Published Online: April 22, 1998

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Districts React Slowly To Charter Schools

School districts are not responding to charter schools with swift, dramatic changes, according to a study released by Policy Analysis for California Education, a university-based research consortium.

A majority of districts in which the independent public schools have been established have "gone about business as usual and responded to charters slowly and in small ways," writes Eric Rofes, a doctoral student at UC-Berkeley's graduate school of education.

The study, which focuses on how charter schools affect public school districts by looking at 25 districts in eight states and the District of Columbia, found some districts have responded with new academic programs and other efforts to win charter students back.

But few educators in district schools viewed charter schools as educational laboratories offering innovations worth copying.

Charter schools may contribute to statewide reform efforts with no formal connection to the charters themselves, such as new systems of school accountability and changes in school finance, the study says.

It also says that laws allowing more than one entity to sponsor charters may increase districts' responses.

"How Are School Districts Responding to Charter Laws and Charter Schools?," $10, from PACE, 3653 Tolman Hall, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1670.

School Choice: School choice made solid advancements in 1997, especially as charter schools gained wider acceptance and private-school-voucher and tax-credit proposals drew serious attention from state lawmakers, according a report from the Heritage Foundation.

The Washington think tank supports all forms of school choice, including vouchers, tax breaks for educational expenses, and open-enrollment policies in public schools.

Its report says that the courtroom is one of the most important battlegrounds over school choice.

Courts in five states are considering the constitutionality of private school vouchers or tax credits.

Bright spots for choice advocates include Ohio, where a voucher program that includes religious schools continues to operate in Cleveland despite a court challenge, and Arizona, which last year approved a tax deduction for residents who contribute to private scholarship programs.

That program is also being challenged.

School choice backers' biggest disappointment of last year, the report argues, was Republican Gov. Jim Edgar's veto of a $500 state income-tax credit for education expenses passed by the Illinois legislature.

"School Choice Programs: What's Happening in the States," free, on the World Wide Web at www.heritage.org/heritage/schools/.

Student Aspirations: A nationwide survey of students and teachers suggests that, contrary to a commonly held view, American girls have more confidence in their abilities and higher hopes for their futures than American boys do.

According to the study, 74 percent of the girls surveyed said they were very likely to attend college, compared with 61 percent of the boys surveyed.

Minority girls, the survey found, hold the most optimistic views of the future and are the group most focused on education goals.

But minority boys are significantly less likely than any other group to focus on education and have faith in their future success.

The survey of some 1,300 students in grades 7-12 and a similar number of teachers for those grades found that "striking gender differences emerge suggesting that girls are at an advantage over boys in terms of future aspirations," the report says. "Minority girls are more likely than other groups to pride themselves on their ability to succeed."

"Examining Gender Issues in Public Schools" is detailed in the Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher 1997. Free copies are available by writing to MetLife, the American Teacher Survey, P.O. Box 807, Madison Square Station, New York, NY 10159-0807.

Child Care: As the issues of child care and early education take center stage across the country, state legislators are increasingly being faced with decisions about policies that affect young children.

A report from the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures provides state leaders with some guidance in those areas.

During the past 13 years, the authors point out, the number of state laws on the books that focus on early childhood has increased from 28 in 1984 to 130 in 1997.

Many of the initiatives are comprehensive in that they have several components, require collaboration between various state agencies that serve children, and combine funding sources.

The report highlights state efforts to increase the supply of child care and improve the quality of programs that serve young children. It also provides information on demographic trends, presents key research findings, and includes a resource list.

"Building Blocks: A Legislator's Guide to Child Care Policy," $30, from the NCSL, 1560 Broadway, Suite 700, Denver, CO 80202; (303) 830-2200.

Higher Education: College graduates are more likely to volunteer, vote, and appreciate a diverse society than those without any postsecondary education, a report says.

The social and economic advantages of supporting higher education extend well beyond better jobs and higher salaries, argues the Washington-based Institute for Higher Education Policy, a nonprofit center for higher education policy research.

For example, the center reports, people with higher levels of education are less likely to commit crimes.

On that note, the report says, according to 1993 state prison-incarceration rates, there were 1,829 prisoners for every 100,000 people with one to three years of high school.

By comparison, there were only 122 prisoners for every 100,000 with at least some college experience.

"The narrow focus on money and jobs as the primary outcomes of college distorts the broad value that we all derive from college education," said Jamie Meritosis, the president of the institute.

"Reaping the Benefits: Defining the Public and Private Value of Going to College," free, from the IHEP, 1320 19th St. N.W., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036; (202) 861-8223.

Technology: For all the promise that technology holds for education, it adds further complexities to state and district policymakers' decisions on how to improve students' opportunities, reform schools, and set academic standards, a new guide cautions.

The 18-page guide for policymakers by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States gives concise summaries of the benefits of technology, drawing from recent reports and a large advisory panel of educators and policy experts.

The report includes brief sections on classroom methods and materials, professional development, and technological infrastructure.

It also includes questions policymakers should be asking, information on programs that claim to show successful strategies, and references to useful World Wide Web sites, reports, and other resources.

"Harnessing Technology for Teaching and Learning in Schools: A Resource Guide for Policymakers," $7.50 plus postage and handling, from the ECS Distribution Center, 707 17th St., Suite 2700, Denver, CO 80202-3427; (303) 299-3692.

Updates to the guide will appear on the ECS Web site at www.ecs.org.

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