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The Food Research and Action Center has filed suit on behalf of four urban school boards and low-income families, challenging the U.S. Agriculture Department's interim regulations requiring the verification of income on applications for free or reduced-price federally funded school meals.

The public-interest group filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the New York, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Detroit school boards. The suit asks that the court issue a preliminary order blocking the regulation, and that the Secretary of Agriculture complete a study on the verification process and accept public comment on it before imposing the regulation.

National Program To Improve Math Starts in 44 States

Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell last week announced the start of a nationwide program to improve mathematics education through extensive coaching and competition.

The program, which is called "mathcounts," has been piloted over the last four years in public schools in Chicago and Birmingham, Ala.

The nationwide program--which officials said will involve about 500,000 7th- and 8th-grade students in 44 states and the District of Columbia this year--will conclude with a national competition in Washington, D.C., next May.

The program will be funded and operated by a coalition of business and government groups and run by local school officials and volunteers. Funds donated by the groups will be used for course materials and the cost of tournaments and travel.

In a letter to a mathcounts official, released at a press conference, President Reagan praised the program as "an excellent example of the private sector responding to a nationwide problem."

Edward A. Knapp, the executive director of the National Science Foundation, said mathematics coaching in the Chicago program resulted in a "renaissance" of mathematics in the inner-city schools. The number of Chicago schools that took part in a state mathematics competition jumped from one to 225 during four years of coaching, he said.

mathcounts will be sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Society of Professional Engineers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the cna Insurance Companies.

Most Americans Favor School-Prayer Amendment

A large majority of Americans favor a constitutional amendment that would permit voluntary prayer in public schools, according to a recent poll by the Gallup Organization.

Of the eight of 10 people who said they were familiar with the ongoing debate about school prayer, 81 percent said they favored President Reagan's proposed amendment that would allow "individual or group prayer in public schools."

The prospects for Congressional passsage of the amendment this year are believed to be unfavorable.

The poll was based on interviews with 1,567 adults in more than 300 locations around the country.

Shanker Proposes Federal Scholarships For New Teachers

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has recommended establishing a federally-funded scholarship program as a method of luring more and brighter students into the teaching profession.

Students scoring in the top 25 percent on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or some comparable national test should receive free college tuition in return for at least five years of teaching, Mr. Shanker proposed in a speech last week at the National Press Club in Washington. The plan would cost about $7,000 per teacher, he estimated.

In its report last spring, the National Commission on Excellence in Education proposed offering some form of financial incentive to attract outstanding students to teaching.

In his address, which was broadcast over the National Public Radio network, Mr. Shanker denounced President Reagan's cuts in funding for Chapter 1 programs, pointing to a new union study that found that disadvantaged children in Detroit and Baltimore have suffered more from the cuts than have inner-city children in other major cities.

He also deplored Mr. Reagan's decision to make merit pay a major educational issue and labeled many such programs as no more than "gimmicks." However, Mr. Shanker said he now fully supports the master-teacher program being promoted by Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. "Teachers and educators ought to be willing--in exchange for financial help--to go half way."

Americans Reading More, Despite New Technologies

Despite the rapid rise in computer use, television viewing, and video-game playing, and the increasing problem of illiteracy in the United States, Americans are reading as much as they ever have, according to a New York Times survey.

The survey, released earlier this month, was based on interviews with educators, publishers, and the newspaper's readers.

Figures from publishers support the finding. Book sales last year reached almost $8 billion, according to the Association of American Publishers, an increase of 4.4 percent, or $334.6 billion, over 1981 book sales.

Library use has also increased. In 1981, national circulation figures exceeded a billion for the first time, and in 1982, they reached 1.07 billion, according to a University of Illinois researcher.

Approximately 55,000 books are expected to roll off the presses this year, according to John P. Dessauer of the Center for Book Research at the University of Scranton. That figure represents a significant increase over past years: 40,000 books were produced in 1978, up from 11,000 in 1950.

The number of book publishers has increased by 10 percent a year in the last 10 to 15 years, according to Mr. Dessauer. There are approximately 21,000 publishers in the United States today, he said, with a rise in the number of small publishers accounting for most of the increase. In the early 1970's, the estimate was 6,000.

People are reading more to escape the realities of everyday life and because television does not provide consistently high-quality programming, speculated Robert Hale, associate executive director of the American Booksellers Association and member of the executive committee of the Library of Congress's Center for the Book.

But television may not always be the enemy of literacy, asserted Mr. Hale. Often, people see a program that spurs them to go to their bookstore or library to find a book that deals with the subject in greater depth, he pointed out.

In addition, people are developing more specialized interests and are reading more publications targeted specifically to their fields of interest, according to Mr. Hale.

Mellon Foundation Gives Scholarship Funds for Hispanics

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has made a grant of $2.1 million to the College Board to award scholarships to Hispanic high-school students.

The grant is the first received by the testing organization to be designated exclusively for Hispanics and is the largest of its scholarship programs, said Anne Grosso, a College Board spokesman.

Under the terms of the three-year grant, called the National Hispanic Scholar Awards Program, the board will provide scholarships of $1,500 each to approximately 1,100 Hispanic high-school seniors, and provide honorable-mention awards of $100 to another 1,100 Hispanic seniors.

All high-school juniors who identify themselves as Hispanic on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test will be eligible; those with the highest scores will be asked to apply, and winners will be chosen on the basis of their scores and their general high-school record.

High-school enrollment figures show that a relatively low number of Hispanics enter college.

In 1980, the College Board found that more than one million Hispanic students graduated from high school but only 315,000 went on to college. Among these, most attended two-year colleges.

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Endowment Chief Calls for State Tests, Tougher Standards

William J. Bennett, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, urged state legislators and members of Congress last week to consider legislation requiring all prospective teachers to have degrees or demonstrable expertise in the subjects they plan to teach.

The endowment chairman also proposed that lawmakers require state-wide examinations at the end of courses to provide "clear standards" for judging educational progress. In addition, he called for the establishment of a commission on student discipline to help respond to the current sense of "lost authority" in the schools.

Mr. Bennett gave the speech in Philadelphia at the 10th annual meeting of the 1,800-member American Legislative Exchange Council, the nation's oldest and largest individual-membership organization of state legislators and members of Congress.

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