Current Events

April 01, 1992 10 min read

The Glass Ceiling Starts In School

Girls face pervasive barriers to achievement throughout precollegiate schooling and are “systematically discouraged’’ from pursuing studies that would enhance their prospects for well-paying jobs. This is the conclusion of a new report, commissioned by the American Association of University Women, that is described as the first synthesis of existing research on girls in public schools.

“Construction of the glass ceiling begins not in the executive suite but in the classroom,’' writes Alice McKee, the president of AAUW. “It starts in preschool.... By the time girls reach high school, they have been systematically tracked toward traditional, sex-segregated jobs, and away from areas of study that lead to high paying jobs in science, technology, and en- gineering.’'

The study, conducted last year by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, draws on research showing, for example, that girls do not receive the same attention from teachers that boys do, that they learn lessons from gender-biased textbooks, and that they are not encouraged to pursue the same curricula or careers as their male peers. The findings provide the basis for dozens of specific recommendations. Among other suggestions, the report calls for:

  • Tougher enforcement of federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination.
  • Teacher training and staff development in gender issues.
  • The adoption of “gender fair’’ multicultural curricula that avoid sex stereotypes and reflect differences in learning styles.
  • Increased efforts by schools, business, and government to involve girls in mathematics and science and to promote career choices in those fields.
  • The reform of standardized tests to eliminate sex bias.
  • A greater role for girls and women in educational reform, including equitable representation on reform committees.

Copies of The AAUW Report: How Schools Shortchange Girls are available for $14.95 each for members and $16.95 each for nonmembers from the AAUW’s Sales Office, P.O. Box 251, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701-0251.

A New Approach To Integration

The La Crosse, Wis., school board has decided to integrate its schools--socioeconomically.

The school system is believed to be the first in the nation to adopt a student assignment plan that will place students explicitly for the sake of achieving socioeconomic balance. The board voted this winter to assign more than one-fifth of the district’s 3,500 elementary students to new schools to bring youngsters from different income groups in the mostly white and Asian district into closer contact.

Under the plan, the number of students at a given school who qualify for federal lunch subsidies would range from 15 percent to 50 percent instead of the current 4 percent to 68 percent, with students being bused away from their neighborhoods if necessary.

As might be expected, the move has its opponents. A spokesperson for Citizens and Parents for Neighborhood Schools called the effort “crazy’’ and accused the board of ignoring public sentiment. The angry citizens have launched a drive to recall six of the board members who voted for the plan.

The End Of Innocence

The first federally funded survey of the sexual behavior of 9th to 12th graders has found that the majority of high school students are sexually active.

The survey, conducted by the national Centers for Disease Control, learned that more than half of all high school students have had sex. Not surprisingly, seniors were more likely than their younger schoolmates to report that they were sexually experienced: 40 percent of the freshmen, but 72 percent of seniors, said they have had intercourse.

Although roughly 78 percent of the students who reported having sex recently said they had used some form of birth control, a majority said they do not use a condom regularly. One in 25 said they have had a sexually transmitted disease.

Federal officials have long been interested in obtaining this sort of data because about 1 million adolescent girls become pregnant each year, and 86 percent of all sexually transmitted diseases occur among people ages 15 to 29. But gathering such information has been a controversial undertaking. Last summer, for example, a federal survey solely on the sexual behavior of teenagers was canceled by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan, who said he was concerned that sexually explicit questions would unintentionally send the wrong message to adolescents.

The new study, in contrast, was part of the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which asked a nationally representative sample of 11,631 students in grades 9 to 12 about a variety of health issues and risk behaviors. Although questions were raised in some states about the propriety of asking students about their sexual activities, the CDC was able to gather its data.

Overall, the study found that 48 percent of the girls and 61 percent of the boys were sexually experienced. Black students, however, were far more likely than white or Hispanic students to have had sex, with nearly 88 percent of black male students and 60 percent of black female students responding that they have.

The High Price Of Harassment

The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that victims of sexual harassment and other forms of sex discrimination in schools may sue for monetary damages under federal civil rights law. The February decision--in a case brought by Christine Franklin, a former Georgia high school student who alleged she had been sexually harassed and abused by a teacher--greatly expands the ability of students to obtain redress from school districts for acts of discrimination.

In its ruling, the High Court rejected the position of the Bush administration and the Gwinnett school district, which argued that the only remedies available under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 were the awarding of back pay or “prospective relief,’' such as an injunction to end discriminatory practices. Title IX bars sexual discrimination in federally funded schools.

But Justice Byron White, writing for the majority, said that the position of the administration and the district “conflicts with sound logic,’' while their proposed remedies “are clearly inadequate’’ for Franklin. Back pay is of no use because she was a student, not an employee, White noted, and an injunction “accords her no remedy at all’’ because the teacher who allegedly harassed her no longer teaches at the school and Franklin is no longer enrolled there. “Absent clear direction to the contrary by Congress,’' he wrote, “the federal courts have the power to award any appropriate relief.’' Franklin’s lawsuit will be returned for trial to federal court in Atlanta, where she is seeking $11 million in damages from the district.

