Remembering 1989: The Year in Education

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FIRST COUPLE--While President Bush sought to fulfill his promise to become the "education President," his wife, Barbara, continued her longtime crusade for literacy.

END OF AN ERA--Mary Hatwood Futrell stepped down after six years as president of the National Education Association.

STUDENTS AND DRUGS--President Bush's noontime televised address on drugs exemplified the increased concern about drug use by students.

The education summit convened by President Bush reinforced the status of the nation's governors as being at the forefront of efforts to improve the schools.

At public sessions and in behind-the-scenes negotiations--carried out on behalf of the governors by Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, and a handful of others--participants at the two-day conclave agreed to establish national performance goals and to radically restructure America's educational system.

But the partisan and other tensions lurking beneath the fragile consensus boiled over during a debate moderated by former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who later described the proceedings as "a lot of something that rhymes with pap."

Even as governors and other political leaders debated school reform and funding, in a few states it was supreme court judges who had the biggest impact on education policy.

The most dramatic move came in Kentucky, where Chief Justice Robert F. Stephens and a majority of the highest court struck down the state's "whole gamut" of educational laws and policies for failing to satisfy the constitutional mandate for an "efficient" system of education.

Court rulings in Montana and Texas were more limited, overturning just the school-finance structures, but caused scarcely less turmoil among policymakers as a result.

Angered by what he described as a threat to equal educational opportunity, U.S. Representative Augustus F. Hawkins emerged as one of the most vocal critics of parental-choice proposals.

Adopting an uncharacteristically prominent media profile, Mr. Hawkins repeatedly lashed out at that and other ideas put forward by President Bush, whom he charged had failed to produce "a single accomplishment, initiative, or educational credit."

The California Democrat, who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, also attacked participants in the national education summit for backing a reduction in federal regulations, and predicted that Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos would soon be forced to resign.

In a vote of confidence for a school-reform plan that is widely viewed as the nation's boldest, nearly 300,000 Chicagoans went to the polls to elect members of the city's 540 new local school councils.

The heavy turnout by parents, teachers, and community residents was hailed as a victory for "parent power" and a sign of public commitment to restoring a deeply troubled school system. "Now I think we have more power," one parent said. "I think now [school officials] have to listen to us."

Corporate benefactors sought to supplement business support for educational improvements with substantial infusions of new money.

Only a week after the rjr Nabisco Foundation announced plans to spend $30 million over five years to encourage schools to "take risks" with restructuring, the Coca-Cola Foundation promised to donate $50 million to schools and other institutions.

The gifts--along with pledges announced earlier by the General Electric Company ($35 million) and the International Business Machines Corporation ($25 million)--were seen as a sign of business commitment to aiding schools over the long haul.

There were changes of leadership in three of the nation's seven largest school systems.

John W. Porter, a former state superintendent of education, became superintendent of the financially troubled Detroit schools. In Chicago, the school board ended a yearlong search for a replacement for Manford Byrd Jr. when it named Ted. D. Kimbrough, a veteran superintendent of an urban California district, to head the district. And in New York, Joseph A. Fernandez, who gained national attention for his school-reform initiatives as superintendent of the Dade County, Fla., school district, was named to succeed the late Richard R. Green, the popular superintendent who died suddenly in May.

The 64 members of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards grappled with some of the most basic philosophical issues of the field: what teachers should know and be able to do.

The panel encountered controversy on a wide variety of topics when it released guidelines for developing assessments that would enable teachers to become board-certified beginning in 1993.

The board's decision to allow teachers with a baccalaureate degree and three years of experience to be certified evoked criticism from members of the teacher-education community, who warned that not requiring a degree from one of their institutions would result in a lowering of standards.

Christopher Whittle, the energetic young chairman of Whittle Communications, the Knoxville, Tenn., media company, created considerable controversy by including commercial advertising in his "Channel One" news show for high schools.

While schools continued to sign up for the service, educators nationwide expressed concern, and five major national groups threw their support behind a similar, but noncommercial, effort, "CNN Newsroom," produced by Ted Turner, the Atlanta media magnate.

On the national scene, Secretary of Edu6cation Lauro F. Cavazos weathered a number of critical newspaper and magazine profiles early in the year that painted him as "politically naive" and ineffective in promoting an education agenda.

Ongoing rumors insisted that he would be asked to resign or else offered a job elsewhere in the Bush Administration. The low-key role he played in some of the major discussions during the education summit in Charlottesville only fueled those rumors.

Beginning in October, he took to the road to push the Administration's policies on parental choice and school-based management at five regional public meetings.

The unique educational problems and needs of Native American children drew increasing attention in 1989.

Parents in Duluth, Minn., demanded a magnet elementary school for their children, and the St. Paul district created such a school. A statewide Indian magnet school was also under consideration in Minnesota.

At the national level, Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos called for a study of Indian students' needs. Concern on Capitol Hill culminated in a Senate panel's calling for the gradual reduction of federal oversight of Indian programs and the rechanneling of billions of dollars in funds, including educational funding, directly to tribes.

In hundreds of sites across the country, service collaborators--educators, social-service providers, public-health officials, legislators, and others--were experimenting with efforts to integrate educational, social, and health services for children.

Advocates of the movement asserted that the complex physical, emotional, and socioeconomic factors that affect children affect their learning, too, and that new linkages need to be established between the different agencies and institutions that provide services to children.

"Integrated services offer the benefits of comprehensive, continuous, and coherent attention to a whole child's needs," one proponent argued.

Among the many others also making news in education in 1989 were: A group of prominent school-law experts, including John E. Coons and Stephen D. Sugarman of the University of California at Berkeley, who backed a novel lawsuit seeking creation of a voucher program to enable black schoolchildren in Kansas City to attend desegregated private schools at public expense ... Thomas K. Gilhool, who waged a controversial effort to become a history teacher in the Philadelphia schools after resigning as Pennsylvania's state schools chief ... Paul Hubbert, who decided to run for governor of Alabama after wielding legendary behind-the-scenes clout for many years as executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association ... W. Keith Hefner, publisher of a New York City newspaper written by teenagers; Vivian Gussin Paley, a Chicago elementary-school teacher; and Eliot Wigginton, founder of Foxfire magazine, each of whom won a "genius" award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ... Eliana Martinez, an 8-year-old who died of aids a few months after her mother sucel10lcessfully challenged a judge's ruling that she attend school only in a glass booth ... Norman C. Najimy, whose willingness to give up his job as principal to help his small Massachusetts school solve its budget problems attracted national attention and, by year's end, a new job at a larger school ... Principals, who struggled to redefine their role as the growing movement to restructure schools through participatory decisionmaking challenged the traditional conception of the principalship ... Tracy Kidder, the best-selling author who wrote Among Schoolchildren about the year he spent observing a 5th-grade class in Holyoke, Mass. ... Timothy W., a severely retarded New Hampshire boy who was the focus of a controversial appellate court ruling that public schools are obligated to educate all handicapped children, regardless of how little they might benefit.

Vol. 09, Issue 16

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