Current Events: In Brief

August 01, 1994 9 min read

Throwing Away The Key On Lockers

Spurred by budgetary and security woes, a smattering of schools across the country are doing away with one of the inveterate accessories of secondary education: the locker.

Although lockers are convenient places for students to store cumbersome books and extra clothing, school officials say they are also easily broken, frequently vandalized, expensive to maintain, and take up valuable space. In addition, they say, lockers contribute to a host of instructional distractions, such as tardiness. What’s more, they are a potential hiding place for guns and drugs. As a result, schools in several states, notably California and Washington, are beginning to get rid of lockers. In some places, such as San Diego, lockers are virtually a thing of the past.

Of course, doing away with the student storage spaces has its disadvantages. Schools must either buy classroom sets of textbooks or ask students to lug around half a dozen heavy volumes all day.

Nevertheless, principal Jodie Bruhn, who has fashioned three San Diego schools into locker-free establishments, believes it’s the way to go. Just this year, Bruhn took the lockers at Stanley Junior High School out of commission by running wire through the handles. “The cost of upkeep is a real major thing,’' she explains. The district stopped repairing lockers after recent budget cutbacks, forcing schools to pay for parts and upkeep out of their own budgets.

Aside from the savings on upkeep, Bruhn says the change also has cut down on tardiness and other problems. “So many behavior problems happen around the lockers,’' she says.

Some schools have been able to use the money that would have been spent to build or maintain lockers to purchase new materials for the classroom. Cedar Heights Junior High School in Kent, Wash., which opened last fall with no lockers, was designed as a model school that would rely less on standard textbooks and more on innovative software and other teaching tools. As a result, administrators decided that storage capacity was not a top priority. Building lockers would have cost $20,000, says Judy Parker, a spokeswoman for the Kent school district. “We questioned the need.’'

Still, lockers are not about to disappear from all schools. Many are devising innovative ways of coping with the problems lockers pose without doing away with them completely. In Indianapolis, for example, a security program includes periodic locker searches by narcotics-sniffing dogs, which authorities say answers the safety issue. To cut down on hallway congestion and class tardiness, some Memphis schools have placed restrictions on locker visits. And in the face of budgetary constraints, one school in the affluent La Jolla, Calif., district has adopted a system under which students lease their lockers for $10 a year.

But those administrators who have relinquished the locker don’t regret the decision. “It’s really been the best move I have ever made as an administrator,’' Bruhn says. As for the students who are literally shouldering the burden, she adds, “Those who had lockers before mind; those who never had them before don’t know the difference.’'

1994-95 Job Outlook Looks Bright For New Teachers

When school begins in Maine Township High School District 207 this fall, things are going to look more than a little different. Ninetythree of the 440 teachers in the 5,600-student Illinois district will be new to their jobs--more than 20 percent of the teaching staff.

Dozens of other districts throughout the state are experiencing similar dramatic change, brought on by a statewide earlyretirement program that encouraged as many as 10,000 teachers to leave the classroom this past school year, several times the normal number.

News of the abundance of jobs spread quickly through schools of education in Illinois and surrounding states this past spring, and job applications poured in by the thousands. As rookie teachers nationwide race to find jobs before the new school year begins, Illinois offers one of the brightest job markets in the country.

Up-to-date information on the teaching job market nationally is sketchy. But an informal survey of placement officers, education professors, and school district administrators from around the country suggests that the outlook for new teachers is good. “In general, people report that jobs are there,’' says Charles Marshall, executive director of the Association for School, College, and University Staffing. In addition to Illinois, several regions of the country--notably the Carolinas, Texas, and Nevada--offer excellent potential, he says.

Indeed, Marshall and other experts say a crucial factor in the job search for many teachers is their willingness to go where the jobs are. “The candidates have to throw their nets as wide as possible,’' Marshall says.

Of course a teacher’s area of specialization also plays a role. The perennial shortage of bilingual and special education teachers means that candidates in those fields can often pick and choose from among several offers--even in otherwise gloomy job markets, such as California’s. At the same time, the demand for teachers in some subjects or grade levels, notably elementary education, is tight even in growing areas.

Although few regions are experiencing as much turnover as Illinois, several states present bright prospects for graduates. In North Carolina, for example, a robust economy and a string of governors committed to education have kept the teaching job market healthy, according to Charles Coble, dean of the school of education at East Carolina University. “The students we’re graduating here are finding positions,’' he says. In Florida, meanwhile, the job market for teachers has rebounded after a two-year slowdown caused by fiscal woes, says Martha Miller, a policy analyst with the state education department. Demand should cruise along steadily, with about 10,000 public school teaching vacancies a year until 2010, Miller says.

