News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Phila. Report Cards Show All Schools But One Flunk

The first-ever school-by-school report on the Philadelphia public schools has found that fewer than half of the systems 215,000 students have basic reading, mathematics, and science skills.

Only one school, Masterman Middle School, meets the standards set by the district as part of the school reform strategy that Superintendent David W. Hornbeck has spearheaded, the report says.

The report, released this month, used standardized-test scores, graduation rates, and attendance records to assign an individual score for each of the 257 schools in the district. District officials then determined a two-year target score for each school.

Schools that meet their target scores will receive recognition and extra funding, while those that fall short of their goals will be reviewed by district officials and face tougher district intervention.

Charter Schools Succeeding

The early word on Massachusetts' charter schools is that they are an educational success but that substantial challenges remain, according to a recent state report.

The "Massachusetts Charter School Initiative 1996 Report"--the first official study of the state's 22 charter schools--concludes that although the schools have "yet to reach their full potential," they have managed to accomplish their early goals, such as promoting innovation, providing more public school options, and spurring much-needed reforms. The oldest charter schools are in their second year.

Massachusetts charter schools currently enroll 5,400 students. Forty-four percent of the students belong to racial or ethnic minorities; 12 percent are in special education; and 15 percent speak English as a second language, according to the report, which was released this month.

N.J. Charter Start-Ups Aided

The 15 inaugural New Jersey charter schools that open their doors next fall will do so with the help of a $10 million loan fund established by the Prudential Foundation.

The Prudential Charter School Lending Program, announced this month, will offer qualifying charter schools as much as $1 million of first-year financing to support their start-up and early operating expenses. Such costs are often among the toughest obstacles that charter schools face as they gear up for operation. By providing interest rates as low as 2.75 percent, the lenders hope to provide the charter schools with the opportunity to achieve early financial viability.

"We've really broken ground," said John Kinghorn, the manager for Prudential's social-investments program. "We'll know a lot more a year from now about the success of this effort."

The foundation was created by the Newark-based Prudential Insurance Company of America.

Dade Reinforces Uniform Rule

The Dade County, Fla., school board gave tentative approval last week to a policy change that would make uniforms mandatory at any school where a simple majority of the parents want them.

The amended policy would dispose of the voluntary choice to wear uniforms, although students who objected to them could be exempted if their parents filled out an application and met with the school principal and a district administrator. The proposed revisions, which are subject to a second board vote, would also require schools to provide financial aid to students who could not afford uniforms.

The current policy, which 90 schools in the 340,000-student district have adopted, requires students to wear uniforms if 75 percent of a school's parents concur and allows a school to designate the attire as a voluntary measure.

More Ohio Seniors Pass Tests

A record percentage of Ohio high school seniors have passed all four sections of a proficiency test required for graduation, state education officials have announced.

About 93 percent of the seniors have passed the test, which the state mandated in 1990. The results mean that 8,767 seniors still must complete and pass one or more sections of the exam in order to graduate this year, said Roger Trent, the director of assessment for the state education department. "This is the lowest number of seniors needing to pass the test that the state has ever had," he said.

Last spring, about 2,700 seniors failed the assessment and were barred from graduating. Since then, 736 of them have passed and earned their diplomas.

Students currently are assessed in writing, reading, mathematics, and citizenship. Next year's freshmen will have to pass a science section as well.

NCAA Amends Rules

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has taken steps to resolve the controversy over requisite high school coursework for college-bound athletes with disabilities.

At its annual convention this month, member voted to clarify that the NCAA's academic-requirements committee, rather than a high school principal, has the final say about whether courses meet NCAA requirements. A principal may provide documentation to show that a specialized course covers the same material as an accepted core course.

Under a second resolution, students with learning disabilities will be allowed to count all core courses completed prior to college enrollment toward their initial-eligibility status, such as those they take in the summer before they start college.

The Overland Park, Kan.-based governing group for intercollegiate sports has enraged many high school administrators, teachers, and parents over its decisions about which high school courses should be counted toward eligibility for college athletics. ("Student Coursework Runs Afoul of NCAA's Rules on Eligibility" Oct. 16, 1996.)

In a separate development, a public-interest law group has filed a federal lawsuit against the NCAA , charging that its freshman-eligibility rules requiring minimum scores on college-entrance exams discriminate against black student-athletes.

The Washington-based Trial Lawyers for Public Justice claims in the suit filed this month in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia that the testing requirements violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Dan Boggan, the NCAA's chief operating officer, said that the suit represents an attempt to return to the days when student-athletes could emerge from college "without any real education at all."

Moms, Dads, Spouses Barred

Married students and unwed mothers in Houston, Miss., public schools have been barred from cheerleading, the homecoming court, and a "who's who" of top students on campus, according to a district policy adopted this month. Students who are married or have children will not be barred from participating in athletics, scholarship programs, or student government, however.

"There are a lot of kids who are getting married or pregnant," said Laverne Collins, the superintendent of the 2,000-student district, where 44 students dropped out last year, many to have children or get married. "It puts too many demands on kids at an early age, so hopefully this will stop them," he said.

But David Ingebretsen, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, doubts that barring students from high-profile activities will do much to deter teenage pregnancy or early marriage. "Students don't make those choices based on whether they are going to be a cheerleader or not," he said. Mr. Ingebretsen said the ACLU is weighing whether there is a legal basis to mount a challenge to the policy.

Superintendent Suspended

The Richmond, Va., school board has suspended Superintendent Patricia C. Conn for up to 45 days.

The board charged her with insubordination and is planning to fire her, according to the Richmond-Times Dispatch. Board members cited incidents of "misrepresentation to the board" and a failure to "follow directives" in a letter to Ms. Conn, according to the newspaper's sources.

Ms. Conn said in an interview last week that she feels positive about the direction she has taken the 29,000-student district during her 1 1/2 year tenure and that she plans to appeal the suspension. "The reasons listed are not serious enough for a suspension," Ms. Conn contended. "Some of them are entirely without merit."

Melvin D. Law, the board chairman, refused to comment on the suspension.

Advice on Growth Hormones

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued guidelines to pediatricians on the controversial subject of how and when to treat short children with human growth hormones.

Pediatricians have been criticized in recent years for over prescribing the treatment to children of short stature at their parents' request.

The guidelines, published in this month's issue of Pediatrics, say that the growth-hormone treatment is only appropriate for children with chronic renal deficiency, classic growth-hormone inadequacy, or for children whose "extreme short stature" keeps them from participating in basic daily activities.

The AAP says that such treatments--which are administered by injection and can cost as much as $5,000 over five years--may exaggerate young people's insecurity about their height and may not actually make them taller adults. It also warns that there may be unknown long-term risks associated with the therapy. "It would be better to eradicate the bias against short people than to attempt to eradicate the condition of being short," the academy says.

What Parents Don't Know

Many parents of top-achieving students will have their eyes opened by a new report by the publishers of Who's Who Among American High School Students.

Many of the top students' parents think they know their children well, but the report suggests that's not the case. It reveals that parents are unaware that many teenagers have contemplated suicide, engaged in sex without condoms, cheated in school, and have friends with drug problems.

"This special report is a wake-up call to the parents who have been lulled into a false sense of security by their own teen's good grades or at-home behavior," said Paul C. Krouse, the publisher of the directory.

The Lake Forest, Ill.-based publishing company sent questionnaires to 7,500 parents; more than 2,600 responded. The responses of 3,370 students included in the special report, which was released this month, were randomly selected out of a pool of 7,500 students.

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