And a Look at Some of the People Who Made the News
Ultimately, 1992 was the year of Bill Clinton, an "education governor'' for 11 years in his native Arkansas, who won his quest for the White House. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers also made headlines for their unprecedented level of support for a Presidential candidate as they pulled out all the stops to help insure Mr. Clinton's election.
The year was also kind to other education governors. Former Gov. Richard Riley of South Carolina was tapped to follow Mr. Clinton to Washington as his nominee for Secretary of Education. Mr. Riley, referred to by the President-elect as both a friend and a mentor, launched school reforms in his state in the early 1980's. James B. Hunt Jr., who like Mr. Riley earned the title of education governor before it became a cliche, was elected to a third term as Governor of North Carolina after an eight-year hiatus.
It was also the year of the private sector, as a variety of nonpublic groups launched ambitious reform plans at all levels. The private New American Schools Development Corporation selected 11 design teams from nearly 700 entrants to receive funds to pursue their visions of radically different and more productive schools.
The publicly held, for-profit company Education Alternatives Inc. was also busy, though it saw controversy follow its efforts to privatize the management of public schools and school systems. The Duluth, Minn., school board entered into an unprecedented agreement with the firm to provide the district with an interim superintendent for four months. Unimpressed with the results, the board members decided against a more lasting relationship. Voters in Green Brook, N.J., ousted school board members there who favored contracting with the firm to manage that system. Later in the year, E.A.I. recouped by landing a widely publicized contract to manage nine public schools in Baltimore, yet it faced resistance from teachers there over some of its methods.
Chris Whittle, whose Whittle Communications is developing a national chain of cutting-edge private schools, announced the members of the core design team for his Edison Project, including such prominent researchers as John E. Chubb and Chester E. Finn Jr. He later startled the education world by announcing that Benno C. Schmidt Jr., the president of Yale University, would be leaving academia to head up the project.
A growing number of states also boosted the privatization movement, as California joined Minnesota in allowing private groups to operate schools under a "charter.'' By year's end, similar legislation was being weighed in at least six other states.
The private-sector theme resounded in books as well, notably in David Osborne and Ted Gaebler's Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector. The authors argued that the "bureaucratic gridlock'' that hamstrings public education can be broken by forcing schools to compete for students and money.
Two disabled children, Rachel Holland and Rafael Oberti, were plaintiffs in two major federal-court decisions championing the "full inclusion'' of severely and moderately retarded students in regular classrooms. In Sacramento City Unified School District v. Holland, courts held that the school district must educate Rachel, a 9-year-old with mental retardation, in a regular classroom setting. In Oberti v. Board of Education of the Borough of Clementon School District, a judge ruled that the district violated federal special-education law by failing to consider whether the 8-year-old with Down's syndrome could have learned in a regular classroom with special aides.
Urban superintendents had a tumultuous year, none more so than Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez of New York City, who found himself embroiled in one controversy after another. He faced down some wrathful parents and church officials over the content of AIDS education and the introduction of condoms into district schools. But he then ran afoul of a local school board in Queens that refused to adopt a multicultural curriculum that teaches respect for homosexuals. He suspended the board, but was overridden by his own citywide education board. The ensuing stir, coupled with comments in his newly published autobiography critical of Mayor David N. Dinkins, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, and school board members, left the future of Mr. Fernandez in the nation's largest school district in question by year's end.
Two other urban chiefs announced their retirements. William R. Anton, who capped a 40-year career in the Los Angeles schools by serving as superintendent, coupled his announcement with harsh words for four school board members and the leadership of the teachers' union. The first Hispanic to head the schools there, he was succeeded by Sidney Thompson, the first black to be schools chief. The district ended the year struggling with a $400 million budget deficit and a threatened teachers' strike early in the new year.
In Chicago, Ted D. Kimbrough announced he would leave on June 30 when his three-year contract expires. School reformers had criticized Mr. Kimbrough for what they termed his lukewarm support for the decentralization of the schools in the nation's third-largest district.
Diane S. Ravitch, under whose leadership the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement provided funding for national-standards projects in six subjects, was often in the news. Curriculum leaders say Ms. Ravitch was the driving force in funding projects not included in the national education goals, such as arts and civics.
Other individuals and groups in the news in 1992 included Peggy Charren, the president of Action for Children's Television, who announced that the 23-year-old group would cease operations ... Won So, an 18-year-old senior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, who became the first student member of the city's school board ... The Detroit Federation of Teachers, which staged a 27-day strike in the city to beat back reforms there, then worked overtime to bring about the defeat of the Detroit HOPE slate of three school board members who had pushed hard to reform the beleaguered system by creating "empowered schools'' ... and Ernest L. Boyer, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, who led a counterattack against school choice in a report charging that claims about the benefits of choice "greatly outdistance the evidence''--and drew a barrage of criticism from other researchers who questioned his methods and motives.
Other newsmakers included State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig of California, who was hit with a state indictment on charges that he had used his office to further the business of his wife's education-consulting firm, and received a setback of a different sort when a state judge sided with a school district that defied his ban on Whittle Communications' Channel One news show ... Johnnetta B. Cole, the president of Spelman College in Atlanta, who was picked to head a group studying the Education and Labor departments for President-elect Clinton's transition team ... and Donna Shalala, the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who won the job of Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Others included the La Crosse, Wis., school board, which expanded the definition of desegregation to socioeconomic levels by adopting a plan to mix students of different backgrounds in schools--a move that led to the recall or defeat of most board members and the election of a new board majority that sought to accommodate parents unhappy with the plan ... the American Association of University Women, whose report synthesizing years of research on how the nation's schools treat girls touched off a debate over sex equity that helped frame discussion of the 20th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX ... the U.S. Supreme Court, which handed down an opinion written by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Lee v. Weisman case, holding that school-sponsored prayers at graduation ceremonies violate the First Amendment's ban on a government establishment of religion ... Eliot Wigginton, the educator, author, and founder of the Foxfire program, who pleaded guilty to charges of molesting a child during a Foxfire-related trip and was barred from teaching or otherwise having contact with minors for 20 years ... and Barbie, the perky, plastic talking doll whose comment "Math is tough!'' sparked protests over sex stereotyping.