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Voucher-Style Choice Upheld

In a ruling hailed by parental choice advocates, the Wisconsin Supreme Court in March upheld the experimental Milwaukee program that allows a limited number of children from low-income families to attend nonsectarian private schools at state expense.

The Milwaukee initiative has been watched nationally as the first voucher-style plan allowing low-income students to attend nonpublic schools. The new ruling, proponents of choice say, could encourage more state legislatures to enact similar experiments.

The 4-3 decision overturned a 1990 state appellate court ruling that the legislature had improperly enacted the plan as a rider to an appropriations bill. The majority of the state's Supreme Court held that the program served the significant state purpose of improving the education of children from low-income families and thus was not a special-interest measure requiring separate passage under the state constitution.

"Clearly,'' the majority wrote, "the program is not only of statewide importance but national significance, as well, because education of our citizens knows no boundaries and other states could benefit from the knowledge resulting from this innovative experiment.''

The three dissenting justices were sharply critical of their colleagues, contending that the majority was "glossing over'' important issues of state law arising from the way the program was enacted.

An Uncertain Fate For DOD Teachers

In the face of the massive draw down of U.S. troops stationed in Europe, the Department of Defense this June will shut down nearly 10 percent of its schools for military-related dependents in Germany.

The demise of the schools means that hundreds of teachers, administrators, and staff members will be transferred to other schools in the Department of Defense's school system or possibly laid off, unless they choose to resign or retire. Retaining a job could mean leaving a spouse or longtime home for a transfer hundreds of miles away in Germany, or to a DOD school as far away as the Pacific.

As of last month, school employees had not yet been apprised of their fates, a fact that has some teachers and their union representatives frustrated and angry. School system officials say they hope to have destinations for the educators sometime in May.

"This is part of your peace dividend,'' says Edward Turner of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools.

The DOD school system serves 132,000 children of U.S. military and civilian personnel stationed overseas in 250 schools in 19 countries. Germany is by far the largest of the system's five world regions, with about 60 percent of its students.

DOD officials estimate that the closures, in tandem with reductions in staff sizes at other Defense Department schools in Germany, will result in 1,200 lost positions, 900 of which are teaching posts. Although a total of 470 positions were lost at the end of last year and at semester break this year, no permanent employees have been left without a job. Layoffs, Turner says, will be "an absolute last resort.''

But with the continuing troop reductions--slated to go through 1995--next year promises a rerun of this year's cutbacks, which may mean yet another move for some of the teachers displaced this year.

Court Tackles Desegregation

The U.S. Supreme Court at the end of March made it easier for school districts to get free of some federal court supervision of their desegregation programs. Ruling in a closely watched case from DeKalb County, Ga., the High Court held 8-0 that federal judges may relinquish control of school desegregation plans in incremental stages even if full compliance has not been achieved in every area of school operations. For example, a judge could end supervision of student assignments while maintaining oversight of faculty allocation.

In addition, a brittle coalition of five justices held that school systems once segregated by law need not remedy racial imbalance caused by population shifts that are beyond their control. "Racial balance is not to be achieved for its own sake,'' Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "Residential housing choices, and their attendant effects on the racial composition of schools, present an ever-changing pattern, one difficult to address through judicial remedies.''

The High Court's decision reversed a federal appellate court's ruling that the suburban-Atlanta school system can only free itself from court control if it maintains racial parity for several years simultaneously in six categories--student, faculty, and staff assignment, transportation, physical facilities, and extracurricular activities. The appeals court had ruled that the DeKalb district, which has a large number of racially identifiable schools, could not evade responsibility for student racial imbalances by blaming them on demographic changes. It also said the district might have to use busing and other measures to correct the imbalances.

School law experts agree that the impact of the High Court's ruling will be relatively mild. "I don't think it changes the basic rules,'' says Alfred Lindseth, an Atlanta lawyer who has represented several school districts in desegregation cases. But, he adds: "I think it clarifies a lot of things. I think it will be useful to school districts that have desegregated, that have implemented their plans in good faith, and that want to be released from court supervision.''

Dennis Courtland Hayes, general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, says the decision "represents a marked retreat from the Court's commitment to desegregation.'' He adds, however, that only a handful of districts are positioned to take advantage of it because few have encountered as major and rapid shifts in population after attempting to desegregate as the DeKalb system encountered.

A New Voice For Teachers

Ever since the nation's teaching force began to unionize in the 1960s, many teachers have refused to take part, and some have fought it. Now, a loose coalition of independent associations of such nonunion educators is attempting to become a national alternative to the two dominant teachers' unions.

