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Steal This Test, Drug Detection, and the Man of Many Faces

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, Oct. 7-Oct. 13.

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Now that the SAT, renovated to include an essay section, has become a moving target for test-prep companies, it’s no surprise that one outfit has been accused of asking SAT-takers to steal the test. A California federal court issued a restraining order against Harvard Advantage, which the College Board, the test’s owner, claims recently sent faxes to high school guidance counselors, asking them to tell kids that it would pay for their SAT booklets. Postings on college-application Web sites listed the going rate as $25, or $50 donated to a charity of one’s choice. But one of HA’s associates, Sergio Camacho, says he was simply requesting copies of old tests that students are allowed to purchase from the College Board. The 10-year test-prep tutor claims the SAT is unfair to minorities, and that he wants to research the various versions distributed across the country. But the College Board alleges that Camacho was willing to buy a recently pilfered test from one of its investigators, who was posing as a student. And one of Camacho’s online offers stated, “We need your actual test book; copies are not acceptable.” That was followed by, “Easy, huh? Yeah, we think so.” A hearing on the matter is scheduled for later this month.

Making use of the Internet in an arguably more appropriate manner is DonorsChoose, which recently won the first Nonprofit Innovation Award during a fundraising competition. Based in New York City, the company pairs donors with educators who need supplies or money for school projects. Founder Charles Best, a former high school social studies teacher, decided to focus the Amazon.com-sponsored contest on schools in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast region. DonorsChoose raised $790,000, a sum that will be matched by Amazon.com for a total of $1.58 million.

The Tustin Unified School District in California has taken it upon itself to supply parents with $25 urine-testing kits, just in case Johnny or Jane seems to be acting suspicious. Yes, they’re do-it-yourself drug tests, a means “to empower parents to make a private decision to prevent their child from using and abusing drugs,” says a district spokesman. While civil libertarians are wary of the kit, which tests for marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal substances, most students don’t have a problem with it. The same can’t be said up the coast in Santa Barbara, where randomly selected students attending homecoming dances will be subject to Breathalyzer tests. The reason? “There’s a lot of heavy drinking going on [in the region],” says Penny Jenkins, executive director of the local Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, citing a Rand Corporation study showing that more Santa Barbara teens drink than the state average. But one high school senior defended the practice with this bit of logic: “[Drinking] is kind of part of growing up, something all kids are going to do. It’s better than possibly trying cocaine.”

Far more healthy—and productive—than any kind of substance abuse is learning another language, and the flavor of the month these days is Arabic. The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Applied Linguistics, which tracks language education, says that 70 private and public schools now report teaching Arabic, compared to 10 just five years ago. The reasons are numerous: the potential for careers in international business and foreign relations, a glimpse into Middle Eastern culture, learning the language of immigrant parents. But Arabic, with its completely foreign sounds and right-to-left writing, ain’t easy. “Fluency is impossible, even for most Arabs,” says one not-too-encouraging educator. In one school, half the students who sign up for the course never make it past learning the 28-character alphabet.

Perhaps those students need someone like Brian Freeman, whose in-class personas and let’s-have-fun approach have earned the teacher many awards, including, most recently, a $10,000 grant from Wal-Mart. The 34-year-old elementary-school educator, who’s been teaching for 12 years, has at various times played the roles of Chef Boyardee, Old McDonald, and Granny, the grandmother of both Johnny Appleseed and Little Red Riding Hood. He teaches in Red Springs, a small, working-class town in North Carolina, and 90 percent of his minority-dominated class qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches. In 2003, he won the National Education Association Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence—mostly, his principal says, for inspiring kids who “don’t realize they are learning because they are having so much fun.”

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