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Star Power

Talk about exclusive. The Center for Early Education, a private elementary school in Los Angeles, is so selective that this year the school received 700 applications for just 63 openings. Randye Hoder, writing in the November issue of Buzz, describes it as "the place where many of the city's most successful athletes, studio and television executives, producers, directors, writers, and entertainers want their children to go." Such luminaries as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denzel Washington, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Nicholson, Robert Townsend, Neil Simon, and Burt Bacharach have all sent their kids there. The school boasts two teachers in every classroom, "plus specialists in art, music, computers, library science, and physical education; 130 computers; a renowned art and music program; science labs; and myriad playgrounds." The largest of the school's three libraries, Hoder reports, was built with a $250,000 grant from Disney. Parents gush about the center's dynamic principal, Reveta Bowers, who insists that at least 15 percent of the school's students are on financial aid and tries to instill a "philanthropic spirit" in the children. But detractors say the school—one of the richest in Los Angeles—is steeped in the culture of money. "Yet it is not just how much money the school raises that offends some people," Hoder writes. "What really puts them off is a widespread perception that—regardless of what Bowers says—celebrity and money are the tickets in."

Be Prepared

What should you do if a student takes out a gun and threatens to shoot someone? Sadly, it's a question that needs to be taken seriously. "Every school, no matter where it is located, must be prepared for a crisis," writes Kenneth Nye, an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Southern Maine, in the American School Board Journal (November). Nye urges schools to develop a "crisis game plan" to deal with a potentially lethal situation. Teachers, he advises, need to be alerted quickly, perhaps through a code phrase. "One school's code is a general announcement that will get teachers' attention without alarming students: 'Attention, teachers. Paychecks will not be distributed this week.' Hearing this, teachers will take steps to get all students out of the corridors and into classrooms and will await further instructions."

War Zone

In California, the debate over whole language reading instruction has become a full-blown war, reports Nicholas Lemann in the Atlantic Monthly (November). How did it come to this? For one thing, Bill Honig—who, as superintendent of public instruction, pushed to get California's schools to adopt the method—became a vocal critic of whole language after he was forced to leave office. (He was convicted on conflict-of-interest charges.) During his "exile," as Lemann puts it, "Honig threw himself into the study of elementary-grade instruction. He concluded that under his direction many of the policies of the state education department had been terribly mistaken; he publicly disowned them and started an organization to undo what he had done only a few years earlier." The former superintendent "plunged into the issue of reading instruction with his customary limitless energy" and wound up, in Lemann's words, "a phonics zealot." And whole language is now blamed for much of what is wrong in public education in California. Lemann, who apologizes "for being another national reporter who has gone to California and seen America's future," nonetheless predicts that the state's curriculum wars are a sign of things to come. "Given that the traditional side is now winning the ongoing battle between traditional and progressive education," he writes, "schools all over the country will be pressed hard by parents and politicians to move toward imparting skills and away from simply inculcating the joy of learning."

—David Hill

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