Meeting earlier this year in South Carolina, the National Conference of Independent Professional Education Associations adopted bylaws and explored funding sources with an eye to incorporating in the Washington, D.C., area by the end of the year and eventually opening a national headquarters with a fulltime director. "We need to inform national elected officials that there are groups out there that represent educators who are not part of the [National Education Association] or the [American Federation of Teachers],'' says Doug Rogers, the executive director of the 54,000-member Association of Texas Professional Educators, the largest affiliate of the national conference.

Adds Davis Bingham, the executive director of Professional Educators of North Carolina: "If we become nationally recognized, we can have a voice at the table in policymaking. Right now, although we have a national conference, we're not solidified enough and funded enough to become a national factor.''

The group's leaders say that between 150,000 and 200,000 educators nationwide belong to independent professional associations. Although small compared with the NEA's 2.1 million members and the AFT's 780,000, the independent group's combined numbers are "beginning to be a formidable bloc,'' Bingham says.

The largest independent associations are in "right to work'' states, where members have come together primarily because of their opposition to collective bargaining. "We vary in degree on some issues,'' says Polly Broussard, the national conference's chairwoman and the executive director of Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana. "But the strongest bond that holds us together is our opposition to the unionization of our schools.'' Most groups in the conference oppose any union tactic that interferes with school and criticize the NEA and the AFT for taking positions on noneducation issues.

Representatives of the two national unions express little concern about the conference's national ambitions. "We don't feel any threat from them,'' one AFT spokesperson says. "Our concern is not in battling these people. Our concern is in making sure we have an educational system in this country that can take us successfully into the 21st century.''

Teachers' Unions Score A Victory

Stymied for nearly a decade in their attempts to mandate collective bargaining in every state, the nation's teachers' unions made a breakthrough in New Mexico earlier this year when lawmakers passed a measure that allows teachers and other publicsector employees to negotiate contracts as a unit.

New Mexico becomes the 34th state to allow public school employees to bargain collectively and the first since 1983 to enact such a measure.

Under the terms of the legislation, an election to consider unionization must be held if at least 30 percent of a potential bargaining unit's members request one. The law also calls for a public employment relations board, considered one of the hallmarks of a strong collective bargaining law.

Passage of the measure was a small victory for Keith Geiger, president of the National Education Association, who has made enactment of collective bargaining in all states a high priority. Geiger says the achievement was particularly noteworthy in light of the anti-union political climate he says has prevailed nationally since the early 1980s.

Still, New Mexico backers of collective bargaining were forced to make some significant concessions in order to get their bill into law. For example, the legislation makes strikes illegal and contains no provisions for binding arbitration. Moreover, it does not require agency fees, which all employees would have to pay to the union for negotiating on their behalf even if they choose not to be members.

"If we have to have a law, this is probably as good as we could hope for,'' says Wesley Lane of the New Mexico School Boards Association, one of the bill's leading foes.

Iowa Universities Abandon NCATE

In a surprise move, Iowa's four largest universities announced in March that they were removing their teacher preparation programs from the national accreditation process.

The presidents of all three of the public institutions--the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Iowa--and the largest private one, Drake University, said in a joint statement that they were pulling out of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education because it does not facilitate self-improvement. Moreover, the university presidents argued, the national system of accreditation is "too prescriptive, time-consuming, and costly.''

Arthur Wise, president of NCATE, and a number of leading Iowa educators were stunned by the announcement. "We are shocked to see such a pre-emptive action on the part of the Iowa university presidents,'' Wise says.

The criticisms voiced by the university presidents reflect an ongoing debate among teacher educators over the value of NCATE and its standards. None of the Iowa institutions has undergone NCATE's new, more rigorous accreditation process. While the presidents expressed confidence in their ability to meet the new standards, others suggested they were retreating for fear they would not measure up.

Constantine Curris, president of the University of Northern Iowa, says the overall message the presidents were sending was that the benefits of the national accreditation process did not warrant the costs. Says Curris, "We're spending an inordinate amount of time attempting to justify the status quo.''

The Iowa affiliate of the National Education Association has pledged to fight the move, and others in the state have made it clear that they regard the action as contrary to the best interests of students and teachers. Iowa Director of Education William Lepley says it constitutes a "black eye for our state.''

"If teaching is ever going to be a profession, we have to have national standards to work from,'' Lepley argues. "The presidents could not get away with this within any other profession.''

