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The Whattaya-Think-of-NCLB? Tour, Darwin at the Pulpit, and Psyche Assessments

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, Feb. 9-15.

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You can now count Harvard University, which knows a thing or two about education, among those criticizing NCLB. Its Civil Rights Project recently put together a study concluding that President Bush’s education plan has, indeed, left some children behind. How, exactly? Well, it has something to do with—surprise, surprise—politics. Seems that with 49 states either amending the law or being granted waivers to NCLB provisions, “no two states are now subject to the same requirements,” says Gail Sunderman, the study’s lead author. And those benefiting most from the political maneuvering are—you guessed it—white, middle-class kids.

With so many complaints about the 4-year-old law emerging, an independent Commission on No Child Left Behind will soon begin touring the United States to determine what the American public thinks of it. The commission is backed by the Aspen Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank, and co-chaired by former Georgia guv Roy Barnes and former U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson. After the tour, the group will report its findings to Congress in September. One wonders: Will the commission—a teacher, a civil rights leader, a corporate CEO, and others are expected to take part—travel pop-star style, in a bus stocked with M&Ms and Cristal? One thing’s for sure: The co-chairs won’t entertain ideas already proposed by some states, such as exemption from certain NCLB requirements. Says Barnes of the law: “Education leaders in the nation agree that it’s a good approach.”

A good word or two was put in for Charles Darwin this past Sunday at churches across the country. The occasion was the 197th birthday of the founder of the theory of evolution, whom, you would assume, raises nothing but ire among the religious. But the Clergy Letter Project, founded last year by academics and ministers in Wisconsin, put together Evolution Sunday to strongly suggest that faith and evolution can co-exist. The letter itself, signed by more than 10,000 ministers nationwide, calls Darwin’s theory “a foundational scientific truth,” adding: “We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought.” Although project officials claim that more than 440 congregations planned to take part in the birthday event, some who’d signed on did not deliver sermons on evolution. The Reverend Mitchell Brown, however, told his Illinois congregation that Darwin “forced religion to grow up, to become, really, faith for the first time.”

With standardized-testing season around the corner, test-graders will be on the lookout for “alert papers,” student essays that show signs of abuse or troubling behavior. School counselors claim that kids sometimes use these portions of tests to divulge their thoughts and feelings—about abuse at home, for example, or problems at school. In Florida, a year after the Columbine massacre, one 8th grader wrote about shooting his teachers. School officials contacted his parents and recommended counseling. Although the number of tests flagged in each state is relatively small (97 out of more than 570,000 tests in Florida last year), nationwide they add up to thousands per year. Graders report to the testing companies, which in turn report to districts or schools, whose officials decide what to do next. One who is part of the process says, “The golden rule is if we suspect, we report.”

One just-released report that’s surprising—and disturbing—comes from the nation’s drug czar, John Walters, who says that teenage girls are using dope, booze, and cigarettes at a higher rate than boys. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.5 million girls ages 12 to 17 began drinking alcohol in 2004, compared with 1.28 million boys. In that same group, 675,000 girls began using marijuana, and 730,000 started smoking cigarettes—again, numbers that exceed the boys’. “This is the first time that we’ve recorded this kind of relationship between boys’ and girls’ drug use,” Walters reports. No word on why the upward trend, but experts say girls are more vulnerable to the effects of these substances, seeing as they become addicted to nicotine faster than boys and even moderate intake of alcohol can harm the reproductive system.

On the cigarette front, however—at least in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County—teens are making a concerted effort to battle back. As part of a contest funded by tobacco-lawsuit money, students in public and private schools have written, directed, and filmed 13 antismoking commercials, which were recently posted on a Web site for votes. The most popular commercial will air on MTV later this year. As could be expected, humor and grotesque images populate the ads, including one in which a teen’s teeth were slathered with mustard to demonstrate the yellowing effect of smoking. Although it’s tough to tell what long-term effect the ads will have on their viewers, roughly half of the 9,100 kids who’d voted on the Web site requested more information about the contest’s sponsor, the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Montgomery County.

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