News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Calif. Chief Reviews 'State of Education'

California's top education official said the state must focus on improving high schools, reduce bureaucratic burdens, and increase student achievement to strengthen its struggling education system.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell made the remarks as part of his first-ever State of California Education Address, which he gave Feb. 11.

Mr. O'Connell announced that he will ask the state legislature to give high schools more flexibility in spending state funds if they agree to focus on five goals: raising expectations of students, improving instructional materials, upgrading training for teachers and administrators, preparing students better for their transition from middle school to high school and then on to higher education, and boosting community support.

The superintendent pledged to reduce state requests for data from schools by eliminating those that are not required by state or federal law, or are not urgently needed.

—Joetta L. Sack

Ohio Lessons on Evolution Anger Science Community

The Ohio state board of education has tentatively approved model lesson plans that are raising the ire of scientists because they could allow "intelligent design" to be included in curricula on evolution.

By a vote of 13-4, the board adopted the lessons to complement the state's science standards, which include 10 benchmarks on teaching evolution. The board's final vote on the lessons is expected next month.

The controversial lesson plan asks students to analyze critically specific aspects of evolutionary theory, according to Deborah Owens-Fink, a board member.

Critics, however, say the lesson introduces ideas that are not scientific. "It has the fingerprints of creationism all over it,' said Lynn Elfner, the director of the Ohio Academy of Sciences, a nonprofit science-advocacy organization.

The evolution standard to which the lesson applies does not include a mandate for teaching intelligent design, which promotes the idea that a higher power helped create life on Earth, or any theory of how life began other than the one first proposed by Charles Darwin, Ms. Owens-Fink said. "We have the strongest pro- evolution standards in the country," she said. "But at the same time, we are encouraging students to think openly about it."

—Michelle Galley

Mississippi Superintendent Turns Down Arkansas Post

Hoping to fill its top school leadership post during uncertain times, Arkansas turned to Mississippi with an offer to lure its schools chief.

Last week, though, Mississippi schools Superintendent Henry L. Johnson informed members of his staff that he was staying in his current job, said Carol Blanton, a spokeswoman for the state's education department.

Declining to reveal the details of an offer, Mr. Johnson said in an interview last week that he had seriously considered an offer from another state.

Kenny Bush, a member of the Mississippi state board of education, confirmed that he learned in conversations with Mr. Johnson that the superintendent had been offered the Arkansas job and had turned it down.

Mr. Johnson became Mississippi's first African-American state superintendent since Reconstruction when he was hired in August 2002. ("Accountability the Main Goal for Miss. Superintendent," June 18, 2003.)

Arkansas is searching for a top education official after former state schools Director Raymond J. Simon moved to Washington to become the assistant U.S. secretary for elementary and secondary education.

The vacancy comes at a critical time. The state is dealing with a court order to spend more on schools and a controversial plan to merge small districts.

Mr. Johnson's $234,000 salary has been the source of debate in Mississippi, where the legislature last year passed a bill saying it was too high. Former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove vetoed the measure. The debate was revived last month, though, when news of the Arkansas offer became public.

Arkansas officials would not confirm or give details about any offer.

—Alan Richard

N.H. Voucher Measure Fails by Narrow Margin

New Hampshire lawmakers have narrowly rejected a plan that would have allowed parents to use state funds to send their children to private and religious schools.

The 172-171 vote in the House of Representatives was the closest that voucher proponents have come to passing a private-school-choice plan in the Granite State. New Hampshire has a limited public-school-choice law, but no provisions allowing children to attend private schools at public cost.

The Feb. 5 vote marked voucher proponents' third attempt to pass a private school choice bill in the House.

The bill would have provided $3,000 vouchers to subsidize private school tuition costs for up to 56,000 1st and 2nd graders over seven years.

"I don't object to parents sending their kids to private or parochial schools," said state Rep. Claire Clarke, a Democrat who voted against the measure.

"But if they want to do that," he continued, "they should pay for it."

Voucher proponents are likely to renew their attack in next year's legislative session, lawmakers predicted.

— Debra Viadero

Vol. 23, Issue 23, Page 34

Published in Print: February 18, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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