Disabled Students Struggle, Search

Data from three new federal studies indicate that young people with disabilities are meeting with "mixed success'' as they struggle through high school and search for meaningful, well-paid employment. "It's definitely a good news, bad news kind of thing,'' says Mary Wagner, who is director of the ongoing research project.

The studies are the most recent to emerge from the National Longitudinal Transition Study, a five-year, $5 million effort to track the progress of 8,000 disabled students who were enrolled in secondary schools in 1985-86. The three studies consist of a 600page compilation of all of the project's findings to date and smaller reports dealing with the issues of dropouts and disabled students' post-school employment. Taken together, they paint the most complete picture to date of the high school and post-school experiences of disabled students.

On a positive note, the new data suggest that most disabled students are moving more easily into jobs within four years of leaving high school. Of the four disability categories studied--learning-disabled, mentally retarded, speech-impaired, and emotionally disturbed--students with learning disabilities fared best in the workplace, with 69 percent holding jobs.

This upbeat result, however, is somewhat tempered by the finding that only 14 percent of all pupils with disabilities receive additional education or training in the two years after leaving school. Says Wagner, "These kids don't go on to other kinds of training like kids in the general population do, and I have some serious concerns about their long-term employability, particularly once graduates in this age group enter the work force.''

The studies also suggest that students with disabilities are having a difficult time in high school. One notes that only half the students who left school during the course of the study did so by graduating; nearly one-third of those who left dropped out. The research also shows that students with disabilities were absent from school an average of three full weeks in their most recent school year, and more than a third had failed a course during that year. Both factors, the researchers say, were directly linked to students' propensity to drop out.

Copies of the reports are available for $40 each for the long one and $15 each for the shorter two from SRI International, Mail Stop BS136, 333 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park, CA 940253493.

Teachers Tailored For Urban Schools

The AT&T Foundation has added two more sites to the "Teachers for Tomorrow'' program it launched last fall. The $3 million program supports collaborative efforts among universities, local school systems, and teachers' unions to improve the preparation of inner-city teachers and to cut the dramatic attrition rates in urban schools.

The first sites selected for the three-year program were Jacksonville, Fla.; New York City; and San Francisco. Now the foundation has added Detroit and Houston to the list. Educators in each city are developing their own program, but the group shares experiences and information through informal contacts and annual workshops sponsored by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, AT&T's partner in the program; AACTE is also providing technical assistance.

"The classroom teacher is the most important key to successful school reform and improved student learning,'' says Anne Alexander, the foundation's vice president of education programs. "And clearly, none of America's national education goals--not one-- can be achieved without significant change in the way teachers are prepared for their jobs.''

AT&T expects the program to lead to changes in the way innercity teachers are prepared. It also hopes the pool of well-prepared teachers will increase significantly and that fewer urban teachers will drop out of teaching.

The foundation first became involved in efforts to change the preparation of inner-city teachers through a Chicago-based project it funded in 1989. DePaul University and the Chicago public school system created Chicago's Center for Urban Education, which will send its first group of graduates into the schools next fall.

Energy Efficiency Equals Big Savings

The findings are impressive: Public schools could trim their annual $7.4 billion energy budget by 25 percent through more energy efficient operations, proper maintenance, and a variety of improvements in buildings and equipment. Put another way, the new report by the American Association of School Administrators argues that districts waste as much as $1.85 billion in energy costs each year.

Driven by that assertion, a loose coalition of businesses, federal agencies, and education groups--including the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association-- has launched a campaign to urge school leaders to invest in making their buildings more energy efficient.

The campaign's message runs against the current because many school districts are responding to recession-driven budget pressures by postponing the very types of capital-improvement projects the coalition is calling for.

But the effort aims to drive home the point that by failing to invest in energy efficiency, schools watch their money go out the window or up the smokestack--and suffer more financially in the long run. Moreover, the campaign's leaders say, new methods of paying for energysaving measures, as well as pending changes in federal policy, may make it much easier for school districts to finance needed building improvements.

The ultimate payoff, they stress, lies in freeing up money for such purposes as teacher salaries and classroom supplies.

The coalition came together at a meeting held earlier this year to discuss the findings of the AASA report Schoolhouse in the Red and to develop recommendations for addressing them. Among other things, the group recommends that school officials be widely informed about the links between inefficient energy use, deferred maintenance, and indoor air problems. It encourages officials to view potential savings in energy costs as an incentive to take care of deferred school maintenance.

