Talk about the back-to-school shopping crush: In Henrico County, Virginia, the sale of 1,000 outdated school laptops for $50 apiece was greeted by a mob, then a stampede, after 5,500 people gathered for the event at a local raceway. As attendees pushed and shoved each other, at least one hit line-jumpers with a folding chair and another tried to drive a car through the crowd. All told, 17 people were injured. Says a bewildered school official, who points out that the Apple iBooks had been used and abused by middle school students for four years and were therefore more likely to be part of Antiques Roadshow than The Price Is Right, “I think that people tend to get caught up in the excitement.”
A group of Pennsylvania teenagers known as the “Kutztown 13” has no need for laptops—or any more excitement—at the moment. The baker’s dozen high schoolers are facing felony charges for bypassing security measures and downloading forbidden software onto their school-issued computers. (Lest you think these kids were scary-smart hackers, the password in question was, essentially, the school’s street address, which was taped to the back of each computer.) While officials with the Kutztown Area School District admit the teenagers did nothing malicious, they say the felony charges were a last resort after detentions and suspensions went unheeded. They “fully knew it was wrong, and they kept doing it,” says a lawyer for the school district. “Parents thought we should reward them for being creative. We don’t accept that.”
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, a 14-year-old self-styled rapper is challenging his expulsion for posting allegedly threatening lyrics on the Internet. In April, the Riverside Beaver County School District expelled Anthony Latour from school—physically, at the hands of police officers—after he named another student in a rap called “Massacre.” Now the American Civil Liberties Union, in court with him this week, has taken his side, arguing that he recorded the song at home and was merely involved in a “battle rap,” or game of musical one-upmanship, with the other youth. “ ‘Bones Bre B,’ aka Tha Rivaside Rydah, thought he could serve me, so I had to ruin yet again another career,” is how Latour describes the rivalry on his Web site, and by filing suit, he’s hoping to be back in school when classes start Aug. 31.
In the meantime, the hand-wringing continues over what the most recent spate of test results—most notably the National Assessment of Educational Progress, released last month—actually means. The most discussed wrinkle is that while younger students recorded impressive gains, high schoolers’ scores have pretty much been stagnant for three decades. One observer says that students are simply lazy. Journalist Alexandra Starr points out that in 2002, nearly half of 17-year-olds tasked with undergoing NEAP testing didn’t even show up. Those who did left more essay questions than multiple-choice problems blank, a sign they didn’t have much vested interest in the exams, for which individual results aren’t even available. But when such things matter, high schoolers wake up: In Texas, when tests became a requirement for graduation in 2004, pass rates immediately shot up 20 points.
A more encouraging statistical nugget surfaced in an AP-AOL News poll of adults, a clear majority of whom said they remember teachers who changed their lives. Some 63 percent of respondents agreed with that statement, with almost half pointing specifically to high school teachers; women were more likely than men to cite a memorable elementary-level educator. “She was kind, she was loving and positive,” a Georgia respondent says of her own life-changing teacher, “and you were happy to go to school every day.”
Someone who won’t be returning to school is Matthew Kaye, who made headlines after he was forced to leave his high school social studies classroom for using sick time to work as a professional wrestler. The former teacher just signed a contract with World Wrestling Entertainment, and on TV he’ll be using his experience at Cardozo High School in New York City as background material for his onscreen alter ego, Matt Striker. “I’m the good guy who lost his [teaching] job because he had a passion to pursue wrestling,” Kaye says. However, he adds, “I’d love nothing more than to remain a factor in kids’ lives.”
Maybe he can call in sick and do some subbing.
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