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Global Tutors, Big Brothers, and a
Sticky Job Situation

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, May 20-26.

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Don’t look now, but the global economy appears to be creeping into the K-12 education market. Seeking lower costs and expertise in math and science, American tutoring providers are increasingly contracting with educators in India. That means students in need of extra help may now find themselves working over the Internet with an instructor in a different hemisphere. Critics of the practice—including the American Federation of Teachers—say it’s unfair to local educators and question the level of quality control. As for the Indian tutors, despite being given cultural training, they’re still learning how to work with American kids. Observed one: “I find that we ... need to shower a lot of praise for the students’ good work, which is very uncommon in India.”

Presumably, the job of teaching the Constitution won’t be outsourced anytime soon. In fact, mark your calendars; your school will be teaching it this September. Under a little-known provision passed by Congress this past year, all schools and colleges that receive federal money are now required to teach about the Constitution every year on September 17, the day it was adopted in 1787. The federal government is generally prohibited (by—you guessed it—the Constitution) from dictating the content of schools’ lessons, but American kids’ lack of historical knowledge apparently proved the greater concern for some lawmakers. While interpretation of the mandate is being left to schools, some education groups are bristling at Congress’ encroachment on day-to-day planning. “It’s the sort of the thing that raises the question, ‘If this, what’s next?’ ” said Becky Timmons, senior director for government relations at the American Council on Education.

Drama teachers in Loudoun County, Virginia, have their own Big Brother issues to contend with. After a play at one high school about a gay football player set off a storm of invective, much of it spread via an e-mail campaign, the school board is considering adopting a policy that would restrict the content of all school plays. One suggested proposal would ban works that “contain sexual themes, promote sexuality, or depict sexual acts”—language, opponents say, that would effectively bar Romeo and Juliet, among other classics. Meanwhile, wary drama teachers are already reexamining—and even editing—scripts for language that could be considered offensive. “I think we’re all walking on eggshells,” said John Wells, a drama teacher at Loudoun County High. “One person with a computer can ... start a real uproar.”

In a separate outpost of the Culture Wars, about a dozen current and former students in Cobb County, Georgia, landed summer jobs with the school district to peel evolution-disclaimer stickers off biology textbooks. The work comes as a result of a federal judge’s ruling in January that the stickers—ordered by the Cobb County school board and warning that evolution is “a theory, not a fact”—amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. Hired through a temp agency at $10 an hour, the student workers will now have to take putty knives and adhesive remover to some 34,500 textbooks. The cost to the school district is not expected to exceed $25,000. “This job, it’s kind of ironic,” remarked one sticker remover.

Finally, lawmakers in Connecticut made headlines this week by passing a hotly debated bill that would ban the sale of soda and junk food in schools, though Governor M. Jodi Rell has indicated that she may veto it. But a more interesting (and certainly more original) attempt to address the student-obesity problem has been hatched in the land where people are said to eat haggis burgers. Education officials in Glasgow, Scotland, have launched a program whereby students can earn points toward coveted rewards, including iPods and Xbox consoles, by purchasing healthy foods from school dining halls (or “fuel zones,” as they’ve now been dubbed). The points, tabulated on individual electronic cards, vary depending on nutritional value of the food. (The premium item, something called the Vital Mix, gets you 40 points—1/100th of the way toward an iPod.) The scheme appears to be having an impact. “I’m saving up 3,000 for an Xbox, and I like the healthy food now,” said one Vital Mix convert.

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