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Column One: Curriculum

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School book clubs are playing a significant role in language-arts instruction in elementary schools across the country, a not-yet-completed study suggests.

The book clubs, which are owned by publishers, offer teachers and students current book titles for a fraction of their retail price. Catalogues are sent to classrooms monthly and, typically, students select and pay for their own books.

Two researchers, Dorothy Strickland and Sean Walmsley, surveyed teachers, students, and parents in eight states last year to determine how schools use the clubs.

Ms. Strickland, a professor of reading at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said 33 percent of the teachers surveyed said they treat the books separately from the curriculum.

"Some teachers feel uncomfortable about appearing to be selling something,'' Ms. Strickland said. Others, she noted, worried about pupils who could not afford the books. Often, she said, teachers used club "bonus points'' or their own money to buy books for those children.

Another 51 percent of the teachers said they used the books for independent reading in school or to have multiple copies for shared classroom readings. The researchers said the books are used integrally in 16 percent of the classes.

Over all, Ms. Strickland said, the clubs can positively influence learning.

"Children will tell you there is nothing like owning your own book,'' she said.

As part of its efforts to repair riot-torn areas of Los Angeles, the group leading the rebuilding efforts is taking stock of the area's mathematics- and science-education resources.

Rebuild L.A., a nonprofit foundation established in the wake of the civil unrest that followed the first Rodney King beating trial, is developing a comprehensive directory of formal and informal providers of science and math education.

The project started when Rebuild L.A. organizers "realized that no one entity has a comprehensive list of who is doing what in pre-K-12 math and science,'' said Marcia Gonzales-Kimbrough, who is heading the project.

Rebuild L.A. will hold a special forum this summer on math and science reform for contributors to the directory, as well as other interested parties, she added.

She said the directory also will help identify possible collaborators for a grant application to the National Science Foundation for its Urban Systemic Initiative.

Mayors of 25 large urban areas already have been invited to submit planning-grant proposals for the new program.--D.V. & P.W.

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