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Glenview's 'Failing' Schools Among Nation's Best

'Needs improvement' designations at three Dist. 34 schools point out cracks in No Child Left Behind

By most measures, Cathy Freidinger is living the public school American dream.

Her four kids walk or bike to neighborhood schools so flush with property tax dollars they still offer music, art and drama programs considered luxuries in other districts.

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Later this summer, though, she’ll get a letter asking whether she wants to bus her third-grader to a different school in District 34, because Hoffman Elementary is considered “in need of improvement” under the ever-increasing strictures of the federal . 

She would have received the letter last year, except that Dist. 34’s other two highly desirable elementary schools— and —also did not make AYP. 

States offered a reprieve

When the Obama administration announced on Monday that it would begin offering states waivers from the legislation passed in 2001, stories like District 34’s are one reason why.

Something is amiss when schools that are so good parents will fake an address to get their kids into them are labeled failing, administrators, parents and teachers say.

“If you offered everyone choice, people would be choosing to go into these schools, not leaving,” said Gerald Hill, superintendent of District 34.

At least 80 percent of U.S. public schools will be labeled failing under No Child Left Behind this year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced this week. With statistics so high, many researchers say the term 'failing' is rendered meaningless.

The law requires schools that fail to meet AYP two years in a row and receive federal funding to pay for transportation to a school of the parent’s choice, but considering the low "pass" rate, it’s unclear where all those students would have to go.

Details will come out in September, but to get waivers from No Child Left Behind, states will be asked to submit their own reform proposals including plans for teacher evaluation and measuring student achievement.

Illinois is interested

Illinois, where 51.1 percent of all schools failed to make AYP in 2010, is likely to get in line for a waiver said Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

“We are certainly interested and will explore it,” Fergus said. “We need to see the details.”

The Illinois board is among those who have been loudly calling for Congress to reform the law to measure how much students learn from year to year rather than setting a single target for them all.

With that legislation creeping uncertainly along and a tsunami of sanctions headed towards the states this fall, the administration acted unilaterally this week to avert disaster.

Illinois was among a dozen last year where more schools missed the mark than made it, and this year’s percentage of failing schools is expected to surge when the 2011 statewide results are announced in September. Individual schools already have their results.

Glenview's 'choice' schools

Glen Grove Elementary and Springman Middle School in Dist. 34 are among this year’s “failing” schools.

Hoffman actually hit the moving “adequate yearly progress” target this year, but it must still offer school choice because it missed the mark the two previous years.

Offered the option to move out of district last year, not one parent pulled their child out of the school.

“I would be shocked if any of our parents decided to leave Hoffman,” said Freidinger, who also plans to keep her two middle schoolers at Springman.

Glen Grove is in its second year of failing to make AYP, but unlike Hoffman, won’t be required to offer school choice because it doesn’t have a high enough percentage of to get federal funding.

The loss of federal funds is the “stick” that NCLB uses to sanction schools, up to and including forced closure or reorganization.

Glen Grove Principal Helena Vena said when individual student gains are measured her school is “a huge success,” not a failure, scoring in the 92nd percentile in reading and 85th percentile in math nationwide.

“It’ll be good when we’re judged on growth, because we know every student comes to us at a different starting point,” Vena said.

A middling target misses many

Some children come into a school year well behind their peers and others far ahead. Setting a single target, as No Child Left Behind calls on states to do, sets a bar hopelessly beyond the reach of the first child while doing nothing to challenge the second, researchers say.

Northwestern University economist David Figlio told D.C. policymakers in February they should consider a hybrid approach that measures how much each child learns in a given year while continuing the law’s current focus on traditionally disadvantaged groups.

Superintendent Hill praised No Child Left Behind's emphasis on making progress in all subgroups such as special education students, those from and those with limited English proficiency.

"We should have been doing that before and I give kudos to the legislators and think that has been very valuable," Hill said.

It's of paramount importance, Hill said, to make sure the children not feel blame or responsibility when a school is punished.

The Illinois State Board of Education wants Congress to scrap NCLB and pass a new law focused on individualized learning gains and positive incentives, Fergus said.

“We need to look at a law where there are fewer punitive measures and one that reflects student growth,” she said.

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Mark Johnson August 11, 2011 at 07:58 AM
This is a nice intro article but parents need to know more details on what student groups are failing to meet AYP, in what subject areas, and what were the exact test scores, in NCLB. - The Glen Grove Principal Helena Vena said when individual student gains are measured her school is “a huge success,” not a failure, scoring in the 92nd percentile in reading and 85th percentile in math nationwide. - The above sentences refers to the NAEP test, not NCLB. Plus, it would be nice to know, what are some of the schools in IL ahead of Glen Grove on that test? Also, NCLB benchmarks are set by the individual states, and some states lower the bar over time, thereby improving their test scores. National benchmarks are needed in NCLB and its successors. Parents should be attentive to the details as the unions and school districts have PR professionals providing the press with sound bites. Many of the individuals in power in unions and school districts want to protect their salaries and benefits and therefore don't want upset parents. Not every wealthy district and school is failing - why are these districts and schools failing - where is that analysis.
beth steger August 11, 2011 at 05:18 PM
National and District politics aside, I would also like to know which schools are meeting the requirements. Mark, don't know what NAEP or NCLB are or how to interpret their meaning. More information needed.
Carrie Miller August 12, 2011 at 01:26 PM
Hi Mark, Thanks for reading the story and for your comment. I know that each school shares the detailed information about testing outcomes with the parents, and while I was also given these scores and likely would have included at least some of them, the breaking news on Monday that states are going to be offered waivers to NCLB (That's No Child Left Behind, Beth) took up a good amount of this story's space. All the testing data is also announced on and posted to each school's web site should you still be looking for more detail. Incidentally, the individualized testing Principal Vena was referencing above was actually the NEWA (Northwest Evaluation Association) computerized testing that many schools are now using to track student learning gains.
D34graduate September 21, 2011 at 04:08 AM
The Obama administration and his "standards" are a complete joke. If Obama and his staff had gone to a D34 school, perhaps he would have a clue about how to improve an economy or what a budget is to begin with. D34 schools are incredible learning experiences, and anyone who would label them as "failing" in any way doesn't have the slightest clue what they are talking about, I assure you.
Deadcatbounce September 21, 2011 at 02:13 PM
District ISAT scores ... http://webprod.isbe.net/ereportcard/publicsite/searchBySchool.aspx?searchby=districtName&language=english&year=2010&keyword=34&type=card&rcds=140160340

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