verification purposes only. We keep all photos.

By sending in your child's photo, you give us permission to run it now or in the future and to post it on our Web site.

Send prints to: The Gallery c/o Chicago Parent, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302. E-mail digital photos to: [email protected] with "gallery photo" in the message line.

Got an opinion? We're beefing up our product testing operation and need a few good parent product testers. All you need is a family willing to act as guinea pigs and a willingness to share your opinion.

Are you in the throes of potty training a recalcitrant toddler? Nursing a newborn? Teaching a preschooler to read? We get hordes of products in our office aimed at children from birth to age 14. We'd love to send them to you to try and then let us and our readers know whether it works, whether it's worth the money, whether you would recommend it to others.

We won't pay you, but, in most cases, you get to keep the product. Even the writing is easy-just fill out a questionnaire and send it back to us. Include a photo of your child using the product and we'll run it in the magazine if we can. The only other requirement is that you be e-mail savvy, since this whole operation depends on a listserv.

If you're interested, send a note to Kate Pancero, at [email protected] She'll add you to our product test listserv. Then, as products come into our office, she'll post them. If it's something you'd like to test, simply respond to the e-mail and we'll send out the products on a first come, first served basis.

Thanks. We look forward to hearing from you, the real parenting experts.

School law is working U.S. education secretary defends successes of No Child Left Behind

by Margaret Spellings

As a mother of two teenage daughters, I know that a parent's natural state is one of anxiety. But moms and dads have nothing to worry about when it comes to the No Child Left Behind Act.

To measure the law's worth, it's important to recall what preceded it. In the past, parents with children in an underperforming school had two choices: enroll in private school (if they could afford it) or move. Information about their school's performance came sporadically, if at all.

The No Child Left Behind Act was the nation's collective cry that we had finally had enough. It was passed by a bipartisan congressional majority and signed by a president committed to seeing that every child in America received a quality education, regardless of race, ethnicity, income level or ZIP code. The law pledged timely and accurate information to parents not about their child's academic performance, but their school's.

Chicago Parent has acknowledged the worthiness of the law's goals. Its implementation has been successful, too. For the first time, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have accountability plans in place, with real consequences attached. Many schools are on track to realize the goal of full student proficiency in reading and math by 2014. Some have already reached it.

In short, the law is working as advertised. According to the Nation's Report Card, more progress was made by 9-year-olds in reading in the last five years than in the previous 28 years combined. The number of fourth-graders who learned their basic math skills jumped by 235,000 in the last two years-enough to fill 500 elementary schools.

Schools making the grade

Students in urban school districts such as Chicago have improved even faster than their peers. Between 2002 and 2005, urban fourth-graders posted a 14-point gain in math proficiency and an 11-point gain in reading proficiency, according to the Council of the Great City Schools. In Chicago, 55 percent of third-graders reached the proficient level or higher on the Illinois state mathematics test last year, up from 49 percent in 2003. Reading/language arts proficiency also rose six points.

Credit for this performance should go to the teachers, principals and administrators who have made No Child Left Behind work (aided by a 63 percent increase in federal education funding for Illinois under President Bush).

But the necessary kick start was the law itself. It allowed good teachers and principals to band together to reorganize underperforming schools. It also allowed parents of students stuck in chronically underperforming schools to transfer to another public school or hire outside tutors to improve their performance.

"Free afterschool tutoring mandated by federal law appears to have helped faltering Chicago Public School kids begin to catch up in reading," wrote the Chicago Sun-Times.

Chicago's experience

Some critics have expressed concern about these "serious sanctions," as Chicago Parent has termed them. But many Chicagoans are familiar with them. In the late 1980s, Chicago Public Schools were the worst in the nation. Two-thirds of CPS students fell below the national average in reading and math. The student dropout rate was 43 percent. According to published reports, the school district sometimes sent underperforming students on "field trips" on days when tests were scheduled in the hope of boosting their averages.

Chicagoans demanded change. In the late 1980s and 1990s, under the strong leadership of Mayor Richard M. Daley, new accountability-based reforms were passed that would complement No Child Left Behind. Hundreds of schools were put on probation, and some were reconstituted. Magnet schools were opened to give students more options. A core curriculum was established.

By 2004, a majority of Chicago's eighth-graders performed at the national average in reading and math.

Similarly, the federal law has spawned an early-grade reading and math revival. Significant gains also were made in fourth-grade science, aided by the emphasis on these core subjects. The law's focus on high standards and accountability-and, yes, testing-has helped turn a "rising tide of mediocrity" into rising test scores and a shrinking achievement gap. Measuring student achievement annually has helped teachers do their jobs even better.

The worst thing we could do is to stop this reform once students reach ninth grade. Studies show that less than half of high school graduates leave school prepared for college-level math and science coursework. President Bush's proposed High School Reform Initiative would extend the law's accountability principles to grades nine through 12 while helping older students struggling with reading or math. And his American Competitiveness Initiative would expand Advanced Placement testing and strengthen math and science instruction in middle and high school.

The state of our schools affects the state of our nation. All parents benefit when all children receive a quality education. They have a powerful ally in the No Child Left Behind Act. Margaret Spellings is secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Follow that law No Child Left Behind has had a greater impact on public schools than any other federal law in recent memory.

Last month, we asked you to tell us what you think. And we got letters-from parents, teachers and administrators from across the country. We even heard from the woman in charge, Margaret Spellings, the U.S. secretary of education, whose essay on the progress of No Child Left Behind appears on this page.

Expect to see more of your letters in August.

The law is set to expire in 2007 and Congress will spend a great deal of time debating how or whether to change it. Can they ensure that public education actually leaves no child behind without the unintended consequences of too much standardized testing and severe sanctions that cripple the current law?

This is a huge issue for parents, so we plan to count down the months to the reauthorization by following the developments closely, listening to you, publishing your stories and looking at the general state of education.

In August, we'll bring you an essay by a school district superintendent who believes No Child Left Behind is "yet another example of great politics, compelling sound bites and focused finger pointing, but poor public policy." We will also kick-off a five-part series looking at the science of brain development and the art of curriculum development to see where they intersect and diverge.

In the coming months, as districts look at whether to go for a referendum, we'll school you in the basics of school finances, how they work, who pays what and how it's going.

We will also debut a column by Veronica Anderson, the editor of Catalyst Chicago, a magazine which has covered school reform in the city since 1990.

And throughout, we expect to hear from you. Tell us your stories and share your thoughts about ours.


Copyright 2017 Wednesday Journal Inc. All rights reserved. Chicago web development by liQuidprint