Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Ill. Board Proposes New Rules to Evaluate Teachers

Illinois education officials have taken another step toward dramatically overhauling the way principals and teachers are evaluated.

The Illinois State Board of Education on Friday gave preliminary approval to rules that would require that student performance be taken into account when evaluating public school educators.

The rules now go out for public comment, and the board will reconsider them for final approval after the first of the year.

Officials say the change is part of a national trend as more states link educator performance evaluations to how students are doing.

All Illinois schools are making the change under the Performance Evaluation Reform Act signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010. The legislation was the result of discussions between administrators, teachers, legislators and unions.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Trial Ends in Illinois Redistricting Lawsuit

A trial to decide a Republican lawsuit over the state's new Democrat-drawn congressional map has ended in federal court in Chicago.

The decision now rests with a three-judge panel that promised to work "very hard.'' Deadlines are looming to file petitions for next year's U.S. House races, although the judges seem inclined to push them back.

Prominent Republicans, including all but one Republican congressman from Illinois, have sued to stop the Democrats' map. Republicans say it will decimate their recent gains in Congress and dilute Latino voting influence.

Attorneys representing the state defended the map and said it didn't deprive Latinos of their voting strength. They stressed Latino lawmakers and some interest groups support the new map.

The losing side can eventually appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Exelon Moves Closer to Merger

Chicago-based Exelon is a step closer to becoming one of the largest power companies in the country. Shareholders of Exelon and its rival, Constellation Energy, approved a merger Thursday. Exelon is the parent company of Commonwealth Edison.

Analyst Travis Miller with Morningstar predicts the merger will bring new jobs to Illinois and benefit consumers. "You know a larger company offers cost savings that can flow to ComEd and reduce the infrastructure portion of consumer bills," Miller said.

Miller predicts the merger will be finalized by early 2012, but it still needs approval from regulators.

Meantime, Illinois' attorney general is criticizing the deal. Lisa Madigan's office is concerned about what would happen to electricity prices if the merger goes through.

Categories: Business, Energy, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Champaign Co. Board Backs Naming Courthouse After Former State’s Attorney

The Champaign County Board has passed a resolution to name Urbana's federal courthouse after the county's first African-American elected official.

James Burgess was selected as state's attorney in 1972.

The 19-to-8 vote means a resolution with Burgess' name will be passed on to U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, and Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson with hopes of gaining their approval. Burgess' son, Steve Burgess, told the board last night he's already talked with two of those three.

"I am waiting for a decision from Senator Durbin whether or not - not to say it's going to happen, but at least make a decision whether he thinks this is the right thing to by introducing a bill," he said. "He may ultimately decide that it's not, and I'm okay with that. But I think I'm at least entitled to having a decision from them, yes or no."

Burgess' effort to place his late father's name on the courthouse has lasted more than a year. Democrat Tom Betz said he knew and admired Burgess, but says the method for placing any name on a building is flawed.

"I have slowly but surely reached the conclusion that it's such a divisive process that we would be wise not to actually name some of these buildings," he said. "Call it what it is - it's the United States District Court for this district. Just as it's the Champaign County Courthouse. I don't think it needs to bear any name other than that at this point."

Burgess, who died in 1997, was a Democrat. But Betz and four other Democrats voted against the measure: Geraldo Rosales, Lloyd Carter, Ralph Langenheim, and Pattsi Petrie. Republicans Diane Michaels, Ron Bensyl, and Steve Moser also opposed it.

Democrat Chris Alix suggested the idea. He calls Burgess an inspirational story for not only his time as a state's attorney and US Attorney during the 70's and 80's, but as a World War II veteran with the 761st Tank Battalion.

(Photo Courtesy of Museum of the Grand Prairie, Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Archive)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Carbon Sequestration Begins at Research Project in Decatur

A research project studying a method to keep carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere got down to business this week. After three years of preparations, the Illinois Basin-Decatur project began injecting CO2 from an ethanol plant into the ground more than a mile deep.

Robert Finley with the Illinois Geological Survey at the University of Illinois' Prairie Research Institute said the CO2 injections will continue for another three years, until a million metric tons of the gas is embedded in the massive Mount Simon underground sandstone formation. Finley said Mount Simon offers a big potential at a place for storing CO2 emissions.

"The Mt Simon sandstone at Decatur is 1,650 feet thick, and we'll be storing only in the lower several hundred feet of this unit, and this rock unit is quite laterally extensive," Finley explained. "It covers most of Illinois, southwestern Indiana and western Kentucky."

The Illinois Basin-Decatur project is located on the Archer Daniels Midland campus in Decatur, and uses CO2 from an ADM ethanol plant. The U of I's Illinois State Geological Survey is the lead agency for the project, which is one of seven around the country funded by the U-S Department of Energy, and the second to begin actual sequestration. Finley said the carbon sequestration process has started smoothly --- and the long-term question is whether the gas can be pumped underground continuously without leaking.

He said their findings will be applied to another, larger carbon sequestration project, for which ADM is taking the lead. A training and education center for the larger project is being built at Decatur's Richland Community College.

