News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Grant Aims to Aid Teaching In Three Midwestern Cities

The Joyce Foundation announced a three-year, $15 million grant initiative last week to improve the quality of teaching in Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee schools.

The funding will pay for studies examining teacher quality in the cities, including how well-qualified and less- qualified teachers are distributed among schools. Strategies for attracting and keeping good teachers in low-performing schools—such as alternative certification, special training to teach urban students, financial incentives, and mentoring—will be evaluated. The grants also will support the development and advocacy of policies to implement promising approaches.

Ellen Alberding, the president of the Chicago-based foundation, said in a statement that grants were prompted by the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act for qualified teachers in every classroom. Poor and minority students are more likely than other children to have teachers who aren’t well prepared, she noted, pointing to the need for "smart and creative" ways to improve the teaching force.

—Ann Bradley

Montana Judge Rules Against State’s School Finance System

A judge in Montana has decided that the state’s system of financing education violates state law because it isn’t providing adequate funding for public schools.

In an April 15 ruling, Judge Jeffrey M. Sherlock of the first judicial district in Lewis and Clark County wrote that the state "is not paying its share of the cost of the basic elementary and secondary school system."

Judge Sherlock did not, however, agree with the plaintiffs’ contention that the state school finance system is unequal. Anticipating an appeal, he ordered that his ruling not go into effect until Oct. 1, 2005.

Jack Copps, the executive director of the Montana Quality Education Coalition, which filed the lawsuit in 2002, said his group was happy with the decision. Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath said in a statement that the state would likely appeal.

In fiscal 2003, the state provided $455 million of the $747 million spent on Montana’s public schools, according to a spokesman for the Montana education department.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Calif. Organization to Acquire Buildings for Charter Schools

A new, nonprofit organization in California intends to occupy a special niche in the charter world: helping to identify, acquire, and develop facilities for the schools that will be leased back to successful charter school organizations.

Pacific Charter School Development, underwritten by a $400,000 grant from the New Schools Venture Fund, plans to create more than 30 new school buildings in the Los Angeles area over the next five years, serving 11,000 students. The organization will work in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has undertaken a massive building program to relieve overcrowding.

The New Schools Venture Fund is a San Francisco-based philanthropy that focuses on accelerating the growth of a nonprofit charter school system.

—Ann Bradley

Ga. High School Students To Hold Three Separate Proms

Students at a southeast Georgia high school will hold separate proms for black, white, and Hispanic students.

Toombs County High School in Lyons, Ga., does not sponsor the proms, and the events will be held off campus, according to Principal Ralph Hardy.

Mr. Hardy, who is black, said he would like to see one prom for everyone, but students at the 700-student school have made their own decisions to hold dances with their own music, food, and friends.

While separate black and white proms have been held before, Hispanic students voted this year to hold their own event as well.

"It has nothing to do with racism," Mr. Hardy said. "Anyone who wants to go to these proms can go."

Sixty-seven percent of the students at the school are white, 22 percent are African- American, and 11 percent are Hispanic. Last year, a white student who had a Confederate flag in his truck was confronted by black students at the school, and a fight ensued.

But Mr. Hardy said that was an isolated incident and not reflective of a problem with racism on campus.

—John Gehring

Animal-Rights Activists Suspected In Thefts From Philadelphia School

Four beagle puppies and a host of other small animals were stolen from a Philadelphia high school last week, apparently by animal-rights activists.

The thieves spray-painted a note saying, "Go Experiment on Yourselves. We’re Free—The Animals," in the kennel at W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences.

In addition to the puppies, 10 rats, three hamsters, two chinchillas, a mouse, and a ferret were taken, along with 26 cages.

The animals were used as part of class projects at the agriculture-based high school, where many students plan to go on to veterinary medicine or other related fields. The animals were well kept, and the only experiments students conducted were simple weighing and measuring of the animals, said Principal Thomas Scott.

The students are "both hurt and outraged that somebody would do that," he said.

School officials are still holding hope that the animals will be returned, Mr. Scott said. If not, the school will eventually replace the animals, either this school year or next fall, he said.

—Joetta L. Sack

Boston Teachers Ratify New Contract Agreement

Boston teachers have ratified a contract reached with city and school leaders last month. The deal averted a one-day strike teachers had scheduled for March 23.

The contract gives teachers in the 60,000-student district raises averaging 9 percent to 10 percent over the next three years.

It also provides Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant new power to set aside seniority rules in staffing some low- performing schools. But the deal stopped considerably short of the contract reforms some business and citizens’ groups have advocated. ("Boston Teachers Reach Contract Settlement," March 31, 2004.)

About 650 teachers, 10 percent of the union’s active members, approved the deal on April 15.

The educators had been working under the terms of an expired contract since September.

—Bess Keller

Denver D.A. Says Court Ruling Would Allow Knives at Schools

Denver District Attorney William Ritter is asking Colorado lawmakers to consider a last-minute bill that would allow prosecutors to charge students with a misdemeanor if they bring small knives to school.

A Colorado Court of Appeals ruling issued earlier this month, which absolved a student of criminal charges after he brought a small knife to school, spurred the move.

The incident, which occurred in the late 1990s at Henry Middle School in Denver, involved a 13-year-old student found in possession of a 3-inch blade. According to Colorado law, anyone who carries a blade longer than 3½ inches onto school grounds can be charged with possession of a deadly weapon.

The appeals court dismissed the case because the blade was smaller than the size prescribed by the statute and prosecutors lacked sufficient evidence to prove any intent to commit bodily harm.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Vol. 23, Issue 32, Page 4

Published in Print: April 21, 2004, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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