The consensus statement also urges education associations and government agencies to help schools more effectively use both traditional and nontraditional means of financing energy conservation. It especially recommends that schools consider using assistance from utilities and a financing practice known as "performance contracting.'' Under such an agreement, outside contractors agree to make energy-efficiency improvements to a school building in exchange for a share of the school's future energy savings.

Adolescence Is Risky Business

Unless schools, health providers, parents, and policymakers join together to help young adolescents, a large percentage of today's teenagers will face troubled, unhealthy lives as adults. This is the dramatic conclusion of a new report released last month by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development.

The report--which is expected to have a strong influence on the grant making of the Carnegie Corp. of New York, the council's sponsoring institution--stresses that many young adolescents have adopted risky behaviors that may endanger their future well-being.

"Of 28 million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 18, approximately 7 million are at serious risk of being harmed by health- and even life-threatening activity, as well as by school failure,'' the report states. "Another 7 million are at moderate risk.'' But even the 14 million teenagers who "appear to be growing up basically healthy . . .are not immune to risk since most of them at the very least lack sufficient problem-solving skills,'' the document cautions.

The report, written by former New York Times education writer Fred Hechinger, expands on many of the themes covered three years ago by another Carnegiebacked study, Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century. That influential report criticized the "volatile mismatch'' between the structure and curriculum of the middle grades and the needs of students in the crucial developmental years of early adolescence.

The new report, which attempts to synthesize many academic studies about adolescence and present them in a way that can be understood by a wide audience, calls on schools, businesses, health providers, policymakers, and community organizers to:

  • Offer at least two years of health and life science education for all students in the upperelementary and middle grades.
  • Ensure that all adolescents receive health care.
  • Increase the number and improve the quality of health care professionals who work with teenagers.
  • Beef up youth and community organizations so they can better compete with gangs for membership.
  • Encourage news and entertainment broadcasters to develop shows that encourage responsible behavior.
  • Work to ban the sale and possession of unregistered guns.

Copies of the report, Fateful Choices: Healthy Youth for the 21st Century, can be obtained free of charge from CCAD, P.O. Box 753, Waldorf, MD 20604.

Out-Of-Pocket Expenditures

Two years ago, a national survey by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching revealed that a startling 96 percent of the nation's teachers spend their own money on teaching materials. Now, new estimates by the New York State United Teachers add an exclamation point to the foundation's finding.

Based on the results of an informal statewide survey of some 800 precollegiate teachers, NYSUT estimates that teachers in the state spend roughly $62 million a year out of their own pockets for "basic teaching supplies.'' Teachers spend an average of $333 a year of their own money, the union says. The individual amounts reported ranged from nothing to $2,500 a year.

Elementary teachers, the union found, spend the most. Items purchased include: toilet paper, food for children's lunches, used clothing, pencils, story books, science kits, a copying machine, lab coats, and art and theater materials.

A New Television Show For And About Teachers

The nation's largest teachers' union and cable television's Learning Channel have teamed up to produce a television program geared specifically to the classroom teacher.

Teacher TV, which premiered on Sunday, April 19, on the Learning Channel, is now available in some 16 million U.S. households equipped with cable television. The show is being promoted on Learning Channel's much larger sister network, the Discovery Channel, which is available in 56 million cable homes, as well as by posters distributed to schools by the National Education Association.

Sponsors describe the program as filling a longstanding need. "There really aren't any programs for and about teachers,'' says Keith Geiger, president of the NEA. Backers also say the show represents an innovative attempt to reach educators at home with a commercially sponsored show that has the sophisticated feel of a news-magazine program on a major network.

The effort is part of a new wave of programming geared toward the professional concerns of educators. The Mind Extension University, another cable network, recently introduced an educational technology telecourse for educators. And in 1990, Whittle Communications launched the Educators' Channel, using equipment it gave to high schools who signed up for its controversial Channel One to deliver programming for teachers. That effort appears to have stalled, however. The company says the Educators' Channel is in "redevelopment''; it hopes to introduce new programming by this fall.

Teacher TV, which first appeared as a pilot last fall, features slick graphics and a fast pace, with roughly three magazine-style segments per halfhour program. The segments focus on visits to successful classroom programs that revolve around one theme per show. There are no studio interviews, producers say, and a minimum of "talking heads.''

Geiger insists the program will not serve simply as a vehicle for advancing the NEA's perspective on educational issues, and he says it will not shy away from controversial subjects. But, he adds, "we will not be focusing on negative topics.''

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