News in Brief: A National Roundup

August 02, 2000 7 min read

Levy Seeks Compulsory Summer School Attendance

New York City Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy wants to put more bite behind the city’s summer school policy by making attendance compulsory, just as in the regular school year.

As part of the 1.1 million-student system’s tough new promotion standards, 65,000 students in grades 3-8 and 150,000 high school students were sent to summer school this year as a prerequisite to moving on to the next grade. But in a recent letter to state lawmakers, Mr. Levy pointed out that only 77 percent of the younger students were showing up, while the rate was even lower—55 percent—for high schoolers.

Current state laws that allow truants to be picked up are in effect only from September to June.

Mr. Levy wrote that, without the law behind him, he feared that parents of low-achieving students would “continue to ignore our efforts to get their children into classrooms to get the instruction they so desperately need.”

—Robert C. Johnston

Pay Plan May Weigh Test Scores

One of the country’s longest-running initiatives in performance-based pay for educators may add student test scores to the mix of factors that determine the size of individual teachers’ paychecks.

District and teachers’ union leaders in Douglas County, Colo., last month signed a “memorandum of understanding” to amend the current teacher- evaluation system to include the option of using several new criteria, including student achievement.

Currently, individual teachers who volunteer to take part in the 27,000-student district’s innovative pay system are reviewed and paid primarily based on demonstrated knowledge and skills. Student improvement on tests now is only used to determine whether groups of educators—such as all those in a school—receive bonuses.

Members of the Douglas County Teachers Association, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, were voting on the plan as they considered a new contract late last week. If passed, the changes would be pilot-tested over the next two years. Teachers would help decide which measures of student improvement they would be judged by.

— Jeff Archer

‘Tiebreaker’ Policy Challenged

A group of Seattle parents has turned to the federal courts in an effort to stop the city school system from using race as a “tiebreaker” in assigning students.

Parents Involved in Community Schools, a local nonprofit group, filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Seattle arguing that, by using race to help determine who gets into schools with more applicants than openings, the district is violating the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the state’s I-200, a 1998 voter-approved initiative barring racial preferences in public education, employment, and contracting in Washington state.

In recent years, the 47,000-student Seattle district has phased out mandatory busing for integration and given parents more leeway in choosing where their children enroll. The district has, however, continued to use race in making student assignments to help ensure that each school’s racial makeup is within 10 percent of districtwide averages.

— Robert C. Johnston

Suit Faults Columbine Educators

Families of three victims of the Columbine High School shootings have sued the principal and other school employees in Jefferson County, Colo.

The lawsuit alleges that school officials had clues that students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were prone to violence, but failed to act to prevent the April 20, 1999, shootings.

The two teenagers killed 12 students and one teacher, and injured at least 20 other students, before killing themselves. Three lawsuits originally filed against the Jefferson County sheriff’s department were amended July 19 to name as defendants Frank DeAngelis, the principal of Columbine High, as well as the district’s security director and three teachers by name. Twenty other unnamed school employees were also included in the suit.

The lawsuits were filed by the families of slain student Isaiah Shoels and injured students Richard Castaldo and Mark Taylor.

A statement issued by the 89,000-student district said that none of the employees named in the suits had prior knowledge about “the horrible plans or tragic actions carried out by the two killers.”

—Mark Walsh

Campaign Will Promote Choice

Wall Street investor Theodore J. Forstmann has announced that he will spend $20 million on a national advertising campaign to promote alternatives to regular public schools.

The philanthropist, whose Children’s Scholarship Fund in New York City has awarded $160 million in private school scholarships to some 40,000 children, says the effort is intended to “educate the public about the benefits of establishing an education system in which parents are truly free to choose.”

Mr. Forstmann’s effort has a notable, bipartisan list of backers, including former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, Joseph A. Califano Jr., who served as President Carter’s secretary of health, education, and welfare, U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and John B. Breaux, D-La., former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, 1996 Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, and Martin Luther King III, among others.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

State, District At Odds on Charter

A Pennsylvania public school’s bid to become the first in the state to convert to charter status faces a rough road despite a recent state decision allowing the conversion to proceed.

The state’s charter school appeals board voted 4-2 last month to overturn the York City School District’s rejection of the 650-student Lincoln Elementary School’s application for a charter that would give it freedom from many state and local rules.

Jeffrey L. Kirkland, the school board’s president, said that the conversion would not fit into his panel’s strategic plan for the 11-school district, and that board members object to a proposed contract that would allow Edison Schools Inc. to help manage the K-5 school. The district may appeal the ruling, he added.

Lincoln Principal Michael E. Fogle said that, barring a reversal by the state courts, the school would open Aug. 24 as the Lincoln-Edison Charter School.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Mass. Board Reworks Standards

The Massachusetts board of education adopted new mathematics standards last week that proponents say will increase the emphasis on content and skills in math instruction.

The rewrite of the state’s 1995 standards will require students to solve problems using their mathematical knowledge and to communicate how they solved the problems. The document sets learning goals for students as they complete kindergarten and every other year until they graduate.

Critics of the standards have charged that they will be little more than a guide to the state’s testing program. (“Conflict Over How To Teach Math Flares in Bay State,” Feb. 16, 2000.)

—David J. Hoff

L.A. Sued Over Belmont Decision

A civil rights group has filed a lawsuit challenging the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision to halt construction of a costly high school because of environmental concerns.

The district stopped construction on the Belmont Learning Center in January amid cost overruns, environmental hazards, and mismanagement.

The suit brought by the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund argues that the district never complied with state environmental laws by completing an environmental-impact report.

A lawyer for MALDEF said completing the school, if it can be made safe, may be the best and quickest solution for alleviating overcrowding in existing schools. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include parents of Latino students who would attend Belmont, should it be completed.

Genethia Hayes, the school board president, said that an environmental study had been completed before construction was halted, and that another study would be unnecessary.

—Mary Ann Zehr

‘State of Black America’ Report Released

Hugh B. Price, the president of the National Urban League, talks to reporters at a news conference in Washington last week. Mr. Price released a report, “The State of Black America 2000: Blacks in the New Millennium,” that gathered a wide range of data on African-Americans, including their views on such school issues as tuition vouchers. Among its recommendations, the report urges that black students be exposed to more rigorous courses during their K-12 years. The report can be ordered online at, or by calling (212) 558-5310.

—Photo by Roy Lewis

A version of this article appeared in the August 02, 2000 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup