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More Americans now give their local schools high marks than did five years ago, and most endorse public school choice and a longer school year, according to a recent poll by The Associated Press.

The telephone survey of 1,004 adults, conducted by ICR Survey Research Group in Media, Pa., found that 62 percent rate the quality of their community schools as "excellent'' or "good,'' up from 53 percent in a 1989 A.P. poll.

Among parents with school-age children, seven out of 10 gave their schools a positive rating.

A slim majority--52 percent--of the respondents said they "strongly support'' public school choice, and 27 percent said theysupport the idea "with reservations.''

Told that Japan and other countries "have as many as 240 school days per year'' compared with an average of 180 in the United States, 56 percent of the respondents said they back lengthening the school year "by several weeks.''

Settling in the South, West: Over the next quarter century, California will attract 39 percent of the nation's new immigrants as the country becomes more southern, western, and Hispanic, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau projections.

In its first state-population projections to include racial- and ethnic-group changes, the bureau reports that by 2020 people of Hispanic origin will be the largest minority group in the United States--51.2 million people, or 15.7 percent of the population. Four of the five states with the largest Hispanic populations--Florida, Texas, Illinois, and California--will see increases of 104 percent or more in Hispanic residents by 2020. The fifth state, New York, is projected to have a 31 percent increase.

For copies of the report, "Population Projections for States, by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 1993 to 2020,'' call the U.S. Census Bureau's customer service office at (301) 763-4100.

Let's Play Ball, Safely: The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued guidelines to protect children who play baseball and softball.

Between 1986 and 1990, 16 baseball-or softball-related deaths were reported among children ages 5 through 14, according to the April issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the A.A.P. In addition, the journal said, baseball has one of the highest rates of sports-related eye injuries in the 5-14 age group.

The A.A.P. committee on sports medicine and fitness says children should use proper protective equipment and follow safety guidelines while playing baseball or softball. The committee's recommendations include using impact-absorbing eye protection, eliminating the warmup area known as the on-deck circle, and using bases that break away when a runner slides into them. When appropriate, teams should use low-impact baseballs and softballs, which are less dangerous, the committee said.

In addition, the A.A.P. recommends that pitching be limited to reduce stress on young players' arms, and that parents, coaches, and children learn to detect possible arm problems.

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