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Teacher Quits in Protest Over 'Comic-Like' Textbook

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A high-school chemistry teacher who gave 70 percent of his students failing marks last year has quit his job rather than use a simpler textbook that was adopted on the advice of a district consultant.

Stanley Cochran, a teacher in the Fort Myers, Fla., public-school sys-tem, spurned orders to use the new text in his general-chemistry classes because he said the book was "insulting" and "comic-like."

Mr. Cochran used a text entitled "Modern Chemistry," published by Holt, Rinehardt and Winston, in his classes last year, and made clear he would continue using it this year. He told his students to use the newer "Experimental Chemistry," published by Prentice-Hall, as an occasional supplementary text.

When school administrators found out that Mr. Cochran was shunning the new book, they ordered him to use it as the main text. He resigned instead.

Although Mr. Cochran was described by newspaper accounts as a chemist who had left a position in industry to become a teacher, a local school official said he had previously taught in three other states and another Florida district before coming to Riverdale High School in Fort Myers, last year. Mr. Cochran also worked as an industrial chemist for one year between his last two teaching jobs.

The school's principal, its chemistry-department chairman, and the district science consultant had decided to use the new book over Mr. Cochran's objections after parents repeatedly called the school to complain about the high rate of failure in Mr. Cochran's classes last year.

Mr. Cochran taught one biology class and four chemistry classes of about 25 students each for students who do not plan to attend college. The problem, say district officials, is that he taught the subject at a level more suitable for college-bound students.

Mr. Cochran, who has written a chemistry textbook, attributed the high failure rate of his students to their lack of effort.

Of Riverdale's population of 1,642 students in grades 9 through 12, about 30 percent eventually move on to some form of postsecondary education. The rest enter the workforce right away--which is the reason for such vocational preparatory courses, school officials said.

"He's the kind of teacher that keeps on teaching no matter what the reaction of the students is," said Richard Lewis, director of secondary schools for the Lee County district. "It's my feeling that he might be very successful at another school where kids are a little more academically oriented."

"The teacher should look at what he or she is doing if there is a 20-percent failure rate," Mr. Lewis said, "but he didn't. He's not ill prepared as a chemist, but I would still question any person's teaching ability who would just plow ahead."

Mr. Cochran could not be reached for comment last week. He has said he would look for another teaching job, this time at the college level.

District officials said they could have worked out a compromise if Mr. Cochran had been willing to consider the new text as more than a nuisance. "It's not our policy to be intractable," Mr. Lewis said.--ce

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