News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Teachers Improve Scores On Controversial Mass. Test

The overall passing rate for prospective teachers in Massachusetts improved on the third administration of the state's controversial licensing test over the previous round, but not by much.

Fifty-five percent of the 1,700 first-time test-takers passed the examination, compared with 53 percent of first-timers who passed in July and just 41 percent who passed in April, when the test was first administered, according to the state education department, which released the scores last week.

Candidates for licensure must pass a reading, writing, and subject matter examination. Those who fail all or part of the test can take it again; of the second-time test-takers in October, only 8 percent of the 138 candidates who failed the entire test the first time passed.

The results from the April test touched off a political storm about the quality of the state's teachers and its education schools and sparked a state effort to recruit better-qualified teachers. ("Mass. Chief Resigns in Protest Amid Test Flap," July 8, 1998.)

The test, which all aspiring teachers and principals must pass, will be given again Jan. 9.

--Ann Bradley

Poll Sees Rise in Prejudice

Many high-achieving students say that they aren't tolerant of homosexuals and that they feel uncomfortable around members of racial and ethnic minorities, a survey released last week says.

Of the 3,100 high school students who responded to the 29th Annual Survey of High Achievers, 48 percent said they are prejudiced against homosexuals, up 19 percentage points from last year's survey. Researchers say that extensive media coverage has made students more aware of sexual-orientation issues, which has contributed to students' forming stronger opinions.

Fifteen percent of the students polled said they are prejudiced against African-Americans and Hispanics, 8 percentage points more than last year. About half of that group told pollsters that affirmative action would make it harder for them to obtain the jobs they want, and 45 percent said such policies would prevent them from going to the colleges of their choice.

The poll documents trends among teenagers who earn A's and B's and who are recognized for leadership and service. The study was conducted in September by Educational Communications Inc., the Lake Forest, Ill., company that publishes Who's Who Among American High School Students, the directory of outstanding students.

--Julie Blair

School Removes 'Swastika' Tiles

District officials in Rome, N.Y., have called in workers to Gansevoort Elementary School to remove red tiles with white swastika-shaped patterns from the school's lobby floor.

Although the tiles had been there since the school's opening in 1914, concerns about the patterns--which are known as reverse swastikas--came only recently.

It had been suggested by a committee of parents and staff that the 6,500-student district leave the tiles and add a display telling the history of the reverse swastika, which is a sign of prosperity and good fortune that appeared in early Christian and Byzantine art and is still used as a religious symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism. But with its arms turned clockwise, it became the symbol of the Nazi movement in Germany.

Superintendent Fran Murphy surveyed students and adults and found that few recognized a difference between the Nazi swastika and the reverse symbol. But he said the simplest thing to do was to remove the tiles.

--Adrienne D. Coles

$2 Million Awarded for Abuse

The International Falls, Minn., district plans to appeal a verdict that awarded $2 million to a former student who was sexually abused by a special education teacher.

A jury found last month that the 1,800-student district was negligent in its investigation of Jon Alan Pearson, who was accused in 1986 of abusing Justin McGee, who was a student then.

Mr. Pearson was removed from his teaching position in 1991 and resigned later that year after confessing to abusing the boy. In 1992, Mr. Pearson pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct. Mr. McGee, now 21, was awarded the money to pay for past medical expenses and for pain and emotional distress he suffered because of the incident.

Superintendent John E. Fredericksen said the district would appeal the amount awarded to Mr. McGee.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

Students Suspended for Walkout

The principal of Sunnyside High School in Washington state suspended 175 students for two days after they walked out of classes to protest the passage of the state's anti-affirmative-action Initiative 200.

The law bans racial or gender preferences in state government, including admissions to colleges.

Principal Robert J. Thomas said he met the student protesters in front of the school Nov. 4, the day after the vote, and told them to go inside. Instead, he said, they marched to the center of town, before police officers dispersed them without incident.

The students initially were suspended for three days, but Mr. Thomas reduced that penalty after students complained of being denied due process.

Hispanic students make up 70 percent of the 1,230 students enrolled in the school, though the protesters included both Hispanic and Anglo students.

The Washington regional office of the United Farm Workers, in Sunnyside, has informally accused the principal of overreacting.

--Andrew Trotter

Youth Guilty of Killing Teacher

A former student of a New York City English teacher was convicted last week of second-degree murder in the teacher's May 1997 slaying.

Corey Arthur, now age 20, faces 25 years to life in prison for the killing of Jonathan M. Levin, according to a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office. Mr. Arthur was also convicted of robbery in the incident; that conviction carries a possible additional sentence of up to 25 years.

Mr. Levin had befriended the student while serving as his teacher at the 4,000-student Taft High School in the Bronx during the 1993-94 school year. The widely reported murder spurred discussions among educators about the risks teachers take in forging friendships with students outside of class.

Mr. Arthur's alleged accomplice, who was not a student, will go to trial next month.

--Mary Ann Zehr

Boy Charged in Bomb Case

A 14-year-old student in O'Fallon, Ill., has pleaded guilty to possession of explo sives and unlawful use of a weapon after discharging a homemade bomb in a crowded school cafeteria at Marie Schaefer Junior High School.

According to local police, no one was hurt. The boy was arrested shortly after the incident last month, and he was placed in detention. The teenager, who has since been expelled, apparently found the recipe for the explosive on the Internet and claims it was a prank, said George Halsey, the superintendent of the 2,650-student district near St. Louis.

The boy faces a possible sentence of up to seven years in prison.

--Jessica Portner

Vol. 18, Issue 12, Page Z1-TEXT

Published in Print: November 18, 1998, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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