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The Budget Ax, a Midlife Confession, and No Lowriders

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Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, Feb. 4-10.

How’s this for compassionate conservatism: President Bush’s proposed budget includes cuts to at least 48 education programs. In fact, for the first time during his administration, the Department of Education would see an overall reduction in funding. Department head Margaret Spellings took time from her busy schedule monitoring the morals of PBS cartoons to mention that roughly 15 of the targeted programs would be cut by a scant $5 million or less. But more substantial changes involve redirecting money from other programs, including the Safe and Drug-Free Schools initiative, vocational education, and Upward Bound, which prepares disadvantaged kids for college. Where’s the money going? To special education and higher ed loan financing—and to high schools, in part to ready them for the extension of No Child Left Behind.

Since the emphasis on testing shows no sign of being left behind, it’s hardly surprising that states are taking steps to ensure that schools, like students, don’t succumb to temptation. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Delaware have inked contracts with a company that looks for signs of systematic cheating. The Utah-based outfit, called Caveon, scours standardized-test data for red flags, such as groups of students who answer hard questions correctly but miss easier ones. While allegations of cheating have surfaced in a handful of states, North Carolina officials say they expect the company’s presence to serve primarily as a deterrent as stakes get higher. “This is the era of accountability,” says one district’s testing director.

That era had yet to begin in fall 1957, when two high school students in Gypsum, Colorado, stole the answers to an English lit test on Shakespeare. But now, more than 47 years later, one of the students has confessed. “I know it makes no difference now, ... except maybe this will keep some student from cheating,” the 65-year-old grandmother of five said in a handwritten letter sent to Eagle Valley High School’s current principal. “Conscience never lets you forget.”

A different kind of letter got a school board member in Fairfax County, Virginia, into a bit of trouble. Stephen Hunt sent a missive to the county’s 24 high school principals, encouraging them to recruit speakers with an “ex-gay perspective” who believe homosexuality is a choice and a “destructive lifestyle.” In the letter, Hunt complained that students are all too often exposed to the “Will & Grace version of homosexuality,” though presumably without the laugh track or wisecracking sidekicks. After being publicly reprimanded by the rest of the school board, Hunt apologized for having “usurped board policy,” saying he only intended to encourage “open discussion on this issue in order to foster understanding between people of different opinions.”

In Pikeville, Kentucky, the question is whether discussions should include the region’s distinctive Appalachian twang. A theater group is offering a class for middle and high schoolers that helps kids reduce their accent to “improve overall marketability.” It’s a touchy issue because the mountain argot has alternately stoked embarrassment and pride as people have moved elsewhere for college and work. One former student put it best: “There’s nothing wrong with being able to speak in different accents, but you should above all things hold on to the language you dream in.”

Virginians appalled by students’ fashion sense nearly saw one of their own dreams come true. State delegates passed a bill targeting the wearers of “lowrider” pants, authorizing a $50 fine for anyone who displays underwear in a “lewd or indecent manner.” While the proposal, which has since been shot down by the Virginia senate, was introduced at the behest of offended constituents, one lawmaker begged his colleagues to remember their own youthful indiscretions. “This is a foolish bill ... because it will hurt so many,” he said.

Nothing hurts quite so badly as losing. Just ask the girls-basketball players in Daleville, Indiana, where, until recently, the team’s sole distinction had been holding the state record for longest losing streak—113 games stretching across six long years. But this past week, the Daleville High School Broncos defeated the Keystone Schools’ Eagles 61-27, snapping the record and improving to 1-17 for the season. Now all eyes turn to Keystone, which fell to 0-5 with the loss. It’s doubtful, though, that the Eagles are thinking ahead to 2011 and their own place in the record books.

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