Remembering 1991: The Year In Education

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  • As the United States and its allies go to war against Iraq, schools drop their regular lessons to address the fast unfolding events and to help allay students' fears. Counselors offer special services to children with family members deployed to the Persian Gulf.

  • Invoking a 1915 labor law, Gov. Roy Romer intervenes to head off a threatened strike of teachers in Denver.
  • Ruling in the Oklahoma City school desegregation case, a divided U.S. Supreme Court holds that districts that were once racially segregated by law may be freed from court-ordered desegregation plans if they have done their best to eradicate the vestiges of their discriminatory systems and have met court orders.
  • School boards in Detroit and Minneapolis join New York and Milwaukee in moving to create special schools geared to the needs of black students.
  • A new group, Educate America Inc., announces plans to develop a national achievement test for all high-school seniors, and to ask the Congress to fund it and make it mandatory.
  • As part of his proposed budget for fiscal 1992, President Bush includes $690 million in education initiatives, including plans to reward school districts that establish choice policies including private schools.


  • The vote on the confirmation of Lamar Alexander to be Secretary of Education is delayed by an investigation of his finances initiated by Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum of Ohio.
  • After months of bitter debate, the New York City Board of Education approves a plan to distribute condoms in high schools without parental consent. By year's end, school officials in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Falmouth and Martha's Vineyard, Mass., have agreed to make condoms more available to students.
  • The Bush Administration asks the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of nonsectarian prayers at public school graduations.


  • A federal appeals court overturns a lower-court ruling that New York State's law requiring disclosure of standardized-test information conflicted with federal copyright law.
  • After a two-month delay, Lamar Alexander is confirmed unanimously as Secretary of Education.
  • In a review of the management of college athletics, the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics calls on secondary-school officials to stress academic preparation of student-athletes.
  • Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado unveils a teacher contract for Denver that abolishes many traditional job protections in exchange for giving teachers unusually wide decisionmaking latitude.
  • The National Education Goals Panel unveils a plan to create a national assessment system to measure progress toward reaching the goals for the year 2000.
  • A coalition of 50 education and civil-rights groups calls on the President and the Congress to oppose plans to create national achievement tests.
  • Nearly half of upper-income parents say they would send their children to public rather than private or parochial schools even if cost were not a factor, a survey finds.


  • A Texas judge halts state funding for schools and threatens to bar all local spending unless the legislature finds a solution to the state's education-finance dilemma.
  • President Bush and Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander unveil a national education strategy, called "America 2000," that includes proposals for "a new generation of American schools" and a system of national tests.
  • Thousands of Washington State teachers in 38 districts walk off the job to protest what they say are inadequate funding levels for schools. . Gov. Ann W. Richards of Texas signs a school-finance compromise bill, ending a seven-year battle over financing and freeing up state funds for public schools.
  • A national longitudinal study suggests that the "gender gap" between boys' and girls' achievement levels in mathematics may be disappearing. . The Richmond (Calif.) Unified School District announces it will close its schools for lack of money. A state court averts the shutdown by ruling that the state is obligated under the California constitution to do whatever is necessary to keep the schools open.
  • The state-level leaders of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers in Wisconsin forge an "interim merger agreement" that represents the first formal state alliance of the rival national unions.
  • The state of Arizona and some of its school districts face a budgetary tangle because of an unprecedented U.S. Education Department decision that the state's funding-equalization plan fails to meet standards set under the federal impact-aid program.


  • The California Supreme Court rules that prayers at public-high-school graduation ceremonies violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on government establishment of religion.
  • The Education Department announces it is canceling the competition for two research awards and will funnel the money to help implement President Bush's education strategy. The action helps prompt moves on Capitol Hill to tighten restrictions on the Administration's use of education-research money. . Chris Whittle, the chairman of Whittle Communications, announces plans to spend more than $60 million over the next three years on research to develop a "new American school" model that will be the basis of a nationwide chain of for-profit private schools.
  • The National Assessment Governing Board votes to set the first national standards for student achievement in mathematics. . The Education and Justice departments and the Federal Bureau of Investigation examine the travel practices of former Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos to see if they violated federal regulations.
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upholds the constitutionality of the "off the top" funding method used to allocate Chapter 1 aid to pupils in church-affiliated schools; it is the first appellate court to rule on the question, on which federal district courts have been divided.


