Current Events / In Brief

August 01, 1990 7 min read

At a time of great concern about teacher shortages, the new estimate is significant because the number of teachers who leave the profession annually is the most important figure in projecting the demand for new teachers. A 2 percentage point reduction in the attrition rate would mean that approximately 50,000 fewer teachers are leaving the profession each year than had previously been determined.

Emerson Elliott, director of NCES, says the new data could cause people who project teacher supply and demand to “go back to the drawing board.’'

A Qualified Yes From The NEA

The National Education Association, a longtime opponent of alternative routes to certification, has reconsidered its stance and has issued a document setting down 15 principles designed to guide the creation of credible “nontraditional’’ routes.

The paper, approved in May by the union’s executive board, says that teachers prepared in alternative programs should have to meet the same standards as those graduating from traditional programs. It states, for example, that all prospective teachers should pass the same pedagogy, basic-skills, and subject-matter tests to earn a license and should not be given sole responsibility for a classroom until they do. In addition, it says that prospective teachers should be supervised by a veteran, or “mentor,’' teacher.

So What Else Is New?

We’ve come to expect bad news from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and its latest reports on students’ reading and writing don’t break the trend.

They indicate that students at all grade levels spend little time reading or writing, whether in or out of school. Overall performance in both areas, particularly in writing, was relatively poor, the reports note, and the achievement gap between students from disadvantaged and advantaged areas was substantial.

The reports, based on a 1988 assessment of 13,000 students in reading and 20,000 students in writing in grades 4, 8, and 12, also draw on data from surveys of teachers and students.

The reading study confirms the widely held belief that reading proficiency is related to the amount of homework and classroom reading students do. But nearly a fifth of high school seniors say they have no homework or do not do it and nearly three-fifths say they read fewer than 10 pages a day for school.

The more students read outside of class, the report notes, the higher their proficiency is likely to be. Those who read more fiction than nonfiction outperform those who read mostly nonfiction.

The writing assessment found that students perform better on informative and narrative assignments than on persuasive-writing tasks and that they seldom write in class. When they do, what they write tends to be very short.

Custodians At Risk

A New York City Board of Education study on the health effects of asbestos found that 28 percent of 660 school custodians examined showed X-ray evidence of scarring of the lung tissue and surrounding areas. A Boston-based study of custodians found such scarring in 40 percent of 121 school custodians examined.

The scarring is believed to be caused by exposure to asbestos and is evidence of asbestosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers; it is evident on X-rays in less than 1 percent of the general population.

A study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency is examining whether teachers are at any increased risk for such diseases.

Meanwhile, a New York City teacher filed a lawsuit on behalf of city schoolchildren allegedly exposed to asbestos.

The suit names the board of education and 30 asbestos manufacturers as defendants and seeks creation of a fund to compensate children who may develop asbestos-related illness as adults.

Floundering In The Mainstream

The vast majority of high school students with learning disabilities are in mainstream classrooms but are not faring well there.

According to the latest report from a federal longitudinal study of specialeducation students, one out of three mainstreamed learning-disabled students fail one or more of their classes. Overall, 32 percent of all the LD students surveyed dropped out of school between 1985 and 1987.

The study, conducted by the research firm SRI International, found that the majority of the mainstreamed students were expected to meet the same standards as nonhandicapped students but were given little or no additional special help. And, in most cases, the regular classroom teacher supervising the students received little support or special training.

NCATE Flexes Its Muscles

More than one-fifth of 50 colleges of education seeking accreditation with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education were denied approval in May. The list included programs at three well-known universities: the University of Mississippi, Hofstra University, and San Jose State Uni- versity.

NCATE, which is the major accrediting body for teacher-training programs, implemented a new set of tougher standards in 1988, and since then the rate of denial has been high. Last year, the first full year of operation under the new standards, nearly one-third of the programs applying for accreditation were turned down. Approximately 550 of the 1,400 institutions that prepare teachers are accredited by NCATE; they produce about 80 percent of the nation’s teachers.

Also in May, the council named Arthur Wise as its new executive director. Wise, a staunch advocate for the professionalization of teaching, has spent the last 12 years as the director of the RAND Corporation’s Center for the Study of the Teaching Profession.

Yours Truly, The Klan

More than 120 teachers in the Jacksonville, Fla., area received a letter recently from a state leader of the Ku Klux Klan urging them to fight a federal court order designed to make the staff of the county’s schools more racially balanced. Under the order, teachers may volunteer for an assignment in another school or face a possible transfer.

“It is my understanding that you are about to be transferred against your wishes in a federal inspired program designed to achieve ‘racial balance,’' the letter began.

“Communist-backed organizations that like to work behind closed doors...are ultimately harming the children they profess to be protecting,’' it stated. “Why not join with your fellow teachers and oppose this evil mandate?’'

A Surge In Measles

Measles is on the rise in the preschool population, with the total number of cases reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control in the first 20 weeks of this year up 40 percent over the same period in 1989.

The percentage of measles cases reported in children under age 5 has been going up since 1988, though the proportion of school-age children with the disease has declined.

According to the CDC, 60 percent of the people who came down with measles in 1989 were unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated, and a disproportionate number of those were preschool-age children living in inner cities.

Reform Needed, Teachers Say

More than 80 percent of 230 nationally recognized teachers say the public schools need substantial improvement, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The survey of the semifinalists in the “Thanks to Teachers’’ recognition program found that 96 percent of the classroom teachers want more involvement in administrative decisions in such areas as curriculum, budgets, and scheduling. In addition:

18 percent of the teachers believe the quality of public education is good;

94 percent favor schoolbased decisionmaking;

66 percent say it is not essential to undertake more research in education before proceeding with reforms; and

58 percent say increased testing of students is unnecessary.

Georgia Dumps Classroom Test

Georgia’s performancebased teacher certification system, one of the first to require teachers to demonstrate their skills in an actual classroom, ended in June when the state board of education voted to abandon the controversial decade-old program.

The assessments were conducted by a fellow teacher, a local administrator, and a state evaluation specialist. Separately, they would observe the novice teacher over three classroom periods and rate him or her on 120 different teaching behaviors. Teachers, particularly experienced ones who had moved from other states, found the assessment cumbersome and resented it.

State officials say they scrapped the test because it is redundant now that principals are required to conduct annual assessments of teachers. While these evaluations are not linked to licensing, teachers must do well on them to get raises and keep their jobs.

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1990 edition of Teacher as Current Events / In Brief