News in Brief: A National Roundup

May 21, 1997 5 min read

Hispanics’ Dropout Rate Soars During Past Decade

Hispanic students are dropping out of high school at the highest rate in more than a decade and at more than twice the rate of the national average, the U.S. Bureau of the Census reported last week.

More than 145,000, or 11.6 percent, of the 1.25 million Hispanic students in grades 10-12 dropped out in 1995. The rate was nearly twice what it was just two years before, when there were nearly 200,000 fewer Hispanic students, according to the most recent Current Population Survey.

Black students, overall, held steady, continuing to close the gap with white youths, with 6.1 percent of the 1.6 million African-American students in grades 10-12 dropping out. A gender breakdown, however, shows that black males did not fare well. Their dropout rate rose for the third straight year, to 7.9 percent, while that of black females dropped to 4.4 percent.

The average dropout rate among the nation’s 10.1 million students in 1995 was 5.4 percent, up from 5.0 percent the previous year. More than 5 percent of the 7.9 million white 10th to 12th graders also quit school that year.

Mass. Eases Bilingual Ed.

In the face of objections from parents and community activists, the Massachusetts state school board last week approved changes in bilingual education regulations that take effect in the fall.

The panel also voiced approval for a controversial bill proposed by Republican Gov. William F. Weld that would authorize the state to take over districts that fail to move limited-English-proficient students out of bilingual education programs within three years. The plan, which is scheduled for a legislative hearing next month, would grant schools more flexibility in the kinds of programs they offer to language-minority children.

The regulatory changes approved last week permit larger class sizes, allow a greater range of student ages and native languages within a bilingual classroom, and abolish a requirement that schools establish advisory councils made up of parents of bilingual students. (“Plan To Rewrite Mass. Bilingual Ed. Law Debated,” Feb. 19, 1997.)

Harcourt Buys Publishing Co.

National Education Corp. agreed last week to be acquired by Harcourt General Inc. in an $800 million deal that ended a monthlong takeover battle.

The Irvine, Calif.-based National Education, a provider of distance-learning and supplemental education materials, had agreed in March to be acquired by Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. of Baltimore. (“Sylvan’s Acquisition of Firm Bolsters Place in Market,” March 19, 1997.)

But Harcourt, the Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based education publisher, stepped in with a higher bid for National Education, which later led to friendly acquisition discussions. The two companies signed a deal May 13 in which Harcourt will acquire National Education for $21 a share. Sylvan will get a $30 million breakup fee.

Analysts said that the deal allows Harcourt to move from the traditional world of textbook publishing into distance learning, educational software, and supplemental materials.

Denver Recoups NSF Grant

In an about-face, the National Science Foundation has agreed to continue funding a five-year, $2.5 million grant to the Denver public schools. NSF officials had said in March that they were pulling the plug on the program to improve minority students’ math and science achievement.

Roosevelt Calbert of the NSF wrote in a letter dated May 9 that Denver had assuaged many of the concerns the federal science agency had about the program.

Denver schools Superintendent Irv Moskowitz said that the management of the aid will shift from Colorado State University to the district, and that the grant will expand beyond its original target of a few schools to all district schools.

Denver had stood to lose about $1 million of the grant money.

La. ACLU Alleges Censorship

The recent removal of periodicals from a Louisiana high school has prompted the ACLU of Louisiana to amend an anti-censorship federal lawsuit it had filed last year against the same school officials.

The revised suit, filed this month in U.S. District Court in Monroe, challenges the constitutionality of a policy adopted in Ouachita Parish on the selection of library materials.

Among the periodicals that ACLU officials said were removed from the library or withheld from student access at West Monroe High School were certain issues of Better Homes & Gardens, Bride’s, Business Week, Education Digest, Education Week, Phi Delta Kappan, and Science News.

But Principal Ernest “Buddy” Reed said that the list was inaccurate. He said out of 586 periodicals reviewed since September, certain issues of just seven magazines were not placed on the shelves because of sexual content: Bride’s, Discover, Ebony, Essence, Louisiana Cultural Vistas, Newsweek, and Vogue.

Letter Costs Teacher’s Job

A 7th grade teacher in Monticello, Ill., has resigned after asking students to copy a letter threatening the life of President Clinton.

Kevin Treanor, who teaches at the Washington School in Monticello’s 1,600-student district, issued the assignment as a part of a unit on how to write business letters. But a parent got in touch with the Secret Service after noticing that the homework addressed to the president contained an assassination threat.

After investigating the incident, the Secret Service chose not to press criminal charges against Mr. Treanor.

“The letters have been retrieved, and we were assured that there was no criminal intent,” said Jack A. Fox, a resident agent of the Secret Service office in Springfield, Ill. But Mr. Fox said that any person who issues any type of threat to the president’s life can be charged with violating federal law.

The school board accepted the teacher’s resignation at a special meeting this month. Mr. Treanor could not be reached for comment.

Paulo Freire, Literacy Advocate, Dies at 75

Paulo Freire, the internationally known Brazilian author and educator who devoted his life to empowering the poor through literacy, died May 2 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, of a heart attack. He was 75.

Mr. Freire was best known for his method of teaching the poor and uneducated to read by calling on their own everyday experiences. He wrote 25 books that were translated into 35 languages, including English. In his best-selling Pedagogy of the Oppressed and other books, he tried to ignite the passion of the disenfranchised to transform their lives through education, arguing that the elite class imposed their values on the uneducated.

Exiled from Brazil in the 1960s after a military coup, he returned in 1979. He served as minister of education from 1989 to 1991.

His memoir Pedagogy of the Heart is scheduled to be published by New York City-based Continuum Publishing Group in the fall.