A State Capitals Roundup

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Calif. Teacher Crunch Worse Despite Efforts, Study Finds

The shortage of qualified teachers in California is worsening despite extensive state initiatives to help districts hire, train, and retain educators, a new report says.

While student enrollment in the Golden State continues to boom, teacher- preparation programs are failing to produce enough educators to meet the demand, according to the report, "The Status of the Teaching Profession, Update 2000."

The report is a follow-up to a comprehensive study released last year documenting California's teacher shortage. Both studies were sponsored by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, a nonprofit organization in Santa Cruz, Calif., along with other co-sponsors, and financed by SRI International, an independent, nonprofit corporation in Menlo Park. ("'Quality' Crisis Seen in Calif. Teaching Ranks," Dec. 8, 1999.)

The new report warns that there is a growing disparity in the quality of teaching afforded to students in the suburbs and those in urban areas. Moreover, children from poorer communities are more likely to be assigned to classes where teachers are unqualified, it says.

The study's authors praise the state's efforts to improve the teaching force, but caution that change will come slowly. Policymakers must track the new initiatives to determine whether or not they are working, the authors say.

—Julie Blair

Pa. Plan Stirs Debate on Evolution

Teachers in Pennsylvania will be granted explicit authority to present evidence that raises questions about the validity of evolutionary theory, if proposed standards in science and technology gain final approval from the state board of education.

While the standards document would mandate the teaching of evolution, it would also require that students be able to analyze scientific evidence that both does and does not support evolutionary theory.

The standards do not mention creationism—the religious belief that species did not evolve over millions of years but were instead created in the recent past by a superior being. But some observers said the document would open the door to classroom discussion of such beliefs.

Eugene W. Hickok, the state's secretary of education, said Pennsylvania teachers have always had the option of discussing evidence that supports evolution or calls it into question.

"Evolution is not a fact, it's a scientific theory," Mr. Hickok told The Associated Press. "And because it's a theory, that means you have to test various hypotheses to support it or not support it."

The standards, which would be the state's first in science and technology, still must go through several reviews, including by state legislators and the state attorney general, before a final vote by the board of education.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Conn. Targets School Bus Licenses

The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles is tightening background checks on school bus drivers, after an investigation revealed that at least 55 out of 6,000 drivers holding special school bus licenses have criminal histories.

The agency will soon require that background checks on newly licensed school bus drivers be completed before they can be employed; under its previous policy, drivers could begin new jobs while state and federal background checks were under way.

In addition, the agency announced this month that drivers with serious criminal convictions in their pasts had been advised that they would face legal hearings to defend why they should keep their licenses. State officials are also setting up a system that will check currently employed drivers for arrests and criminal convictions on a weekly basis.

—Jessica L. Sandham

Calif. SAT Extensions Questioned

A California state audit has found "wide demographic disparities" between students with learning disabilities who were granted extra time to take the SAT and California students with those disabilities who received no such extensions.

Some students who may need extra time may not be getting it, the report says, while some undeserving students are receiving the accommodations.

Based on data from the senior class of 1999, the state auditor found that white students with learning disabilities who attended private high schools were more likely to be granted extra time to take the widely used college- entrance exam than were other students with learning disabilities. Students receiving extensions typically get an extra hour and a half to take the three- hour test.

The audit criticized the College Board, the New York City-based organization that sponsors the SAT, arguing that the board gives "vague instructions" for approving requests for extended time. Jeffrey Penn, a spokesman for the college board, said it would review the audit.

"I am not sure yet what we will do, or whether we will change the instructions," he said last week.

—Lisa Fine

Vol. 20, Issue 15, Page 28

Published in Print: December 13, 2000, as A State Capitals Roundup
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