Eventually, Finley said the experience and knowledge gained from the projects at Decatur can help other carbon sequestration projects --- like the FutureGen project which will bury CO-2 emissions from a coal plant in western Illinois.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Illini Improve to 3-0, Injured Football Player in Crowd

Illinois beat Lipscomb 79 to 64 Thursday night, before about 6,000 fans who braved freezing winds to watch the latest installment of the Cancun Challenge at the Assembly Hall.

Lipscomb kept the game close in the first half. Junior forward Tyler Griffey says his team wasn't collecting enough hustle points -- for steals, charges-taken and turnovers -- what's known as the Matto chart after the late Matt Heldman.

"We only had 17 on the Matto, and ended up with 45," said Griffey, "So that (the team) was really stressed at the halftime peptalk. We came out, we had to play harder. Just do the little things. Cut hard, play defense, just get shutouts."

The Illini broke the game open with a 14-0 run, holding the Bison scoreless for nearly six minutes. DJ Richardson and Sam Maniscalco led the Illini with 17 and 15 points, respectively.

Illinois is now 2-0 in the Cancun Challenge. Among the spectators was U of I football player Trulon Henry, who was shot in the hand early Sunday morning when a gunman fired into a crowd at a party at a house on South Lincoln Avenue near campus. Two others were injured, one critically. The gunman remains at large.

Also in the challenge Thursday night, Illinois State beat SIU Edwardsville 68 to 38 for their first game in the tournament. ISU plays Lipscomb tomorrow afternoon. And the 8 participating teams continue play in Cancun, Mexico next Tuesday and Wednesday.

(Photo courtesy of Rob McColley, Smile Politely.com)

Categories: Education, Sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Labor Charge Against U of I Prompted by VAP’s Not Getting Raise

An unfair labor practice charge has been filed against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by the Illinois Education Association (IEA) and the Association of Academic Professionals.

A few months ago, the university began offering a 3 percent raise to its employees, which included about 3,000 academic professionals. The Association of Academic Professionals said the U of I withheld those raises from about 300 visiting academic professionals (VAP), who are in the middle of contract negotiations. Association spokesman Alan Bilansky said that was a violation of an existing agreement that the two sides already hashed out.

Bilansky said the most recent VAP contract doesn't expire until a new contract is in place, and he said the previous agreement allows those employees to participate in the campus salary program.

"Everyone is getting an across the board raise, and the VAPs should be sharing in that," Bilansky said. "We're trying to not let resentment get in the way of negotiating a fair deal, and we are making progress....but there are grumblings from every VAP that I talk to."

Officials representing the university and the visiting academic professionals have been in talks over a new contract for the last several months.

U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the previous contract for visiting academic professionals had no pay schedule for annual step increases. She also noted that the university did not guarantee that the recent 3 percent pay increase would apply to all employees.

"Pay rates differ among employees in different departments," Kaler said. "Pay adjustments are decided at the department level and may vary.

Categories: Economics, Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Prosecutor: Cellini’s Verdict Should Stand

A federal prosecutor said Springfield power broker William Cellini should not be getting a new trial. This comes despite revelations a juror in his case lied about her criminal record.

Late Thursday night, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald filed a legal response saying Cellini's conviction should stand. Fitzgerald argued the juror had her full civil rights because she completed probation for her convictions. He also said even if she were ruled ineligible to serve, Cellini's attorneys would have to prove she deliberately concealed convictions.

Cellini's attorneys contend she was dishonest, making her a biased juror.

The decision on whether or not Cellini gets a new trial is now in the hands of Federal Judge James Zagel.

Cellini this month was convicted of joining a conspiracy to trade state contracts for campaign contributions for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

NCLB Waiver Leads States to Toughen Teacher Evaluations

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

Teachers and principals' own report cards are getting a lot more attention.

The way educators are evaluated is changing across the country, with a switch from routine "satisfactory" ratings to actual proof that students are learning.

President Barack Obama's recent use of executive authority to revise the No Child Left Behind education law is one of several factors driving a trend toward using student test scores, classroom observation and potentially even input from students, among other measures, to determine the effectiveness of educators. A growing number of states are using these evaluations to decide critical issues such as pay, tenure, firings and the awarding of teaching licenses.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his hand-picked schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard recently unveiled a new report card and incentive pay program aimed at boosting the performance of school principals. And next year, Chicago Public School teachers evaluations will include criteria tied directly to student achievement. The specific metrics and achievement tests included in those evaluations must be agreeed upon by the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union, which will be renegotiating its contract next year. CPS expects half of its schools will be using the new form by next fall, before rolling it out to the rest of the district by 2013.

Two years ago, only four states used student achievement as a predominant influence in how teacher performance is assessed. Today, the number is 13, according to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. Ten other states count student achievement in a lesser but still significant way in teacher evaluations. In 19 states and the District of Columbia, teachers can be fired based on the results, the report said.

Even more changes are anticipated in coming months.

