State News Roundup
State education officials in California have dispatched a new publication to more than 8,000 schools in an effort to defend and clarify the state's literature-based approach to teaching reading.
The state in 1987 adopted a controversial language-arts framework that called for a major shift from traditional, phonics-based methods to newer strategies emphasizing the use of literature in the classroom.
The new approach came under fresh attack when the state's 4th graders scored near the bottom on 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests. (See Education Week, Sept. 22, 1993.)
State officials said the low reading scores were largely due to demographics: California has a high proportion of inner-city and non-English-speaking students.
The officials also point out that, even after six years, schools have far to go in implementing the framework--in part, they say, because educators have misinterpreted it.
"There has been this idea out that the framework discouraged teaching phonics, and that just isn't so,'' said Kathleen Cooper, a consultant to the state education agency.
The new document, which has been in the works for months, suggests that educators seek a balance between the two approaches, and offers guidance for dealing with some of the issues arising from implementation of the newer methods. It does not suggest that the state plans to abandon its framework.
"The philosophy and pedagogy is still sound,'' Ms. Cooper said.
An Arkansas school district that is considering barring teachers from enrolling their children in private schools would probably violate the teachers' constitutional rights if it did so, according to the state attorney general.
After officials said the Lee County school district might revive a 1972 policy requiring teachers to send their children to public schools or risk losing their jobs, Lieut. Gov. Mike Huckabee and a teacher in the district requested the attorney general's opinion.
Superintendent James Davis said the cash-strapped district loses $1,800 a year in state funds for each student who transfers to a private school. And he noted that several white teachers have in recent years withdrawn their children from schools where a majority of the students are black.
While the opinion of Attorney General Winston Bryant is not binding on district officials, it could influence a court's decision if teachers filed a lawsuit, said Cheryl Hall, a legal assistant in Mr. Bryant's office.
A lawyer for the Arkansas Education Association also concluded this month that the policy would contradict U.S. Supreme Court rulings that parents have the right to choose where their children are educated, said Grainger Ledbetter, the union president.
The Texas Supreme Court has overturned a lower-court ruling that the financing of the state's higher-education system is unconstitutional.
A class action had charged that the state discriminated against Mexican-American students in 41 counties along the Texas-Mexico border by inequitably distributing higher-education resources and hindering their access to high-quality programs.
The suit was filed by nine Mexican-American advocacy groups, which were represented by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The state supreme court said the plaintiffs failed to prove that the Texas university system's policies and practices exhibited discriminatory intent, or to demonstrate the existence of a "sufficiently high level of disparate impact ...to raise an inference of intent.''
The opinion said the court had found "considerable'' evidence that state officials were working to increase educational opportunities for minority-group members. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' contention that higher education is a fundamental right.
Vol. 13, Issue 07