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Public Favors Reforms, But Not All, Survey Says

In a season of political jousting over education reform, the public is making up its own mind about what's best for the nation's schools, a survey from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development shows.

A majority of those polled for an ascd report released Sept. 17 supported two measures that have gained increasing popularity among policymakers: class-size reduction and the end of so-called social promotion.

But when asked about teacher quality, most respondents said it was more important to give educators needed support than to fire incompetent ones. Making it easier to fire bad teachers is a step that many political leaders have urged.

Given a range of salaries, respondents said the average teacher should make $43,100 a year, even after being told that, in reality, the average teacher's salary is $38,921.

About half of the 800 people polled agreed that the two best ways to improve teacher quality are to provide more training and to test teachers. But only 16 percent favored tying teachers' salaries to student performance.

Many also doubt that the status quo in American education can continue. Nearly half agreed that most children will be educated outside the traditional public school system in the next century .

"Learning from the Past: Directions for the Future," free, from Rose Parmantier, Educational Issues, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1703 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA 22311-1714; (703) 575-5607; e-mail: [email protected]. Or, read the executive summary from ASCD.

Reading: Reading research, teacher training, coherent student instruction, and the development of reading comprehension are the ingredients of a sound reading program, according to a guide for parents and teachers.

Published by the Washington-based Council for Basic Education, which promotes high standards in education, the guide features four articles by nationally known scholars in the subject.

The guide notes that more than 40 percent of 4th graders read below a "basic" level, according to the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is given to a sampling of students around the country.

But the publication concludes that many children fail to learn to read proficiently primarily because teachers do not understand the reading process and are trained in a "one size fits all" philosophy.

The authors recommend that educators teach phonemic awareness, alphabetic decoding, word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension.

"The Keys to Literacy," $12 plus $3 shipping, from the Council for Basic Education, (202) 347-4171; e-mail: [email protected].

Environmental Education: A high school earth-science textbook describes a real-life scene that could be right out of the movie "Waterworld," complete with a sketch of skyscrapers poking above the surface of a flooded New York City. If Earth's polar ice caps melt, the book warns, the sea level would rise as much as 61 kilometers.

Although it provides an awesome description of the effects of global warming that would be likely to grab the attention of any student, that scenario is more than just a slight exaggeration, according to a report on how textbooks portray environmental issues.

The devastation predicted in the text would raise sea levels higher than Mount Everest--much more than the 6 inches to 40 inches that many scientists foretell.

Such fish stories are all too common in textbooks, the report released last month contends.

The study by the Center for the New West, a Denver-based nonpartisan think tank, warns that many textbooks mislead and miseducate students about environmental issues.

The report compares information on environmental issues presented in textbooks with guidelines for fairness and accuracy published by the Troy, Ohio-based North American Association for Environmental Education.

It found what it says are many inaccuracies in the books' explanations of logging, air pollution, acid rain, endangered species, and other issues.

"Textbook Trash: The Polluting of Environmental Education," $10, from the Center for the New West; (303) 572-5400.

Marriage in Textbooks: High school textbooks portray love and marriage in ways that are uninspiring and uninformative; in a word, the depictions are "boring," according to a recent report.

The texts often present marriage only in the context of health issues and show teenagers a world in which "taking a public vow of eternal faithfulness becomes akin to an act of hygiene, like flossing one's teeth," the report published by the Council on Families says.

The council is an offshoot of the Institute for American Values, a New York City think tank that promotes family issues and child well-being in public education.

But the report released last month says the selected textbooks did highlight the important personal commitment involved in marriage and detailed information about the health risks of early sexual activity.

The authors reviewed high school textbooks published between 1993 and last year that are currently used in 20 states.

"The Course of True Love: Marriage in High School Textbooks," $7, from the Institute for American Values; (212) 246-3942.

Child Care: Erratic work schedules and high costs are among the reasons parents choose "kith or kin" over commercial child-care facilities, a study concludes.

The study from the National Center for Children in Poverty also found that formal child-care options are not viable alternatives for some parents who do not speak English or who want to teach their children particular cultural values.

The report released last month from the center, based at Columbia University, examines the research on parents who turn to friends and family as child-care providers, reviews current public policy concerning such caregivers, and offers strategies to enrich that form of care.

One such strategy is to bring resources and supplies to the caregivers through libraries or direct visits to the child-care sites.

"Child Care by Kith and Kin: Supporting Family, Friends, and Neighbors Caring for Children," $5, from the National Center for Children in Poverty, 154 Haven Ave., New York, NY 10032; (212) 304-7100; fax: (212) 544-4200 or (212) 544-4201; e-mail: [email protected].

Welfare Assistance: States have not taken advantage of the opportunity to redesign their child-care-assistance programs made available under the 1996 federal welfare-reform law, a study by the Urban Institute has found.

The Washington-based research organization conducted case studies in 13 states during 1996 and 1997 to see how effective the new legislation proved to be for states.

The report explains that the law consolidated the major sources of federal child-care subsidies for low-income children into a single block grant to states--the Child Care and Development Fund.

That measure gave states much greater flexibility in administering child-care programs and in determining who is eligible for assistance.

Overall, the study found, states' initial responses to the opportunities to redesign child-care help under the law have been limited.

For example, despite falling welfare caseloads and the increased availability of funds, only a few states have been able to serve all the low-income families who are seeking child-care aid but are not on welfare.

As states continue to evaluate their child-care systems, they are likely to take greater advantage of the law's flexibility to restructure those systems, the study suggests.

Read the Urban Institute's report, "Child Care Assistance Under Welfare Reform: Early Responses by the States." Order the report from the Institute at 2100 M St. N.W., Washington, DC 20037; (202) 261-5231; fax: (202) 293-1918.

Education Funding: School spending for the nation in the 1996-1997 school year rose 4.1 percent over the 1995-96 school year, according to a report based on data from every state education department.

The average per-student expenditure rose from $5,185 to $5,396, according to the annual report on public school expenditures released last month by Market Data Retrieval, a provider of education information and marketing services.

The figure is significant, the report says, because it represents current district per-pupil spending and reflects total operating costs, including instruction, support services, and food service.

The survey also found that the average spending per student for instructional materials--such as textbooks, other classroom materials, media supplies, and software--increased 7.9 percent, or from $140 to $151.

"Public School Expenditures Report," is free, from Market Data Retrieval, 1 Forest Parkway, P.O. Box 2117, Shelton, CT 06484; (800) 333-8802; Web site:

Higher Education: More minority students are enrolling in college and earning degrees than in years past, a report released recently by the American Council on Education says.

The enrollment of African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, and American Indian students increased across the board in the 1996-97 school year--by 3 percent at the undergraduate level, 5.7 percent at the graduate level, and 2.9 percent at the professional school level.

All told, Hispanic students made the greatest gain, at 5.3 percent, while their black counterparts had the smallest increase, at 1.7 percent. The enrollment of Asian-American students increased by 3.4 percent, while American Indian students made a gain of 2 percent.

Minority students earned 18 percent of all bachelor's degrees given in 1995--up 1 percentage point from 1994.

Those students also accounted for 22 percent of all four-year undergraduates in 1995, up from 15.3 percent in 1986, says the report from the Washington-based umbrella organization for higher education.

"Minorities in Higher Education, 1997-98: 16th Annual Status Report," $24.95 plus $3.50 shipping, from American Council on Education, Publications Department, PO Box 191, Washington, DC 20055-0191; (202) 939-9395.

Vol. 18, Issue 7, Page 12

Published in Print: October 14, 1998, as Report Roundup

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