  • The first-ever state-by-state assessment of student achievement finds that performance in mathematics varies widely among states and that student performance over all remains low.
  • The Oregon legislature adopts a nationally watched plan that requires students by age 16 to earn a "certificate of initial mastery" before moving on to at least two years of college-preparatory work or job training.
  • For the first time since schools there were desegregated 21 years earlier, voters in Jackson, Miss., approve bond requests for schools.
  • Bridgeport, Conn., becomes the first municipality in recent memory to seek bankruptcy protection, throwing the city's financially solvent school district into turmoil.


  • The deepening economic recession is taking its toll on state budgets, and a number of states enter the new fiscal year without a budget.
  • Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts signs into law a bill abolishing the Boston School Committee, a 169-year-old elected board long criticized as politicized and inefficient, and replacing it with a panel appointed by the city's mayor.
  • A Tennessee judge declares the state's system of funding public schools unconstitutional.
  • The New York State Board of Regents approves a set of recommendations growing out of a controversial plan to revise the state's social-studies curriculum to focus on nonwhite cultures.
  • The White House launches the New American Schools Development Corporation, a nonprofit, business-led group seeking to raise $150 million to $200 million in private money to finance research in support of President Bush's education-reform plan.


  • A federal court orders the Detroit Board of Education to admit girls to its three new schools that had been designed specifically for African-American boys.
  • The dramatic changes in the Soviet Union touched off by the failed coup against President Mikhail S. Gorbachev focus attention on the inadequacies of U.S. textbooks and curricula dealing with America's former Cold War rival.
  • The average verbal score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test hits an all-time low, the College Board reports.
  • The state comptroller of Tennessee begins a probe of financial transactions completed when Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander was president of the University of Tennessee.
  • The annual Gallup Poll on education shows strong public support for a longer school year.
  • The leaders of more than 30 national subject-matter groups agree to form a coalition to help put curriculum issues at the forefront of education reform.


  • As schools open, teacher strikes nationwide are running 36 percent ahead of the year before--a sign, observers say, of deteriorating labor relations due to the economic recession.
  • Massachusetts officials report that just 12 of the state's 361 operating districts have agreed to accept transfer students under a new state choice plan that critics say is deeply flawed.
  • The number of blacks graduating from high school and college increased during the 1980's, the Census Bureau reports, but a wide gap remains in the college-going rates of white and black students.
  • The first annual "report card" on the national education goals concludes that the nation has met few of the goals and that information is lacking on many of them.


  • The federal Centers for Disease Control reports that nearly 20 percent of all high-school students carry a weapon, and 5 percent carry a firearm, at least once a month.
  • In a first-of-its-kind meeting, U.S. and Mexican education officials confer in El Paso, Tex., and pledge cooperation in solving mutual problems.
  • Racial desegregation: The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on whether the DeKalb County, Ga., schools should be freed from federal-court oversight. The Jefferson County, Ky., school board weighs a plan to promote voluntary busing by providing financial incentives to elementary school pupils.
  • Socioeconomic desegregation: School officials in LaCrosse, Wis., propose what is thought to be the first student-assignment plan in the nation to place students explicitly for the sake of achieving socioeconomic balance within schools.
  • House and Senate conferees agree on a $31.5-billion funding bill for the Education Department for fiscal year 1992.


  • In the off-year elections, Missouri voters overwhelmingly reject a ballot proposal to provide an additional $385 million for public schools and colleges. In New Jersey, voters angry at the tax increases passed by Democratic lawmakers in 1990 turn over both state houses to Republicans. And Gov. Ray Mabus of Mississippi, a leading figure in education reform, loses his bid for re-election at least in part because of his inability to reach a compromise with legislators over funding for school reform.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a Rhode Island case that tests the constitutionality of prayers at public school graduation ceremonies.
  • The announcement by the basketball superstar Earvin (Magic) Johnson that he has the virus that causes AIDS leads educators to re-evaluate their sex-education and AIDS-prevention programs.
  • The four former U.S. secretaries of education meet in San Francisco for an unprecedented panel discussion on education.


  • In a comprehensive report on school readiness, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching calls for a seven-point plan to ensure that all children enter school well prepared for learning.
  • The Education Department's Indian Nations At Risk Task Force issues an exhaustive set of recommendations for improving the education of Native American students, including creation of an assistant secretary's post within the department to focus on the subject.
  • Hispanic leaders in Denver make overtures to black leaders to help bring an end to forced busing of children under the district's decades-old desegregation lawsuit.
  • Moving to resolve an issue raised by the Education Department's civil-rights chief a year earlier, Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander declares that most college scholarships awarded on the basis of race are illegal.

Vol. 11, Issue 16, Pages 2-3

Published in Print: January 8, 1992, as Remembering 1991: The Year In Education
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