News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Georgia Accountability Bill Moves to Governor's Desk
The A-Plus Education Reform Act of 2000—the largest package of school improvements passed in Georgia since 1985—has been sent to Gov. Roy E. Barnes for his signature.
State lawmakers gave the Democratic governor much of what he wanted, including the end of tenure for new teachers and the creation of a system of rewards and interventions to hold schools accountable for student performance. But legislators also made their mark in a conference committee report that was approved by the House and the Senate on March 16.
A class- size-reduction program in the early grades would now be phased in over four years instead of going into effect next school year, as the governor had wanted. Additional provisions include a new requirement that local school systems file audits with the state planning and budget office to prove that they are spending state dollars and filling positions according to the law.
State schools Superintendent Linda C. Schrenko reiterated her criticism of the bill, saying it would add bureaucracy and wouldn't do enough to improve student achievement or school safety. ("Georgia Legislators Pass Accountability Plan," March 1, 2000.)
"The people who passed this bill voted for giving taxpayers' dollars to new bureaucrats instead of Georgia's children," she said in a statement last week.
Missouri Schools Chief To Retire
Missouri Commissioner of Education Robert E. Bartman has announced that he will retire June 30 after 12 years on the job.
"My family is scattered," Mr. Bartman, 55, wrote in a March 17 letter to the state board of education. "I have felt for some time the urge to spend time with them while we are all young enough to appreciate it."
D. Kent King, the current deputy commissioner of education, has been tapped to serve as acting commissioner, starting July 1.
Mr. Bartman was appointed to the position in 1987 and has overseen the implementation of state accountability measures. He also presided over the state education department as the state worked under court orders to address racial segregation in the St. Louis and Kansas City public schools.
Betty Preston, the president of the state board, praised the outgoing commissioner for providing "forceful and skillful leadership during a period of enormous change."
Utah Sex Education Bill Vetoed
Gov. Michael O. Leavitt of Utah has vetoed a measure that would have restricted sex education to an abstinence-only curriculum.
Earlier this month, the legislature approved a bill that would have required schools to teach sexual abstinence as the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It also would have barred any discussion of contraceptives and required teachers to point out that extramarital sex is a crime in Utah.
But Mr. Leavitt, a Republican, vetoed the bill March 18. In a letter to lawmakers, he said the legislation "includes inconsistencies and uncertainties that would make administration and interpretation of the law confusing."
Utah's current health curriculum stresses abstinence but includes information about contraception for those students whose parents have given their consent.
—Adrienne D. Coles
Diversity Found in Texas Charters
Texas charter schools enroll higher proportions of black and Hispanic students on the whole than regular public schools in the state, according to a report commissioned by the state board of education.
The study, released last week by the Texas Center for Educational Research, examined the 89 charter schools that operated in the state for the entire 1998-99 school year. On average, more than 78 percent of students enrolled in the charter schools were nonwhite, compared with about 55 percent in traditional public schools, the study found. Researchers attribute the pattern to the large number of Texas charter schools catering to at-risk students.
The study also found that nearly 54 percent of teachers in the charter schools were uncertified, compared with fewer than 4 percent of those in traditional public schools. Texas law does not require charter schools, which are publicly funded but largely independent, to hire certified teachers.
The report is available online at www.tasb.org/tcer.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
Charters in Pa. Get Mixed Reviews
Parents and teachers are generally satisfied with Pennsylvania's charter schools, even though the quality of leadership and instruction at the independent public schools has fallen below their initial expectations, according to an interim report by researchers at Western Michigan University.
Most of the 447 teachers and other staff members surveyed said they joined charter schools to be part of an education reform effort and to work with like-minded educators. Some 76 percent were satisfied with their schools' mission statements, although just 59 percent believed the schools could fulfill their missions.
Teachers and parents reported that the schools, most of which had been open for less than a year, failed to meet their initial expectations for strong leadership, high-quality instruction, and innovation.
Meanwhile, 57 percent of students reported that they were learning more in charter schools than in their previous schools. The study, which was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, covered 31 charter schools that were open in the 1998-99 school year.
A final report that will include student-achievement data for charter schools will be released in September. The interim report is available online at www.wmich.edu/evalctr /charter/pacharter.html.
—Robert C. Johnston
Ohio School Policymakers Chided
Ohio policymakers should receive annual report cards grading them on their commitment to education, a Toledo- based research institute argues in a recent report.
In the report, titled "Smart Schools: Does Ohio Put Its Money Where It Matters?," the New Ohio Institute says that 67 percent of K-12 spending in 1999, or $3.2 billion, was pumped into education programs that did not directly focus on improving academic achievement. In addition, the study found that the legislature approved only one of every four policy recommendations proposed by the state board of education from 1990 to 1998.
Those and other findings point to a need for an education report card for all of the state's major education decisionmakers, including the governor, state lawmakers, and the elected and appointed members of the state board, the report argues.
But most of the state's education policymakers are already accountable to the public, said Scott Milburn, a spokesman for Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican.
"There are report cards now," Mr. Milburn said. "They're called elections."
The report is available online at www.newohio.org.
—Jessica L. Sandham
Vol. 19, Issue 29, Page 24