News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

June 13, 2001 5 min read
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Study in Mass. Finds Payoff in Schools Sensitive to Gays

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual teenagers who attend Massachusetts schools with instruction about AIDS that is sensitive and appropriate to their needs report a happier and healthier school experience than students in schools with no such program, a study has found.

State education officials see the study as vindicating the state’s initiative aimed at ensuring a safer school environment for homosexual students. The study, published in this month’s edition of the American Journal of Public Health, analyzes the responses of 3,702 students from 54 high schools in the state.

The survey found higher rates of substance abuse, sexual activity, suicidal contemplation, and fears for their own safety among gay, lesbian, and bisexual students than among their heterosexual peers. But those rates were lower at schools that offered “gay sensitive” HIV instruction.

“Our findings strongly suggest that teachers who receive appropriate training, curricula, and materials to provide gay-sensitive instruction in schools can make a difference,” the authors write.

Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll responded to the study by defending his state’s “Safe Schools for Gay and Lesbian Students” program, which provides training for school staff members and services for gay students. He said schools must take steps to reduce harassment of such students.

But Brian Camenker, an outspoken critic of the program, said the findings confirm that researchers have been “co-opted” by the gay-rights movement.

“The safe-schools program is run by homosexual activists trying to convince kids they’re gay,” he asserted. “None of it has any redeeming value.”

In 1993, Massachusetts passed a law aimed at protecting gay students from harassment in school.

The state board of education sparked controversy last year when it adopted regulations updating that law, including beginning the safe-schools program. (“Mass. Stance on Anti-Gay Bias in Schools Stirring Debate,” May 17, 2000.)

—Catherine Gewertz

N.J. Considers Pre-K Hiring Bonuses

Faced with a shortage of preschool teachers next fall in some of the state’s neediest school districts, acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco of New Jersey wants to dangle $5 million worth of incentives in front of potential instructors to lure them into the classroom.

His plan was added last month to the proposed fiscal 2001-02 state budget, which is scheduled to be passed later this month by the legislature.

Mr. DiFrancesco, a Republican, wants to give a first-year “cash recruitment bonus” of $3,500 to new preschool teachers and $6,000 for high-achieving college graduates with college grade point averages of 3.0 or above. All newcomers would receive laptop computers to keep as well.

The package also includes other financial incentives worth $6,500 for sub-3.0 teachers and $10,000 for those with higher GPAs. Those benefits, to be paid out over four years, could be used to repay college loans or pay for graduate school.

“If we want all New Jersey students to travel the road to a better life, we need strong, competitive incentives that will help us recruit and retain good preschool teachers,” Mr. DiFrancesco said in a statement.

New Jersey is under a 1998 state supreme court order to provide preschool programs in 30 high-needs school districts that were part of the Abbott v. Burke finance case.

A projected shortage of some 400 teachers in those districts is just one of the problems facing that effort.

Commissioner of Education Vito Gagliardi Sr. has created a stir by relaxing licensure requirements for preschool teachers as a way to address the shortage. Critics say teacher quality is put at risk by the move.

—Robert C. Johnston

New State Board Named in Fla.

Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida announced his appointments last week to the new state board of education, the powerful body that will soon begin overseeing education in the state from preschool to graduate school.

The announcements came as the Republican governor signed a bill that revamps Florida’s education governance system, a process that started with constitutional amendments approved by voters in 1998. Part of the overhaul replaces the current board of education, made up of the seven elected statewide officers known as the governor’s Cabinet, with the appointed board.

The new board will in turn appoint an education commissioner to replace the current elected schools chief, Charlie Crist, in 2003. Last week, the governor named state Sen. Jim Horne as “secretary of education,” an interim post that could lead to the commissioner’s job. Mr. Horne, a Republican, is the chairman of the Senate appropriations committee.

The new board members are: F. Phillip Handy, a GOP activist who headed the education governance task force appointed by the governor; Linda Eads, an education consultant; T. Willard Fair, a former head of the Urban League of Miami; Charles Garcia, a financier and former U. S. Air Force officer; Julia Johnson, a lawyer who has served on the state’s Public Service Commission; Bill Proctor, who is about to retire as the president of Flagler College in St. Augustine; and Carolyn K. Roberts, who serves on Florida’s board of regents, which currently oversees the state university system but will be defunct under the new system.

—Bess Keller

Ky. Adopts Performance Standards

Kentucky schools have new goals to meet in the state’s testing system.

The state board of education adopted a set of standards last week that describes what a school’s students have to do to be ranked in each of the four levels of performance on the state testing system.

Starting with test results from this spring, the performance standards will be the basis for ranking schools, according to Lisa Y. Gross, a spokeswoman for the state education department. By 2014, every school will be expected to have its students scoring at the standards’ “proficient” level in every subject.

The board unanimously adopted the standards, which state officials said were drawn up in working groups that included 1,650 of the state’s teachers.

—David J. Hoff

A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2001 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup


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