News In Brief: A National Roundup

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Low-Income Students in Texas Pass Math, Reading Tests

Nearly 900 Texas schools have been honored by the Texas Education Agency for the performance of their economically disadvantaged students on statewide tests--nearly a three-fold jump over the previous year.

The agency this month recognized 875 schools in which 70 percent or more of the students in the federal Title I program for low-income children passed the reading and mathematics sections of the 1995-96 Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. In 1994-95, 316 schools were honored.

"It shows that students are learning regardless of family income," said Debbie Graves-Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the TEA. She cited lower class sizes and early-intervention programs for the gains.

But only 71 campuses were recognized this year as "distinguished" for meeting the 70 percent mark on the basic-skills test over three consecutive years. Currently, 3,773 Texas schools participate in Title I.

Fairfield Suspends Principal

The Fairfield, Conn., school board last week suspended an elementary school principal and agreed to hold termination hearings against him after releasing the results of a test-tampering investigation of his school.

The board suspended with pay Roger Previs, the principal of Stratfield Elementary School. The school has received national attention since staff members in the central office last year saw what they believed were a high number of erasures on its student exams. ("Whodunit?" Oct. 2, 1996.)

Results from the investigation showed that test tampering took place, but they did not indicate who was involved, Tom Failla, a district spokesman, said.

Neither Mr. Previs nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.

Teacher Salaries Up 3 Percent

Teacher salaries are barely keeping up with inflation, a report by the National Education Association indicates.

The 2.2-million member teachers' union released its annual teacher-salary study, "Rankings of the States," last week. It found that the average U.S. teacher salary was $37,685 for 1995-96, an increase of 3 percent over the previous school year. Meanwhile, the report notes, inflation increased 2.7 percent during that time.

The NEA shows Connecticut leading the states in teachers' salaries, with an average of $50,254, while South Dakota teachers had the lowest average salary at $26,346. The report also shows that average salaries fell from the previous year in Hawaii--by 7 percent--and in North Carolina, which saw a drop of 1.2 percent.

In a statement, NEA President Bob Chase called the salary outlook for teachers "troubling," saying that better salaries were needed in order to attract high-quality teachers.

Panel Cites Safe-Sex Classes

AIDS education that focuses on practicing safer sex is more effective in reducing risky sexual behaviors than curricula that teach only about abstinence, a panel of experts convened by the National Institutes of Health has concluded.

The researchers, who conducted an exhaustive review of hundreds of studies, found that education programs that stress safe-sex practices, while often politically risky, are from a scientific standpoint the best vehicle to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes aids. The panel of scientists also found that drug-treatment programs and needle exchanges--which offer sterile needles to drug users--are equally effective AIDS-prevention strategies.

Accompanying its conclusions this month, the group recommended lifting government bans on needle exchanges and funding AIDS education programs that focus on minimizing risky sexual behaviors. ("Teaching About AIDS," Feb. 5, 1997.)

"AIDS is a preventable disease, and the behavior placing the public at greatest risk may be occurring in legislative and other decisionmaking bodies," contended Dr. David Reiss, a professor at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington and the chairman of the panel named by the federal health institutes.

Teachers Readying 2nd Strike

A teachers' strike in Sandy, Ore., was halted by the state labor board two weeks ago, but the local union is on course to walk out again this week.

The state employee-relations board declared the strike illegal a week after it began, saying that the Wy'east Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, sought to bring two off-limits issues to the table. School officials have responded to the strike by hiring security guards and reopening schools with replacement teachers.

But last week, the permanent teachers were back at their posts in the 3,500-student district, awaiting either an end to the dispute or a new strike scheduled for Feb. 25. Teachers want a 3.5 percent raise in the coming year; district officials are willing to guarantee at least 2 percent.

Expulsions Lead to College

Students who are expelled from school in DuPage County, Ill., won't be kicked out of class and onto the streets anymore. Under a new district plan, they'll go to college instead.

Under the Safe Schools Program announced this month, the students will be dispatched to four local colleges to get individualized instruction from college students. In the 1994-95 school year, 66 students in the 143,000-student DuPage County district were expelled for selling drugs, carrying weapons to school, assault, or vandalizing property.

Beginning next fall, the volunteer mentors will work with students 10 to 15 hours a week in unused college classrooms under the supervision of a high school teacher. The volunteers will also work with the students to arrange appointments with social workers or probation officers, as needed. The academic credits earned by the students will be transferred to their home high schools.

The program will give expelled students a place to go, said Louise Florian, the assistant superintendent of the DuPage regional office of education. The arrangement also will give college students a chance to learn more about educating troubled youths, she said.

Ala. Closes In on District

In a move just one step short of a state takeover, Alabama's schools superintendent has appointed a financial adviser for the Birmingham city schools.

In October, state Superintendent Edward R. Richardson gave officials in the 41,000-student system until last month to come up with a plan to clear up financial problems.

Last week, Mr. Richardson said that the report "was not adequate" and gave Birmingham until the end of the school year to clean up its act.

The main concern has been the system's poorly managed federal child-nutrition program, Mr. Richardson said. He also cited too many workers hired through patronage and too little control of inventory.

District officials did not return phone calls last week.

The state is currently running two other districts, the Macon County and Wilcox County systems, under an accountability law passed in 1995. The Fairfield district, meanwhile, has pulled itself out of last year's deep financial trouble, Mr. Richardson said. ("Budget Shortfall May Force State Takeover of Alabama District," Feb. 28, 1996.)

Attendance Earns Day Off

Every nine weeks, 7th grade students with perfect attendance at Trotwood-Madison Junior High School in suburban Dayton, Ohio, are rewarded with a day free from the daily grind of classes.

Twenty-five of 132 7th graders took part in a perfect-attendance day this month. On their day off, they spent a minimum of four hours at a community site and then had the remainder of the day to themselves.

To take part in the "PA" day, the students had to make their own arrangements to visit a site such as the Humane Society or the courthouse and write a summary of their experiences.

Teachers hope the program, designed exclusively for 7th grade, will produce a jump in attendance, said Bobbie Eagle, the teacher who conceived the idea at the start of the school year. "One of the main elements to this program is to get the students out in the community and show them how great our kids are," she said.

Year-Round Additions Mulled

The Los Angeles school district has announced tentative plans to make 26 more elementary schools year-round in response to booming enrollment growth.

Reports from the district's budget office suggest that enrollment could grow by 50,000 during the next five years, for an estimated total of 718,000 students by the 2001-02 school year, said Shel Erlich, a district spokesman.

The school board will likely vote next month to change the schedules for the 1997-98 school year, he said.

Of the district's 650 schools, 180 already have year-round schedules, a practice that began in Los Angeles in the late 1970s.

Daniel Bests Joe Camel

A 4th grader in Winston-Salem, N.C., recently caught the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. violating federal regulations in the company's own hometown.

When Daniel Applegate noticed a billboard emblazoned with the company's Joe Camel cartoon character near his elementary school, the 9-year-old wrote a letter to the local newspaper.

It turned out that the sign violated new federal rules barring cigarette advertisements within 1,000 feet of a school or playground. R.J. Reynolds is battling the rules in court.

Richard L. Williams, a spokesman for the Winston-Salem-based company, said that once officials determined that the billboard was 364 feet from a classroom, they had it removed within 12 hours. Mr. Williams said that R.J. Reynolds has begun a campaign to ensure that all of its billboards comply.

Meanwhile, the event proved to be an interesting civics lesson for Daniel and his classmates at Brunson Elementary School.

"I think it's great that the child listens to news programs and was inquisitive enough to wonder about this," said Principal Kay Morgan.

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