Current Events: Roundup
Reversal Of Fortune
The Indian River, Del., school board voted in March to reinstate Adele Jones, the algebra teacher whose firing a year ago for giving too many students poor grades touched off a national debate. [See "The High Price Of Failure,'' October 1993.] The 5-4 vote came after a Delaware Superior Court judge ordered the school board to take another vote on Jones' case. The vote to fire Jones in June 1993 was 6-4. Since that time, three new members have joined the board, all of whom voted for reinstatement. Administrators had argued that Jones was an incompetent teacher because large numbers of her students received D's and F's, but the teacher insisted that she could not pass students who did not do their work and study hard. Those who did, she said, earned acceptable grades in her class.
Just Say No
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, a leading publisher, has withdrawn a health textbook from the Texas market rather than make the hundreds of revisions required by the state board of education. Most of the changes dealt with sex education. According to published reports, company officials said the revisions would have been too costly. They also argued that students could have been put at risk if the books were stripped of information about the prevention of AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy. Health and family-planning advocates said the board's demands were sparked by conservatives who are pushing a curriculum that emphasizes sexual abstinence.
School Is A Zoo
A Minnesota school district has approved plans to build a small high school with an environmentalstudies theme at the Minnesota Zoological Gardens in Apple Valley. The school, which will have a comprehensive curriculum but focus on the environment, will begin serving about 400 11th and 12th grade students from across the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district in September 1995. Zoo employees will have educational roles at the high school and will be able to use the facility on weekends and during the summer.
The Edison Project, a high-profile private reform venture established by media entrepreneur Christopher Whittle, is finally getting a chance to put its ideas to the test. In March, Massachusetts education officials approved 15 charter school applications, three of which included the Edison Project as a partner. The three charters--in Boston, Lowell, and Worcester--mark the first time the Edison Project has won approval for a publicprivate partnership. Each of the three schools will be developed according to the Edison design, which includes a rigorous curriculum, extended school day and year, and heavy use of technology. Under Massachusetts law, the charter schools will receive state perpupil funding but be free of most regulations.
The collapse of a proposed multibillion-dollar merger between two of the nation's largest telecommunications concerns--Bell Atlantic Corp. and Tele-Communications Inc.--may slow, but will not significantly alter, their plans to provide 26,000 public schools with advanced electronic links to the "information superhighway.'' At least that is the word from company officials, who had announced in January that they would offer schools the electronic linkup within eight years. [See "Current Events,'' March 1994.] The heads of the two companies are now saying that, for several reasons--among them, more stringent federal control of the fees charged by local cable companies--a merger is not financially feasible. Pat Wright, TCI's director of education services, said plans to replace existing links to schools with fiber-optic lines "could have proceeded faster if the merger had gone through.'' But, he added, "it's not that the information superhighway isn't coming, it's just that it may take a little longer.''
California Republicans did not exactly roll out the welcome mat for members of the California Teachers Association who attended the state GOP's annual convention in February. Delegates adopted a resolution condemning "the antiRepublican and anti-education attitudes, policies, and activities of the CTA.'' In a 468-217 vote, the party faithful also changed their bylaws to prohibit the union from sponsoring a hospitality suite or an exhibit at any future California GOP convention until "40 percent of their political contributions are made to Republicans.'' At this year's gathering, the CTA hosted a hospitality suite where teachers served ice cream and distributed literature supporting increases in education funding.
Members of opposing teams in a Southern California athletic league will no longer exchange post-game handshakes because school officials believe the tradition--a sign of sportsmanship-- has become a prelude to violence. The Maramonte League, which includes schools in the valley region west of Los Angeles, decided to drop handshaking after fights erupted following basketball games this past winter. Other California schools have suspended the ritual when conflicts were expected, but principals from the eight schools in the Maramonte League are the first in the state to say no handshaking is the most peaceful policy.
'Peter Pan' Banned
School officials in Southampton, N.Y., are finding their bearings in the Land of Oz, having shied away from a modern-day controversy in Never-never Land. Southampton Intermediate School's production of Peter Pan was six weeks into rehearsals when school officials last month ditched the play, deciding instead to perform The Wizard of Oz. Members of the neighboring Shinnecock Indian tribe had objected to some of the lyrics in the play's songs. Particularly objectionable, said Sherry BlakelySmith, a Shinnecock in charge of the school's services for American Indians, is a scene in which the Lost Indians, wearing war paint, dance and sing "Ug-a-Wug,'' which uses the words "noble redskin'' and "squaw.'' "There are 150 Shinnecock children at the school,'' Blakely-Smith said. "There was no way we wanted them to see Native Americans portrayed as whooping and wailing and carrying on that way.'' School officials wrestled with trimming the offending scene but concluded that "performing Peter Pan would have been seen as a perpetuation of a negative, unfair stereotype,'' said district superintendent Richard Malone.
Do Not Spank
For the first time, the National Association of Elementary School Principals has taken a strong stand against the use of corporal punishment in schools. The group's delegate assembly, which includes elected representatives from each state, unanimously approved the resolution in March. Previous resolutions have tried to steer principals away from corporal punishment by urging "alternative methods'' of discipline. This year's resolution, however, was much more specific. Noting that corporal punishment can harm students' selfesteem and "contribute to disruptive and violent student behavior,'' the measure urges educators to push for legislation that would ban the practice.