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Don't Lose Sight Of The Children

Asserting that millions of young children living in stressful environments lack the security, support, and confidence to become successful students, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has set forth an ambitious national strategy to ensure that all youngsters enter school well-prepared.

In a 184-page report, Ernest Boyer, the foundation's president, proposes a seven-point plan involving policymakers, schools, health officials, employers, parents, libraries, museums, parks, and community centers. A full chapter is devoted to improving television programming and advertising aimed at young children, educators, and parents.

The report--which charges that "America is losing sight of its children''--comes at a time when policymakers are turning their attention to the first of six national education goals set by the president and the governors. That goal states that by the year 2000, all children will enter school ready to learn.

The urgency of that goal is highlighted by the findings of a survey of 7,000 kindergarten teachers conducted for the report. Their responses indicate that 1.5 million--or 35 percent of--U.S. children are not ready to participate in formal education. Fortytwo percent of the teachers said that children are entering school less prepared than they were five years ago.

"It is unacceptable that some [children] don't know where they live, can't identify colors, or are unable to recite their full and proper names,'' the report says. It also quotes teachers voicing distress about the numbers of children coming to school hungry, abused, lacking attention, and with deep emotional and health problems.

"We have failed to recognize that the family may be a more imperiled institution than the school,'' the report states, "that many of education's failures may relate to problems that precede schooling and even birth.''

Among many other things, Boyer's strategy calls for:

  • Establishing clinics in impoverished communities to ensure basic health care for mothers and preschool children.
  • Setting up parent-education programs in every state and ensuring that every parent of a preschool-age child has access to them.
  • Designating Head Start as an entitlement to ensure that all eligible children are served and seeing that all school districts offer preschool for children who are not in Head Start.
  • Creating "family friendly'' workplace policies, such as unpaid leave for new parents, flexible scheduling, and job sharing.
  • Founding a cable television channel devoted to the educational needs of preschoolers.
  • Designing a network of outdoor and indoor parks and setting up school-readiness play spaces, staffed by college students, in every library, museum, zoo, and major shopping mall.
  • Organizing intergenerational programs that involve the elderly with young children.

Copies of the report, Ready to Learn: A Mandate for the Nation, are available for $8 each from the Princeton University Press, 3175 Princeton Pike, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648.

A Taste Of Its Own Medicine

In an ironic reversal of roles, the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teachers union, found itself in late December not threatening to strike, but threatened with a strike.

The union that represents the AFT's staff voted unanimously in early December to strike if their negotiating team could not turn back proposals that would have given the AFT management greater latitude in laying off employees. In the end, a walk out was averted, but only after a grueling all-night bargaining session and the assistance of a mediator.

Representatives of both sides refused to discuss the settlement, but according to Solomon Smith, president of the 85-member American Federation of Teachers Staff Union, "Neither side got all they wanted.''

Contract negotiations between the AFT and the staff union usually are conducted with little fanfare. This year, however, the economic recession prompted the AFT to make a number of proposals that would have changed several longstanding aspects of the staff union's contract, including seniority and layoff provisions, travel benefits, and grievance and probationary procedures. Smith says his members saw the proposals as "an all-out assault on our contract.''

Albert Shanker, president of the AFT, says the union cannot count on having the same income it had last year because its overall membership is expected to drop as teachers are laid off or accept early retirement incentives. "We are running into some hard times, and we may have to have layoffs,'' Shanker says. "I still hope there won't be layoffs, but it would be irresponsible if I signed a three-year contract not knowing where the money is coming from.''

Parental Choice Defies Projections

When lawmakers in Wisconsin approved a controversial initiative that would allow parents in Milwaukee to send their children to private schools on public dollars, opponents argued that the programs would "skim off'' the district's brightest youngsters.

But findings from an independent evaluation of the program contrast sharply with these predictions. The study found that the program, the first of its kind, is attracting students who were not succeeding in the public schools and who probably are more likely than the average student to have behavior problems.

The researchers who conducted the study also found that parents in the choice program are more involved in their children's education at home and at school than the average public school parent in Milwaukee. They are also more satisfied with their children's schooling.

The study, however, found no dramatic gains in test scores of program students. And the researchers report that the instruction received in participating private schools is generally similar to that of the public schools.

