Current Events: Roundup
Onward To Battle
Proponents of school choice have created a new national organization that will try to get voucher programs adopted through legislation and ballot initiatives at the state level. Launched this past October, Americans for School Choice has pulled together a prestigious board of directors that includes two former U.S. secretaries of education (Lamar Alexander and William Bennett), members of Congress, two governors, and several state legislators. The group plans to organize ballot initiatives in five states this year and in eight states in 1996 and to engineer lobbying campaigns in four state legislatures this year, followed by an additional eight in 1996. According to its literature, the organization intends to "focus attention on a limited number of battles so we can marshal resources and win victories at the state and local level that will accelerate the national movement.''
Spare The Child
Under a new rule adopted by the Dade County (Fla.) school board, parents are no longer allowed to strike their children while on the property of a district school. Supporters of the rule, which is part of a new code of conduct for students and teachers, say it will act as a deterrent and send a strong message to parents and staff members, alike. Says School Board President Janet McAliley, "It sends the wrong message to students to allow or even encourage parents to come to school and hit their children.'' Still, two board members opposed the rule, arguing that it is the parents' prerogative how and where they discipline their children.
Teachers in Little Rock, Ark., can no longer tell misbehaving students to drop to the ground and give them 20. In November, Arkansas Deputy Attorney General Elena Willis ruled that forcing students to do pushups is a form of corporal punishment, which the Little Rock school district prohibits. The opinion was requested after parents at a local junior high school objected to a teacher's practice of using pushups as a disciplinary measure.
Back To The Fold
Almost a decade after leaving the National Education Association and its state affiliate, the leadership of the Milwaukee teachers' union wants to return to the fold. The executive board of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association voted in October to rejoin the NEA; the union's 6,300 members will vote on the move in February. Local leaders have argued that reaffiliation would give them access to the larger organization's research and make them partners in state and federal lobbying efforts. They concede, however, that the idea is likely to meet some resistance because it could double their members' $348 annual dues. The MTEA split from the NEA in 1974 in a dispute over local control of actions such as strikes. MTEA leaders say the state organization is now offering the local far more autonomy.
Public health and school officials in Baltimore began offering Norplant, the surgically implanted contraceptive, in two more high school health clinics in November and say they will make it available in three others this spring. A year ago, the Baltimore school system became the first in the nation to offer the long-term contraceptive to its students when it opened a pilot program at a high school for girls who are pregnant or who have had children. The five new clinics are all in regular high schools. In Baltimore, 97 out of every 1,000 girls between ages 15 and 17 gave birth in 1990, a rate, local health officials say, that is three times the statewide average. Last year, the city school board authorized that Norplant be offered in public school clinics along with such already available birth control choices as condoms, diaphragms, and oral contraceptives.
A Calculating Gift
Through an unusual arrangement with four major electronics companies, the College Board in October distributed 40,000 scientific calculators to 39 poor school districts in 25 states and the District of Columbia. The calculators--donated by Casio, Hewlett-Packard, Sharp, and Texas Instruments-- will help students keep up with trends in mathematics education, as endorsed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The board hopes that the machines will place students from poor districts on a more equitable footing with those from affluent areas when taking college-entrance examinations. The board has recommended that all students use calculators on both the Preliminary Scholastic Achievement Test and the new version of the SAT, which will be administered for the first time in March.
A New Resource
Recruiting New Teachers, a nonprofit organization devoted to attracting people into teaching, has developed a resource guide to help prospective teachers enter the profession. The 128-page Careers in Teaching Handbook provides information for people in every stage of the teaching "pipeline,'' including high school students considering teaching, professionals in another field who are considering becoming teachers, current teacher education students concerned about state licensing requirements, and practicing teachers searching for ways to become more involved in education reform. The handbook, written in consultation with a 29-member national advisory board, also devotes a chapter to resources for minorities who are interested in becoming teachers. Copies of the guide are available free of charge from: RNT, 385 Concord Ave., Belmont, MA, 02178 or by calling (617) 4896000.
The Philadelphia school board in November honored Local 1201 of the International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers for diverting a share of its members' wage hike to the local school district's cashstrapped athletic programs. The novel agreement between the district and the union, which represents building engineers, bus drivers and attendants, custodians, and school aides, will provide $400,000 per year for at least two years for the purchase of equipment. As a result of the district's financial woes, officials had cut the sports budget for the current school year by 40 percent. "Sports can be the last thread to keep some of the kids in school,'' says Anthony Ottobre, the union's president. "We think it was the right thing to do.''
New national figures indicate that minority participation in the Advanced Placement program is continuing to grow at record rates. According to the College Board, which administers the program, slightly more than 25 percent of all high school students who took AP tests last May were members of minority groups, an increase of 7 percentage points since 1988. Approximately 414,000 students in 10,086 U.S. high schools took about 624,000 college-level AP examinations in May; of the total, nearly 106,000 test-takers were members of minority groups. From 1992 to 1993, the number of minority students participating in the program grew 15 percent for African Americans, 14 percent for Hispanics, 11 percent for Native Americans, and 9 percent for Asian Americans.
The president of the National Academy of Sciences has launched an initiative to bring teachers and scientists together to improve science education at the local level. Under the Regional Initiatives in Science Education, or RISE, scientists will join teachers both in pushing for science education reform within school districts and in working directly to improve science instruction in the classroom. The program, which is already working in several U.S. cities, is sponsored by Bruce Alberts, a nationally known biochemist and advocate of science education reform who assumed the presidency of the academy last summer. As envisioned by Alberts, scientists and other technical professionals will collaborate with groups of exemplary elementary school teachers to chart a course for reform that is both consistent with national education goals and sensitive to local needs and capabilities.
The Hempstead, Texas, school board has reversed a policy that barred four pregnant students from a high school cheerleading squad. The action came after the National Organization for Women filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department, charging that the district's policy banning pregnant or parenting students from elected positions violated a law barring sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. The new policy adopted by the board allows the pregnant students to petition for reinstatement to the squad, with a doctor's note confirming their physical ability to take part in the activity.