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Budding Teachers

School reformers in the 1980s commonly believed that aspiring teachers were often poor students. But two researchers say such conventional wisdom needs rethinking. Catherine Cardina, an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Brockport, and John Roden, director of technology for the Alexander, New York, school district, studied data from a nationally representative sample of 13,276 students who were high school seniors in 1992. The students in the sample had taken a battery of tests in mathematics, science, and reading, and the researchers found that the teacher hopefuls in the group scored as high as students planning to major in psychology, business, or the health professions, though not as high as prospective engineers. The test scores did reveal, however, a few subjects in which budding teachers lagged behind their peers. Young men planning to become teachers, for example, were the least likely of all the career groups studied to score well in math. And with the exception of students planning to enter engineering, women were weak in science across the board. The findings, Cardina says, suggest that earlier criticisms of prospective teachers' academic backgrounds "were not really based on anything other than a general feeling or idea that teachers aren't competent in academic areas." She plans now to look at two-year follow-up data to see how those students fared in college. The study was published in the January/February issue of the Journal of Teacher Education.

Taking Off The Gloves

Adolescents already spend a fair amount of time arguing. But Andrew Rancer, a communications professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, is teaching them to do it better. Rancer contends that young people lash out at one another—both physically and verbally—because they don't have the communication skills to argue logically. "But if you have the ability to argue, you're much less likely to engage in verbal aggression," he says. "And, as we all know, verbal aggression leads to physical aggression." Rancer and his colleagues gave 239 11- and 12-year-olds a week of training in argumentation skills and compared them with 30 untrained students. After the sessions, the trained students were more willing to argue—and proved better at it—than students in the control group. They generated twice as many arguments as they had before the training, and a year later, 40 percent of them were still using the skills. Still, not all of Rancer's hypotheses panned out: The training did not curb students' verbal aggression. Rancer and his colleagues are working on a training program to remedy that problem. A report on the researchers' experiment appeared in the October issue of the journal Communication Education.

Buck-Raking

Revenues for companies involved in the for-profit management of public and private K-12 schools more than doubled last year to reach $1 billion, according to a study by EduVentures Inc. The Boston-based research firm said the growth was fueled in part by the increasing involvement of private companies in managing charter schools. Such companies include the Edison Project and Tesseract Inc. (formerly Education Alternatives Inc.), both of which manage public or charter schools, and Nobel Education Dynamics Inc., which runs a chain of for-profit private schools. The overall for-profit education industry, meanwhile, grew more than 23 percent in 1997, reaching $64 billion in revenue, according to the report.

A Good Choice

A renowned public school choice program has raised student achievement in a New York City community district to levels far above those of comparable city districts, a new study concludes. The study, which has not yet been published, examines Community School District 4 in East Harlem, home of a 24-year-old program that allows parents to place their children in any of a number of small alternative schools. One of the schools, Central Park East Secondary, was founded by Deborah Meier and is a closely watched incubator of reform. Mark Schneider and Paul Teske, political scientists at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, say that reading and math scores of students in District 4 started to climb after the choice program was introduced in 1974. Although the reading scores retreated some in the late 1980s and math scores leveled off, the study found that District 4 students today are scoring at a level 80 percent higher than citywide averages and almost twice as high as in 1974, when the district's scores were among the lowest in the city. Some critiques of the District 4 program have suggested that other factors have led to the improved achievement, including extra funding. But the authors contend that even after controlling for these factors, the improved test scores can still be attributed to parental choice.

—Debra Viadero and Mark Walsh

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