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The justices disagreed widely, however, on the range of activities for which so-called agency fees can be assessed. Eight justices agreed that teachers' unions cannot use non-members' fees to support lobbying that is unrelated to collective bargaining. And all nine held that the fees can be used to pay for the cost of the local's affiliation with state and national organizations. But only five upheld the use of fees by locals to send delegates to national union conventions and meetings.

The case, Lehnert vs. Ferris Faculty Association, pitted the Michigan Education Association, the National Education Association, and the local union against six instructors at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. The instructors protested the union's use of their agency fees for lobbying, public relations, and union forums.

Not surprisingly, both sides in the dispute claimed victory in the wake of the ruling. "On balance, it was more of a victory for non-union employees than a loss,'' said Raymond LaJeunesse Jr., a lawyer for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represented the faculty members. "Lobbying was probably the largest issue; we consider that part of it a victory.''

Meanwhile, Robert Chanin, general counsel for the NEA, said the union was "overjoyed'' with the outcome. The decision was a "mixed bag, and we got the bigger part of the bag,'' the lawyer said. "We have a 9-to-0 vote on the critical issue: Every justice said you can charge for parentorganization expenses.''

State-By-State Comparisons

Reports from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and bad news have become synonymous. The latest study, the first ever to include a state-by-state comparison, is no exception.

The much-anticipated 1990 assessment of math performance tested both a national sample of public and private school students in grades 4, 8, and 12, and a separate sample of 8th grade public school students in 40 participating states and territories.

It found that, nationwide, more than a quarter of the 4th graders were unable to perform simple addition and subtraction problems with whole numbers. Although nearly all older students were able to do such problems, fewer could perform more complex calculations. For example, only two-thirds of the 8th graders could consistently multiply and divide whole numbers, according to the report, and less than half the 12th graders demonstrated a "consistent grasp of decimals, percents, fractions, and simple algebra.'' Only 5 percent of the seniors demonstrated the skills needed for high-technology or college-level work.

The state-level data revealed large differences among states, with the highest performers--Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin-- considerably outperforming the lowest-- Alabama, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Louisiana, and North Carolina. The report points out, however, that the high-performing states tended to have fewer students in large-city schools, fewer receiving free lunches, and smaller percentages of blacks and Hispanics.

In examining other possible explanations for performance, the study found that students who watch a great deal of television, are often absent from school, and come from single- parent families tend to do relatively poorly on the assessment. It also found that, despite calls for reforming math instruction, most classrooms, particularly those with low-performing students, tend to rely on textbooks, work sheets, and frequent tests.

Enrollments On The Rise

While the news about students' math skills is discouraging, a new study by the Council of Chief State School Officers gives reason for some hope. The study, the first comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of enrollment patterns in math and science courses, found that the percentage of high school students taking such classes increased dramatically during the 1980s.

In math, for example, the report indicates that 81 percent of the nation's high school graduates in 1990 had taken algebra I, compared with 65 percent in 1982. Over the same period, the percentage of students who had taken calculus almost doubled, from 5 percent to 9 percent.

In science, student enrollment in biology jumped from 75 percent to 95 percent over the decade, and large increases were also noted for chemistry (from 31 percent to 45 percent) and physics (14 percent to 20 percent).

A Radical Proposal

Oregon lawmakers are considering a controversial and potentially revolutionary plan that would end traditional schooling after the 10th grade and allow students to choose between college or vocational preparation.

The bill represents the most detailed state response so far to a 1990 report by the National Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, which calls for radical changes in the way schools usher youths from the classroom to the workplace.

Mirroring the report, America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages, the Oregon plan would require students by the end of 10th grade or age 16 to obtain a "Certificate of Initial Mastery.'' After that, they would move into either a two- to five-year technical training and apprenticeship program or a two-year college-prep curriculum. The bill also incorporates the report's call for learning centers to help dropouts attain the mastery certificate and would prohibit hiring workers under age 18 who have not earned it.

Although the proposal has met considerable criticism, particularly from those who contend it will "track'' young people into career choices too early in life, many observers say the measure stands a good chance of being approved.

What do teachers think of the plan? "Right now, there is not a lot of information about the bill that's out and clear,'' says Deanna Woods, a Portland high school teacher who helped draft the bill, "but the more they know, the better they like it.''

Public Aid For Church Schools

For years, public and private school educators have quarreled over how Chapter 1 remedial services should be provided to children in religious schools, if at all. This past May, a federal appeals court, ruling in a Missouri case, dealt a significant defeat to public education groups and strict churchstate separatists.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld a controversial federal rule that governs how districts allocate federal Chapter 1 aid to students in religious schools. Districts must provide Chapter 1 services to both public and private school students. The federal rule in question requires districts to pay the extra costs of serving church-school students--such as leasing or purchasing vans or portable classrooms--from its entire Chapter 1 allocation, not the portion later set aside to provide services to private school students. This way, the extra costs are shouldered by students in both public and private schools.

These extra expenses--often referred to as "Felton costs''--stem from the U.S. Supreme Court's 1985 decision in Aguilar vs. Felton, which prohibited public schools from sending teachers into parochial schools to provide Chapter 1 services. In response, many districts placed vans or portable classrooms on church-school property, or leased space at neutral sites, to serve the eligible pupils.

In its May ruling, the appellate court also upheld the use of these vans and portable classroom on the property of a churchaffiliated school. The decision was the first by a federal appellate court to address the constitutionality of the so-called "off the top'' formula and the use of mobile Chapter 1 classrooms on church-school property. U.S. District Courts have reached differing conclusions on those issues.

Advocates of a strict separation between church and state contend that the "off the top'' formula is a "transparent scheme'' to divert federal tax dollars to religious schools in violation of the First Amendment's ban on state establishment of religion.

Researchers Weigh In

As the Bush administration, a panel of governors, and the U.S. House of Representatives were moving in early June to create a national council to explore the "feasibility and desirability'' of a national testing program, a group of education researchers met to weigh in on the exam proposal. Their advice to policymakers: Slow down and proceed with caution.

Speaking at a Washington conference, the researchers argued that the evidence from the last two decades of testing in the United States and abroad suggests that the current movement toward national testing may be misguided.

"We're not saying tests are inherently bad,'' said Richard Jaeger, a professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "We're saying the assumptions of the administration that education reform will result exclusively [from testing] could be termed 'voodoo education policy.' It just isn't going to happen that way.''

The scholars also noted that a highstakes national assessment would tend to narrow the curriculum and emphasize "lowest- common-denominator standards.'' Moreover, said Robert Stake, a professor of education at the University of Illinois, such tests are unlikely to affect instructional practice since most teachers put little stock in the information tests provide.

But even if the tests do lead to better instruction, added Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Columbia University's Teachers College, they would not, in themselves, be likely to improve schools. "A lot of policy changes need to occur for school behavior to change,'' she said. "What we're doing is certifying more tightly the inequities that exist. We're not doing anything to remedy them.''

Taxing The Pros

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has come up with an innovative way to avoid shutting down the city's interscholastic athletic program: Have professional sports pay for school sports.

Under the plan, which the supervisors unanimously approved in June, a unique tax on professional sports tickets would be earmarked for the school district's athletics program. The measure would apply to the San Francisco 49ers football team, whose stadium admissions tax would rise by 75 cents a ticket, and to the Giants baseball team, whose per-ticket tax would rise by 25 cents.

The increases, which will apply only to the 1992 seasons, are expected to raise some $1.06 million--enough to cover the San Francisco Unified School District's interscholastic-sports budget for the coming school year.

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