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State Journal: Not cutting it: Teaching or indoctrination

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Maryland lawmakers are having second thoughts about a highly touted dropout-prevention program after a report released this month showed that the program spends over $63,000 for every student it helps stay in school.

Considered a national model of dropout prevention, the Maryland's Tomorrow program was launched in 1988 to curb the number of high school dropouts through early intervention, classroom tutoring, and career training.

According to the report, the program prevented 4.8 out of 100 students from dropping out of school between the 9th and 11th grades. The three-year state cost to provide services to 100 at-risk students in the program was over $304,000, the report says.

"I don't think there is any question it's a benefit, but the costs have made everybody blanch,'' Del. D. Bruce Poole, the House majority leader, told a reporter. "When we first heard the report, most of us were so shocked that we thought there must be something missing. This just isn't cutting it,'' he said.

But backers of the program say the study is misleading.

"It was not a fair assessment,'' said Laura Noffke, the program's coordinator, arguing that the analysis failed to take into account savings on correctional and welfare costs.

Annoyed by thousands of student letters they received last spring in support of a tax hike for education, Florida legislators recently considered a bill to prohibit teachers from orchestrating letter-writing campaigns.

Lawmakers complained that teachers were foisting their personal opinions on students, who then parroted them in print.

"The kid would just [be forced to] copy verbatim from the board,'' said Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart, the bill's sponsor. "That's not teaching, that's indoctrination,'' he added.

"We believe [teachers] shouldn't propagandize any issue,'' responded Jeff Wright, the president of the Florida Teaching Profession-N.E.A. "But to slap everybody's hands doesn't make sense.''

The original bill would have made it virtually impossible for teachers to assign classes to write letters that might influence officials at all, said Charlene Carres, the legislative counsel for the Florida American Civil Liberties Union. But an amended House version would only have barred teachers from requiring students to write letters with a particular viewpoint.

"Frankly, we could have lived with that,'' says Ms. Carres.

But no one will have to. The bill died in a Senate panel.
--J.P. & K.D.

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