Delegates to the 74th national convention of the American Federation of Teachers, held this summer in Cincinnati, unanimously reelected their longtime president, Albert Shanker, to his 11th consecutive two-year term in office. In his keynote address to the 3,000 delegates, Shanker urged union affiliates to get behind the AFT’s “Lessons for Life” campaign. The year-old program calls for teachers, parents, and school districts to work together to raise standards of conduct and academic achievement in public schools. Shanker, who has been undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer, had to postpone his speech for a day because he did not feel well enough to deliver it. When he did appear, the 67-year-old president, one of the nation’s most respected education leaders (“The Education of Al Shanker,” February 1996), remained seated but delivered a spirited address nonetheless. He said that any federation local that had not signed on to the Lessons for Life campaign was “engaged in union malpractice.” “It is as much your duty to preserve public education as it is to negotiate a good contract,” Shanker told the assembled delegates.
Never Cry Wolf
It was a modern-day version of the story about the big bad wolf, and Miriam Hutchinson wasn’t buying it. Miriam and her 4th grade classmates in Albuquerque, New Mexico, wrote Governor Gary Johnson last spring questioning his opposition to a plan by federal wildlife officials to reintroduce captive wolves into the wild. What they got back was a form letter assuring them that there are “a lot of wolves in New Mexico that live in the wild” and warning them to “stay away” if they saw one. But Miriam knew the statement wasn’t true--there are no wild wolves in New Mexico--and she told Johnson so in a letter. The governor and the man who wrote his reply, Lieutenant Governor Walter Bradley, eventually acknowledged their mistake and issued a correction.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has granted national certification to an additional 108 teachers, bringing the total to 376. The Detroit-based organization certified this batch of teachers in two fields: early childhood generalists and generalists teaching children in middle childhood. The privately organized group, established to recognize outstanding teaching, intends eventually to offer 30 different subject-area and grade-level certificates. The board is currently seeking feedback from teachers, administrators, and other interested people on new sets of standards for: vocational education teachers; instructors of English as a new language; and teachers of exceptional-needs children. Those wishing to review these standards may contact: Glowena Harrison, NBPTS, 1730 Rhode Island Ave. N.W., Suite 909, Washington, DC 20036; (202) 463-3980.
A federal judge has ordered a Missouri school district to reinstate veteran high school English teacher Cissy Lacks, who was fired for allegedly violating her school’s student discipline code. In August, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry directed the Ferguson-Florissant district in suburban St. Louis to reinstate Lacks, pay her back salary and legal fees, and expunge her personnel files of all references to the incident. Lacks sued the district after she was suspended from Berkeley High School in January 1995--and subsequently fired--when school officials learned that she allowed students to use profanity in creative-writing assignments. (“Expletives Deleted,” September 1995.) District officials say they intend to appeal the ruling. A trial on broader issues raised in Lacks’ lawsuit is set to begin in November.
Illinois is cracking down on teachers who are in default on their student loans. In a first-time effort, an Illinois student-loan agency has tracked down nearly 800 teachers in the state who are in default. If the teachers don’t make arrangements for repayment, their teaching licenses could be suspended by the state school board. “We’re giving people ample time to arrange a payment plan and view this as a last resort,” says Mike Hernandez, the state board’s chief administrative officer. The defaulters make up a small percentage of the state’s 116,000 teachers.
A Worthy Burden
A federal appeals court in Ohio has upheld a state law requiring all nonpublic schools to administer state proficiency tests. The Ohio Association of Independent Schools had challenged the law, arguing that the tests hamper the ability of private schools to teach their own curricula and that administering them forced schools to take time out from teaching. (“Declaration of Independence,” January 1996.) A federal judge in Cincinnati ruled in February that the state’s responsibility to ensure that children are educated outweighs that burden. The association appealed the ruling. Under the law, which took effect in the 1995-96 school year, Ohio private schools must give the same test that public school students must pass before earning a diploma.
A Florida jury has awarded $140,000 to a former high school student whose knee was injured while playing tackle football during a physical education class. The circuit court jury agreed with Keith Walsh, a 1995 graduate of Lake Brantley High School, who had sued the Seminole County district for negligence. According to testimony, the 1994 football game shifted from touch to tackle while the PE teacher was distracted.
Among big-city school districts, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., serve students the least healthful meals, according to a report by a health-care advocacy group. “Children are stuck with fatty, high-cholesterol meals such as scrambled eggs, bacon, and corn dogs,” says the report by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which evaluated lunches in 20 districts. Several districts received a stamp of approval, including Dade County, Florida, and New York City. Those districts offer low-fat entrees such as vegetarian meals and salad bars.
After years of lagging behind, blacks are completing high school at the same rate as whites, according to figures released in September by the U.S. Census Bureau. Since 1985, the percentage of African Americans ages 25 to 29 who hold a high school diploma has risen from 81 percent to 87 percent. The proportion of whites with a high school diploma has stayed roughly the same--about 87 percent--over the same period.
A Peak Experience
As elementary school teacher Erik Weihenmayer clambered onto the granite summit at 3:30 p.m. on August 9, cameras clicked and family and friends cheered. Weihenmayer and several climbing buddies had just finished a four-day climb of El Capitan, a 3,200-foot granite monolith above California’s Yosemite Valley that has long challenged the world’s greatest climbers. What makes Weihenmayer’s accomplishment so remarkable, though, is that he is blind. The 28-year-old climber, a 5th grade teacher at Phoenix Country Day School in Paradise Valley, Arizona, told the Associated Press that he made the climb to “show potential, not limitations. If you could climb El Capitan, you can do anything.” Weihenmayer lost his sight at age 13 to a rare disease that unraveled his retinas. Hans Florine, a climber who accompanied the teacher up El Capitan, said, “I was amazed at the stuff he could do and how fast he could do it. Every challenge I put out for him, he would rise to the occasion.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 1996 edition of Teacher as Briefs