"This program is not now, nor probably will it ever be, the answer for the extensive and complex problems associated with providing a quality education for Milwaukee children,'' writes John Witte, the political scientist who led the study. But he adds: "It is equally difficult to believe, as some opponents have argued, that given the current size and limitations of the program, it poses a serious threat to the public school system.'' As of September, the program enrolled 562 students, 96 percent of whom were black or Hispanic.

Lawmakers enacted the experimental program in 1990 to permit a limited number of lowincome students to attend private, non-sectarian schools at public expense. Since then, the program has become mired in a lawsuit that threatens its future; a decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court is pending.

Unprincipled Principal

School officials in Lake Forest, Ill., last month were weighing the fate of an elementary school principal who has been found guilty of encouraging teachers to cheat on standardized student achievement tests.

Linda Chase was suspended from her $67,000-a-year position as principal of Cherokee Elementary School in November when the district began an investigation into why the school's students posted extraordinarily high scores on standardized achievement tests. The district later charged Chase with eight counts of encouraging faculty members to cheat in the administering and scoring of the tests.

A Lake County judge appointed a local lawyer to hear the charges. After five public sessions, the hearing officer concluded that the district had proved five of the charges. He found that Chase, among other things, directed teachers to erase and change answers written by pupils in their test booklets; distributed copies of the Stanford Achievement Test to teachers months before they were to be given; and gave teachers classroom materials on subject matter that would later be covered on the tests. The official said the district failed to prove the three other allegations.

In early January, the local school board was considering whether to demote Chase, who has denied all the charges, to a teaching job.

Military's Ban Gets It Barred

The Rochester, N.Y., school district has become the first major school system in the nation to bar armed-forces recruiters from the city's schools because of the military's ban on homosexuals.

The move was based on a new Rochester policy that prohibits the on-campus recruitment of students by any organization that "has a stated policy which discriminates against any person on the basis of race, color, religion, handicap, sex, creed, political beliefs, age, economic status, or sexual orientation.''

The school board's action is being challenged in court as a violation of state law. In his lawsuit, David Lloyd, a 17-year-old junior at Rochester's Edison Technical High School, contends that the policy violates a New York State education law requiring school districts to give military recruiters the same access to students afforded other educational or job recruiters. The suit is being underwritten by Citizens for a Decent Community, a local conservative organization.

Donald Schmitt, the associate counsel for the school district, says that he considers the district's action "compatible'' with the law because the policy is worded to include any recruiter or employer that has a written discrimination policy. Thus, he says, the military is not the only recruiter subject to the rule. "If another recruiter discriminated on the same basis,'' he notes, "they'd be treated the same way.''

One Step Closer To An Alliance?

The National Education Association has taken another step toward allying itself more closely with its chief rival, the American Federation of Teachers, and the labor movement as a whole.

Late last year, the NEA's board of directors authorized the creation of a nine-member committee charged with making recommendations about a 1976 policy prohibiting the union from merging with an organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO, to which the AFT belongs. Should the committee recommend that the prohibition be dropped and the board of directors and the union's Representative Assembly adopt the recommendation, one of the major barriers to an NEA-AFT merger would be removed.

The possibility of merger between the two unions surfaced a year-and-a-half ago, when AFT President Albert Shanker responded favorably to a reporter's question on the subject at his union's convention in Boston. Days later, at his union's convention in Kansas City, NEA President Keith Geiger did not rule out the idea, as his predecessors had done.

Since then, the NEA has broached the subject with state and local leaders. "The overall feeling when we got finished,'' Geiger says, "was that this organization should not be afraid to look at its own policies to see whether they are still relevant.''

And what does Shanker think? "I'm glad they're reconsidering it,'' he says. "I hope it will result in some modification.''

Recession Hurts Young Workers

Teenage workers were the sector of the labor force hardest hit by the 1990-91 economic recession, according to a study conducted by the Children's Defense Fund and Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies.

The study--an analysis of U.S. Labor Department data for the first five months of 1990 and 1991--found that workers under age 25 absorbed 86 percent of the 1.2 million jobs lost among all ages. Of these young workers, youths ages 16 to 19 suffered the most. More than 67 percent of the 1.03 million jobs lost among young workers were lost among teenagers.

Of workers under age 25, high school dropouts were harder hit than graduates. The recession's effect on young black high school dropouts was particularly devastating. In the first five months of 1990, before the recession hit, nearly one-third of young black dropouts were employed. But by 1991, only one-fourth held jobs.

Such unemployment, the report states, reflects both the fact that young workers cannot find jobs and that they are too discouraged to enter or stay in the job market.

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