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Published in Print: November 1, 1999, as Briefs


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Unhappy Holidays

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued an Ohio district for closing school on the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The suit, filed in September, claims that the school board of the Sycamore district, which has rebuffed requests from Islamic and Hindu parents to close on their holidays, favors Judaism over other religious faiths, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Superintendent Bruce Armstrong says that the board decided to experiment with school closings on Jewish holy days because of high student absenteeism on those days.

Mind Games

Odyssey of the Mind, one of the nation's most popular academic competitions, has split into two separate and competing organizations. The two companies that once combined to produce the contest, Creative Competitions and the OM Association, agreed to go their separate ways during an ugly court battle about whether the competition should be governed by a for-profit or nonprofit entity. Creative Competitions, which is a for-profit company, will continue to offer academic tournaments under the Odyssey of the Mind moniker; the nonprofit OM Association will administer a new but similar tournament called Destination ImagiNation.

Urge To Serve

Nearly two-thirds of the nation's public schools are coordinating community-service activities for their students, and one-third are providing service-learning programs, according to Service-Learning and Community Service in K-12 Public Schools, a National Center for Education Statistics report released in September. The top reasons respondents listed for implementing service-learning activities: to help students become more active community members, to increase student knowledge and understanding of the community, and to teach critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

Idealism Lives

Teach for America, the national education corps that places recent college graduates in teaching positions in needy schools, turned 10 years old this fall. Since 1989, the nonprofit organization has sent nearly 5,000 do-gooders into schools with less than two months' worth of teacher training. About half its alumni have continued to work in education in some capacity, including starting charter schools and serving as principals.

Older And Wiser?

Almost one-third of the people who completed teacher-training programs in 1998 already had bachelor's degrees, according to a Center for Education Information study. These teacher-candidates tended to be older (around age 30), were more likely to be male, and were slightly more likely to be members of minority groups than undergraduate students training to be teachers.

Just Say No

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a Tennessee teachers' union that had lost a lawsuit challenging the Knox County district's policy of testing new teachers for illicit drug use.

The union charged that "suspicionless" testing of job candidates for drug use was a violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches. However, the justices declined without comment to hear the appeal.

Strike Success

In October, teachers in Yonkers, N.Y., walked off the job to protest an unpopular block-scheduling plan for middle and high schools. After three days of striking, the school district agreed to discontinue the plan. A joint labor-management committee will examine possibilities for a new schedule next fall.

Survival Skills

"Teaching children about diversity is not just a way for schools to be 'politically correct.' It is a way for them to survive. Unchecked, ignorance can grow into intolerance, harden into hate, and explode into violence."

-From the "Opening the Door to Diversity" Campaign Resource Guide. The campaign is offering teachers lesson plans and television programs that are designed to promote tolerance and appreciation of diversity among America's middle school students.

Purchasing Power

Teachers in Waterbury, Connecticut, are giving back part of their recent 2 percent-a-year salary increase to help the 15,000-student district purchase much-needed textbooks, computers, and other instructional materials. The money is being matched by the city, which is one of the state's largest and poorest. Some $450,000 of the $600,000 total will be distributed immediately to Waterbury schools based on the number of students enrolled, and the remaining $150,000 will be given as rewards to those schools that improve on statewide tests.

Voters Crap Out

Alabama voters have rejected a plan to create a new state lottery to pay for education initiatives. The lottery, modeled after an education lottery in neighboring Georgia, was expected to provide a minimum of $150 million annually for prekindergarten programs, school technology, and college scholarships. Religious leaders and conservative organizations turned public opinion against the plan in the month leading up to the October referendum, claiming that a lottery would encourage gambling and create an education program disproportionately supported by the poor. South Carolina voters are slated to consider a similar lottery referendum in November of next year.

Count 'Em

More than 300,000 "Census in Schools" kits have been requested by teachers nationwide, the Census Bureau reports. The kits, produced to help increase participation in the fast-approaching 2000 U.S. Census, include a letter for students to take home explaining the importance of an accurate count in the decennial process. Each kit also contains a teaching guide with lesson plans that address topics such as map literacy, community involvement, and information management.

Behave Or Else

The 6,700-student Campbell County school district in Gillette, Wyoming, has approved the use of more out-of-school suspensions, corporal punishment, and a student "boot camp" as disciplinary measures for 6th through 12th grade troublemakers. Permission from parents is required before students can be shipped off to the 10-week, boot-camp-style program, run by two county education employees who have military and law- enforcement backgrounds.

Vol. 11, Issue 3, Pages 14-16

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