News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

September 05, 2001 3 min read

Illinois Schools Chief Says He Will Resign

Glenn W. “Max” McGee announced last week that he will step down at the end of this year as the Illinois schools superintendent. He acknowledged that student- achievement scores had not risen as quickly as expected during his three-year tenure.

Mr. McGee said he will not seek an extension of his $216,000-a-year contract, which expires Dec. 31. The former superintendent of several school systems in the southern part of Illinois said in a statement that “change needs to happen more rapidly” than had occurred during his service.

Ronald J. Gidwitz, the chairman of the Illinois board of education, amplified that theme by referring to Mr. McGee’s hobby of long-distance running. “Max is a marathon runner, but he and we understand that sometimes it is necessary to hand off the baton in order to accelerate the pace,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Gidwitz said he had suggested to Mr. McGee that it would be unwise to seek a contract extension, and presumed that other board members had done the same. He said the board’s assessment of Mr. McGee’s performance was based on a number of factors other than test scores, including early-childhood education and the state’s college-going rate.

—Mark Stricherz

One Third of Fla. 10th Graders Fail High School Exam

Florida officials have set minimum passing scores for the state’s high school exit exam, and nearly a third of the first class of students required to pass the test have so far failed to make the grade.

Roughly 32 percent of the 144,000 10th graders who took the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test last spring failed to meet the cutoff scores in reading and mathematics established last month, and will have to take the FCAT again in October. Students will be able to take the test up to six times in an effort to meet the new graduation requirement.

Sitting as the state board of education, the governor’s Cabinet approved the cutoff scores on Aug. 14 at the urging of Gov. Jeb Bush and Commissioner of Education Charlie Crist, both Republicans. The minimum scores will initially stand at 287 in reading and 295 in math, out of a possible 500 points, but those figures will climb to 300 in both subjects next spring.

The minimum scores were set over the objections of former state schools chief Tom Gallagher, now the state insurance commissioner, who wanted them set higher.

—Michelle Galley

Hawaii Rejects Creationism in Science Standards

The Hawaii board of education has decided to keep creationism out of the state’s new science standards.

By a unanimous vote last month, the board removed a clause from its proposed student-performance standards that would have required students to be familiar with creationism and beliefs about the origins of life other than the theory of evolution.

The committee that wrote the standards had inserted the words requiring that biblical accounts of the Earth’s formation be taught, according to Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Education.

At the urging of scientists, Mr. Knudsen said, the board voted 13-0 on Aug. 2 to delete the clause, while retaining a requirement that students understand the theory of evolution, which most scientists say explains how today’s biological diversity grew from single-cell organisms billions of years ago.

—David J. Hoff

Firing of Mass. Sex Education Counselor Overturned

A Massachusetts arbitrator has ordered the state department of education to reinstate and pay retroactive wages to an employee fired for her role in a workshop for students that involved explicit discussions of sexual activity.

Margot Abels, an HIV/AIDS counselor with the education department, lost her job last year after leading a workshop at a public forum sponsored by the Boston chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. The workshop took place at a university and was not sponsored by the education department. (“Mass. Ed. Dept. Criticized for Taped Session on Gay Sex,” May 31, 2000.)

In a ruling made public Aug. 21, arbitrator Marc Greenbaum backed Ms. Abels’ argument that the department knew about and supported the candid discussions during the workshop. While acknowledging the session’s controversial nature, Mr. Greenbaum ruled it “did not violate then-established department guidelines and procedures.”

Ms. Abels will receive back wages from May 19, 2000, the day she was fired. She told TheBoston Globe she felt vindicated by the decision, but doesn’t plan to return to the department.

—John Gehring


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