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Current Events: Let's Make A Deal; What's For Lunch?; etc.

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If all goes according to plan, Education Alternatives Inc., a Minneapolis-based profit-seeking company, will soon be managing the Hartford, Conn., school district. In early September, the school board and company officials agreed on the basics of a contract but still needed to work out some details, according to school board member Kathy Evans. The tentative agreement would give EAI control over the district's $171 million budget and $29 million in federal grants, but not $37 million in pension funds. The firm would pay district expenses with its own money in return for a monthly reimbursement and would shoulder any cost overruns. A state superior court judge removed one obstacle to the agreement in August, dismissing a lawsuit by the Hartford Federation of Teachers challenging the contract-bidding process. The publicly traded EAI currently manages a handful of public schools for the Baltimore City school system.


What's For Lunch?

When the U.S. Agriculture Department announced this past summer that it was revamping the federal school-meals programs, many educators and nutrition advocates felt that the government was finally waking up from a long slumber. President Harry Truman inaugurated the school-lunch program in 1946, and the regulations have never been altered to reflect nutritional findings of the latter half of this century. But in June, the Clinton administration proposed regulations requiring schools to limit the average fat content of lunches and to serve meals that meet U.S. Dietary Guidelines. By replacing the current rules--which mandate a strict "meal pattern'' that requires, for example, one serving of meat and two servings of vegetables or fruit at each meal--the new system would allow the 92,000 schools participating in the programs to serve what they want as long as the meals stay within the fat limits and provide one-third of the recommended daily allowances of vitamins and nutrients.


On The Job

As schools opened around the country in early September, fewer teachers than usual were walking the picket lines. Only six school districts--in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio--were coping with walkouts, half as many as last year, according to the National Education Association. At the beginning of school two years ago, teachers in 25 districts were off the job. This fall, the only strike in a district of more than 6,000 students was in Ann Arbor, Mich., where about 1,200 teachers walked out, forcing administrators to postpone the start of classes. A spokesman for the local union said members were protesting the school board's efforts to roll back wages and benefits and to lengthen the school year without boosting pay.


The Eroding Family

One in every two children in America does not live in a "traditional nuclear family,'' according to a new study released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The report shows that about 16 million children live in so-called nontraditional families, most of them headed by a single parent. Many also live in "blended families,'' with stepparents, grandparents, other relatives, or nonrelatives. Of the 1.8 million children who reside with neither parent, most live with grandparents. The report attributes the trend toward single-parent families and extended-family households to increased numbers of out-of-wedlock births, high divorce rates, unemployment, poverty, and housing problems. Parental Matters
Parents' involvement in their children's education drops off sharply after elementary school, but students whose parents stay involved tend to fare better academically and socially. That is the conclusion of a new study based on data from the U.S. Education Department's 1993 National Household Education Survey, which included 12,236 parents of children from 3rd to 12th grade. About 42 percent of children in grades 3-5 had parents who were identified as highly involved--meaning they attended PTA meetings, plays, sports events, and other activities and volunteered at schools or served on committees--compared with 24 percent of students from grades 6-12. The 6th to 12th graders whose parents were highly involved were significantly less likely to repeat a grade or have behavior problems and more likely to take part in extracurricular activities.

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