Obama said in September that states wanting relief from the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law could apply for a waiver from the law's tough-to-meet requirements for student achievement in reading and math. To get a waiver, one thing states must do is come up with ways to use teacher and principal evaluations to make personnel decisions.

This week, 11 states applied for waivers, and an additional 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico say they will be seeking waivers, too.

In addition to Obama's waivers, a major driver has been the administration's high-profile "Race to the Top" competition, which had states competing for billions in prize dollars if they adopted stronger evaluation systems. Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said another factor is a growing body of research showing that teachers matter in how much students learn and an influential 2009 report by the New Teacher Project revealing that fewer than 1 percent of teachers surveyed receive unsatisfactory ratings - even in failing schools.

Historically, states have considered teacher evaluations to be untouchable, in part because of teachers unions.

"Once states started to see from other states that you could move this, the ball has continued to roll," Jacobs said.

States are using a combination of measures to evaluate educators. For example, in Minnesota, evaluation systems under development for teachers and principals will include feedback from superiors, fellow educators and parents. Thirty-five percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student test scores, but teachers will also be able to present a portfolio showing professional growth that includes student work and classroom video.

Some states, such as Georgia and Massachusetts, are testing or considering the limited use of student input. A study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found the average student can tell who is an effective teacher. It said students' feedback is more specific and useful to teachers than scores or tests alone.

Those opposed to linking test scores to evaluations say standardized tests are limited and don't necessarily reflect what's taught in the classroom. They say student performance can be affected by variables outside a teacher's control like a child coming from an abusive home, transferring midyear or being behind because a previous teacher didn't teach properly.

In recent years, however, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association unions have warmed to the idea of teacher evaluations based on student performance, with some caveats. In July, delegates to the NEA's national convention voted in support of a policy statement that called for a comprehensive overhaul of teacher evaluations. The AFT has worked for two years with dozens of districts to help develop such systems, said AFT president Randi Weingarten.

But the unions want evaluations developed at the local level with input from teachers and little reliance on test scores. In too many places, Weingarten said, systems are being rolled out too fast with serious implications for educators.

She said that has happened in the District of Columbia and Tennessee, though advocates of tougher evaluation systems have held both up for praise.

This year, Tennessee implemented a new system that has teachers rated every year and observed multiple times a year. Thirty-five percent of a teacher's evaluation is based on student growth on the state standardized test over time. Weingarten said the system has put the focus on test scores instead of learning and that there have been too many bureaucratic hurdles.

"Teachers are not nervous about taking responsibility," Weingarten said. "What they are nervous about is that all of this is being done to them, without them ... in so many places (not) having any voice in it whatsoever, and it's about thwarting and firing as opposed to about helping to improve instruction."

In the District of Columbia, controversial former Chancellor Michelle Rhee adopted a teacher evaluation system in part based on student performance, and teachers were among hundreds of school employees laid off under the new evaluation system. Some teachers like the recognition and pay increases in the system, but her policies played a role in the defeat of Mayor Adrian Fenty for re-election.

As states develop new methods of rating teachers, challenges include training school districts to use the new systems and finding ways to evaluate teachers of subjects that don't have standardized tests, said Janice Poda of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

To ease growing pains, some states like New Jersey, which asked the Obama administration this week for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, have opted to try evaluation systems in only a limited number of school districts before going statewide. Among the 11 states that asked for waivers this week, much of what was included on teacher and principal evaluations was preliminary but already in the works. As other states submit applications, more changes in evaluations are expected.

"I absolutely think it's important for teachers to get feedback about their practice," said Poda, the council's strategic initiative director for the education workforce.

"I think all teachers should be on some kind of a continuous growth plan so that they can always be learning new things and improving their practice, and I think that's true for leaders as well," Poda said.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Champaign County Board Unanimously Approves Wind Farm

A Chicago-based wind energy company will start preliminary work on placing 30 turbines in northeastern Champaign County.

After hours of debate in the county's Zoning Board of Appeals, the county board Thursday night unanimously approved Invenergy's special use permit and a road agreement in a matter of minutes. The company will also place 100 turbines in Vermilion County as part of what's called California Ridge Wind Farm.

But Invenergy Vice President for Development Kevin Parczyk said for a while, there will be little to see in the area north of Royal, where the wind farm is locating in Champaign County.

"Because it's spread out over such a large area, there's a lot of things that people don't even see happening," he said. "And really where it's going to be happening is probably in mid to late spring, you'll start seeing the turbines arriving, and then they'll start popping up. A lot of prep work has taken place, and it will for the next six months or so."

"Today is a momentous day," County Board Democrat Alan Kurtz said.

Parczyk said the work of wind farm construction is very sequential, and is constantly moving, but he expects work in an area north of Royal to start this spring. He said the wind farm will mean 150 to 200 construction jobs, plus those for local vendors who provide stone, concrete and other needs for completing the project.

Parczyk said public road work and foundation excavation is underway in Vermilion County, where the county board approved Invenergy's permit last month.


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