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The U.S. Supreme Court turned down a request that it hear the case of two black St. Louis principals, who claimed they had been discriminated against when they were demoted during a 1977 merger of their predominantly black school systems with a mostly white system.

In declining to accept the case, MacDonald v. Ferguson Reorganized School District (Case No. 83-448), the Court let stand a federal district court's ruling that the criteria established by the new Ferguson school system to select principals from those school systems merged were not biased against principals from mostly black, low-income districts. The criteria took into consideration the merged school system's size and the sophistication of its offerings.

The district court, in its 1981 ruling, also found that the former principals did not suffer a decrease in responsibility or salary when they were made assistant principals in the newly created school system. The district court's decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in June.

Defining merit pay as a system in which "our best teachers should get good salaries, our average teachers average salaries, and our bad teachers no salaries at all," William J. Bennett, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, last week challenged education leaders to apply the concept of merit pay not only to teachers but also to themselves.

Mr. Bennett, who will complete his second year as neh chief this December, told those attending a national conference on the issue of merit pay that "performance-based assessment should govern hiring, retention, promotion, and reward for all involved, not only teachers but principals, members of state boards, commissioners, superintendents, deans, and faculties of schools of education."

He said the national rewarding of excellence will be "unpleasant for some" and will "create insecurity" and cause some to fail. But "these effects are far less a cause for worry than the decline of educational quality in our schools," he argued.

Mr. Bennett also suggested that schools "emulate some of the better features of colleges and universities." He said that schools should establish lectureships and endowed chairs, and should do more to en-courage private philanthropy to support secondary education.

"Why can't some people be encouraged to leave their bequests and endowments to public schools rather than to colleges and universities?," Mr. Bennett asked. "We do not wish to stand for the proposition that it is only universities that deserve support, that institutions that presume to educate 19-year-olds are more important and more deserving of private largesse than institutions that educate 13-year-olds."

The merit-pay conference was held in Portland, Ore. It was sponsored by the Foundation for Oregon Research and Education.


The Education Department is seeking grant applications from educators who devise experimental programs to improve teaching through incentive schemes.

The department announced in the Nov. 4, 1983, Federal Register that it will make up to 50 grants of between $10,000 and $20,000 to states, school systems, colleges and universities, or other public and private organizations to design merit-pay, "career-ladder," or master-teacher plans.

Priority, the department said, will be accorded master-teacher plans and plans that include "well-specified teacher-performance standards'' and a teacher-evaluation system that includes peer review.

The awards, intended to fund projects for six to 12 months, will be made out of the Secretary's Discretionary Fund.

The department notes in its announcement that it is currently enjoined from spending such discretionary funds by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. (See Education Week, Sept. 21, 1983.)

Applications must be received by the department by Dec. 22. They should be submitted to: Education Department, Application Control Center, Attention: 84:122A, Washington, D.C. 20202.

Comments on the grant program must be received by the department by Dec. 5.

A lawyer for two former members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights told a federal district judge in Washington last week that President Reagan's dismissal of his clients last month seriously threatens the rights-monitoring agency's "independent" status.

If a President can dismiss members of the commission for any reason, "it then follows that the President can assert control over the commission [and] dictate its poli-cies, prescribe its recommendations, and suppress its criticisms," argued Barry L. Goldstein, a lawyer for the naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., before U.S. District Judge Norma H. Johnson.

The civil-rights group is representing ousted commissioners Mary F. Berry and Blandina Cardenas Ramirez in their legal battle to be reinstated as panel members. President Reagan fired them and one other commissioner--Rabbi Murray Saltzman--three weeks ago to make room on the panel for nominees whose views on civil rights more closely match his own. (See Education Week, Nov. 2, 1983.)

At last week's hearing, U.S. Justice Department lawyers countered that the law creating the commission contains "no express limitation" on the President's right to remove members of the panel.

Meanwhile, hearings continued before the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights on a measure that would remove the 26-year-old panel from the executive branch and recreate it as an independent arm of the Congress. The commission's authorization officially expired on Sept. 30, but it has been given until Nov. 29 to phase out its operations.

A bill that would have extended the panel's life became bogged down in the dispute over President Reagan's intention to fire the three commissioners.

A key House Republican policy-making body, in a setback for the Reagan Administration, has endorsed a resolution calling for the continued broad interpretation of the 1972 law that bars sex discrimination in schools that receive federal aid.

The House Republican Policy Committee, which sets the party's official policy on legislation in that chamber, endorsed a resolution on Nov. 4 that was introduced by Representative Claudine Schneider, Republican of Rhode Island, and 225 other House members this summer.

The resolution, H Res 190, rejects the Administration's view that the law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, applies only to those programs of a school or college that receive federal aid directly.

The full House is expected to take up the Title IX resolution this week. A companion resolution, S 149, is also pending in the Senate.

"I think it sends a message that Congress has written the laws and they know what they mean," Representative Schneider said following the policy group's adoption of the resolution.

"When they wrote Title IX, they indicated there should be no discrimination whatsoever in any educational institution and opportunities for women certainly must be available," she added.

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