Even where jobs are scarce, the demand for minority teachers remains strong. “In general, what I hear is that most inner cities are trying very hard to bring teachers into the classroom that are reflective of the communities,’' says Marshall. “They’re trying to find a pool of candidates that meets those multicultural needs.’'

Despite the bleak outlook in California, school officials there echo what their counterparts in other states are saying: Teachers who are willing to relocate will wind up in a classroom by the beginning of the school year.

“If you have an outstanding student teaching experience and make an outstanding impression on the interviewers, they’re going to look to find work for you,’' says James Fillbrandt, associate superintendent of the 23,000-student Kern High School District in Bakersfield. “An outstanding teacher is still hard to find and is still the most important element in education.’'

Score Rising (But Not Really)

Word is already out. The graduating class of 1996 will score higher on the Scholastic Achievement Test--or SAT--than any previous class in recent years. The higher marks, however, won’t be the result of education reform or hard work but rather the first scoring re- alignment in half a century.

The “recentering’’ of scores on the SAT, the yardstick for generations of college-bound students, will shift the reference group used as the statistical foundation for scoring from an elite cadre of mostly white private school students who took the test on the eve of World War II to a far larger and more diverse group of testtakers in 1990.

Because of the shift, a student who scored a 420 on the verbal section of the test under the current system will receive a 500 under the reconfigured system. Other test-takers’ scores will increase accordingly.

Although students will receive higher marks, their ranking among other students who take the examination, and the percentiles into which they fall, will remain the same. The recalibrated scale will be used for the first time with the Preliminary SAT/ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test given to this fall’s crop of juniors.

Critics charge that the changes represent a politically expedient inflation of scores. But Donald Stewart, president of the College Board, which sponsors the SAT, says the test “will maintain the same high standard of quality.’' The decision to shift the measuring scale was made to clear up confusion and misunderstanding about the results. For example, many students, parents, and teachers incorrectly believe that if students score less than 500, they are below-average achievers and not college material.

At present, the average score for verbal is 424, while the average math score is 478. Under the new system, the average scores for both will move to 500.

With the recentering, public perceptions about scores that currently are incorrect will become correct, College Board officials say. “It means an easier job of interpreting to students and parents what the score means,’' explains one university admissions official. The changes, the official adds, will especially benefit students at schools where there are few guidance counselors to interpret results.

Public Homeschooling

In an unusual and controversial application of a state charter school law, a Michigan school board has agreed to launch a publicly funded program for homeschooling students.

Under the charter approved by the school board of Berlin and Orange townships, the Noah Webster Academy in Ionia County will house a handful of administrators and a dozen or so teachers who will communicate with parents and students throughout the state by computer. The academy will receive roughly $5,500 per pupil in state aid, which organizers say will go in part for the purchase of computer software, modems, printers, and at least one computer for every home- schooling family.

David Kallman, a Lansing lawyer who is the key figure behind the charter school, says the academy’s back-to-basics curriculum will feature morals instruction. “We keep referring to this as Bill Bennett-type education,’' says Kallman, referring to the former U.S. Secretary of Education and author of The Book of Virtues, a best-selling collection of moral lessons for children.

Response to the charter’s approval has been mixed. The Detroit News hailed the charter group’s promised curriculum as a “refreshing break from public education’s trendy moral relativism.’' But officials of the Michigan Education Association, which opposed the charter school legislation, criticized the academy as the inevitable outcome of a flawed law. “One of our primary objections has been borne out in the grant of this first charter that is questionable in its design,’' said Kim Brennen Root, a spokeswoman for the MEA. “A certain type of morality and values will be sanctioned with tax dollars.’'

Michigan education officials and homeschoolers have frequently sparred in court in the past. Observers expect that, like past court cases, any legal challenge to the new charter will center on the state’s teacher-certification law, which requires that all teachers in all schools be certified. “I don’t think there’s any question that we will be attacked,’' says Kallman. “This cuts at the heart of public education as it’s run today.’'

Meanwhile, lawyers for Gov. John Engler, who steered the charter school provision to passage last year, have read the academy’s charter and believe it satisfies the law, says Daniel Schooley of the governor’s office. “The key is the site,’' he says. “And the site in this case is the Noah Webster Academy, where certified teachers will be on hand.’'

Kallman initially thought the academy would enroll somewhere between 200 to 300 students this fall. But the charter’s announcement has led to a flood of inquiries, the lawyer says. “We’re easily going to be over 500 students, and it could be a lot more.’'

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1994 edition of Teacher as Current Events: In Brief