Cities News Roundup
Faced with the loss of approximately $4.4 million in federal funds and a potential $13.4-million budget shortfall, officials of the Baltimore public school system said last week that they may have to eliminate up to 1,400 staff positions next year--including many teachers.
Superintendent John L. Crew told the members of the city's board of estimate that if some of the funds are not made up by the city, classes may be larger next year. In addition, some new programs that have been planned may be in jeopardy.
Baltimore's mayor, William D. Shaefer, said the city is unable to meet the school system's budget needs. According to the Baltimore Sun, Mr. Shaefer told the superin-tendent that "giving $12 million more is just impossible to do. ... There's just no more money."
If anyone ever doubted that the roar of trains and airplanes impeded learning, the evidence from Public School 98 in New York City should put the issue to rest.
P.S. 98 is located 220 feet from an elevated subway line in upper Manhattan. About 15 times during each school day, a train clattered by, temporarily halting all teaching on the side of the building facing the tracks.
And for years, children on that side of the building were two to three months behind their counterparts on the quiet side in reading achievement.
Now that the city's transit authority has installed rubber pads on the tracks (at a cost of $100,000) and the school board has inserted sound insulation in the classrooms, the students' reading scores have improved markedly, according to a study by Arline L. Bronzaft, professor of environmental psychology at Herbert H. Lehman College in the Bronx. Students on the subway side of the building have gained as much as a year in their reading scores and are doing as well as those in quieter areas.
While other research has documented the deleterious effects of loud noises in neighborhoods, Ms. Bronzaft believes that hers is the first study performed in a school.
"The usual question is, 'What about the kids who listen to the stereo when they're studying?"' Ms. Bronzaft said.
"Well, if it gets too difficult, he can turn the stereo down. It's the interruptive, uncontrollable factors that are the key."
The problem, she said, was that teachers were forced to stop teaching several times per day, and the students' concentration was broken.
She also found evidence that the students at P.S. 98 have not become habituated to the noise, as people who live near railroad tracks and airports often claim they have.
"I studied the school for eight years, and I've seen signs on the wall saying, 'I wish the trains would never run again."'
The cooperation between the transit agency and the school board was a crucial factor in alleviating the problem, the researcher said. "Airports don't tend to be as cooperative," she added.
The New York Times referred to the students' improvement as "a distinctly New York achievement."
Try telling that to the Midwestern school official who called Ms. Bronzaft for help with a noise-abatement plan near an airport.
"It's a national problem," she said.
A report on the research appears in the current issue of The Journal of Environmental Psychology.