Women’s rights groups and others that had taken Franklin’s side say they were surprised and elated by the Court’s 9-0 ruling. “In the long term,’' says Ellen Vargyas, senior counsel to the National Women’s Law Center, “the message to educational institutions that discrimination costs money will only heighten efforts to eliminate it.’'

Judge Rejects Ban On Military

In December, the Rochester, N.Y., school district became the first major school system in the country to bar military recruiters from schools because of the military’s ban on homosexuals. Now, a state judge has ruled that the district has no authority to do so.

Justice Francis Affronti ruled on Feb. 13 that the unprecedented action by the Rochester school board conflicts with state law, which requires school boards to give access to military recruiters “on the same basis’’ as any other employment or college recruiters. “The board of education,’' Affronti wrote, “must perform the duties imposed upon it by law and provide the military the same access to school property as other recruiters are afforded for purposes of informing students of educational, occupational, or career opportunities regardless of the military’s policy concerning homosexuals.’'

The Rochester policy resolution was worded to include any employer that has a written policy that discriminates against homosexuals or other groups, not just the military. Affronti found that such “preconditions or exclusionary criteria...[are] without legal justification,’' adding that the education law “does not permit school boards such far-reaching clout or authority.’'

The school district plans to appeal the decision to the state appellate court.

Principals’ Pay

The average salary for high school principals in the United States this school year topped $60,000 for the first time, but their annual pay increase is the lowest in the past decade, according to a survey by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

That increase, 4.5 percent over last year’s level, brought the average salary of high school principals to $61,768. In recent years, increases have been well above the Consumer Price Index, according to Paul Hersey, NASSP’s director of professional assistance. This year, raises were close to the rise in the index, which was 4.2 percent.

Overall, high school principals fare better than their junior high and elementary school counterparts. Junior high principals, the report says, average $57,504 a year, and elementary school principals $53,856. The average salary for teachers of all grades in 1991, the last year for which figures are available, was $32,880, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

For the sixth consecutive year, principals in the Far West are earning more than their colleagues in other areas. The lowest salaries are in the Southeast.

Backing Away From Merit Pay

One of the nation’s largest and best-known programs tying teacher pay to performance fell victim to budget cuts in February when the Fairfax County, Va., school board voted to suspend its merit pay system for the 1992-93 school year. The 7-4 vote, which followed heated debate, came as something of a surprise to local observers. Many had expected the board to scale back the size of merit bonuses, but a complete suspension of the program was not widely anticipated.

Under the system, adopted in 1986, teachers who pass a rigorous evaluation earn a 9 percent bonus each year for four years. About 23 percent of the district’s 9,000 teachers get the extra pay.

Superintendent of Schools Robert Spillane, who has made the controversial pay-for-performance plan one of his central reforms, described the action as “a regression toward mediocrity.’' He blamed the local teachers’ union for “putting all their efforts into killing merit pay.’'

The vote saves the district $8.4 million. But the board also added an extra step to the teacher’s salary schedule, a move Spillane says is a sign that the district is returning to a system that bases pay on longevity rather than performance.

The Fairfax Education Association initially endorsed the pay plan but gradually withdrew its support. Although the FEA still supports the evaluation component of the system, Kelly Peaks Horner, the union’s presidentelect, says the bonus pay aspect has “created an atmosphere of competition that is not necessarily helpful when you’re working with children.’'

The union had urged the school board to phase out merit pay rather than suddenly reduce teachers’ paychecks by suspending it completely. Although the decision to suspend the program is supposed to be temporary, no one expects it to be restored any time soon.

Charter School Rankles Union

The Winona (Minn.) Education Association has threatened to file a grievance if the local school board goes ahead with plans to approve the creation of the nation’s first “charter’’ school.

The board is expected to ratify a contract with the private Bluffview Montessori School within the next few months. Under the arrangement, the school would relinquish its private school status and receive $3,050 per student in state aid.

Marc Houdek, president of the WEA, has written a letter to Winona’s superintendent and school board chairperson stating that the agreement between the district and the school may violate language in the union’s master contract that prevents the district from subcontracting with teachers not affiliated with the union. If the WEA goes ahead with the grievance, the issue could end up in arbitration.

Last May, the Minnesota legislature passed a law allowing up to eight new or existing public or private schools to become charter schools. In November, the Winona school board voted to make Bluffview Montessori, which has about 780 students, the first such school.

The local union, says Houdek, has “deep reservations’’ about the new law. “It’s potentially going to siphon many, many dollars out of public schools,’' he argues.

A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 1992 edition of Teacher as Current Events