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Operation Jump Start

NEA President Keith Geiger has proposed giving as many as one-third of the nation's elementary school children an educational boost by sending them to school two weeks before the academic year officially starts. Under the proposal, dubbed “Operation Jump Start” and unveiled at the union's July convention in Kansas City, Mo., teachers would work closely with 15 or fewer at-risk children and involve parents through phone calls and home visits.

“Children don't drop out in high school or middle school; they drop out up here [in their heads] in elementary school,” Geiger said. He exhorted Congress to pay half of the $2.2 billion cost and the states and local districts to pick up the remainder of the bill.


Alternate Routes: In Vogue

Things change. Five years ago, New Jersey's experiment with an alternate-route program for teacher certification was thought by many educators and policymakers to be daring and irresponsible. The state, they believed, had simply gone too far. Today, however, virtually all of the other states are scrambling to put alternate routes in place—or to use the term to disguise emergency routes that have existed for years. A recent study by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that 48 states now say they have some kind of alternate route for college graduates who want to become teachers without undergoing a traditional teacher-training program.

The findings contrast with those of the National Center for Education Information, a private research firm, whose recent study of alternate routes found that 33 states claim some type of alternative process for certifying teachers.

The directors of both studies attribute the statistical discrepancy in part to the variety of definitions of alternative certification. In both surveys, many states reported having alternative licensing programs that were, in fact, emergency certification programs. “A bunch of states are calling whatever they already have in place alternative certification,” acknowledges Penelope Early, senior director of AACTE.

Issued when licensed teachers are unavailable, emergency certification requires little or no education training and cannot be renewed.


Be Careful What You Wish For ...

When financially squeezed Rhode Island decided to offer incentive money to lure some of its more experienced and expensive teachers and administrators into early retirement, state officials expected the flow of retirees to pick up. What they got was a flash flood.

During the first two weeks of July, the state retirement board was deluged with applications and began interviewing 50 prospective retirees a day, including Saturdays. School employees with 23 years or more of service were taking advantage of a 10 percent pension bonus offered this year by the state legislature.

“I did not anticipate this kind of exodus,” says Frank Walker, personnel director for the state department of secondary and elementary education.

Providence, which had already offered an early-retirement incentive of $150 for each year of service, will lose 206 of its 1,300 certified employees. The dual bonuses “set off a chain reaction like we haven't seen before,” says Paul Vorro, the district's personnel administrator.


Mobilizing For Morality

Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders are worried that young Americans are growing up amoral, and they want the public schools to do something about it.

A 1,150-word statement, prepared by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Synagogue Council, charges that “children lack fundamental values like honesty, integrity, tolerance, loyalty, and belief in human worth and dignity” and calls for a “national mobilization” to instill “common moral teachings” in the public school curricula.

In the unprecedented joint statement, released this summer, the clergy argue that values traditionally were inculcated by the family, the church and synagogue, and the schools, but that public schools have shied away from such teaching of late “out of a fear that children might be indoctrinated with a specific religious belief.”

But, the statement continues, “We are convinced that even apart from the context of a specific faith, it is possible to teach these shared values.”


Standards Board Revisited

The clearest message to come out of the second annual forum of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards held this summer in Denver was that the board must do more to reach out to the broad array of education “stakeholders” whose support is necessary if national certification is to be widely accepted.

To that end, the board exhibited at the summer conventions of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and it plans to hold a series of focus groups with teachers. But forum participants suggested that the standards board also communicate better with school boards, state education departments, teachers' colleges, and parents.

The board, which is trying to forge a national system to certify teachers, is working on a set of complex assessments it hopes will measure accomplished teaching. The question of whether that can be done—and if so, how—dominated the two days of spirited discussions among the 275 participants.


The Evolution Of Evolution

First, the good news: Coverage of evolution in high school biology texts has improved dramatically in the past five years, according to People for the American Way and the National Center for Science Education. “For now, the 'dumbing down' of evolution has stopped,” states a report by the groups. The bad news, the report says, is that, despite the improvement in evolution coverage, the presentation of science is “still generally inadequate.”

Most books, the study found, present science as a series of facts, rather than as “an organized method to observe and explain the natural world.”

The improvement in evolution coverage stems, in part, from actions by state boards of education in Texas and California, the two largest textbook markets, says Michael Hudson, vice president of People for the American Way. Last year, after a bitter debate, the Texas board for the first time required publishers to include the topic, and the California board approved guidelines for a science curriculum that features evolution as a key theme.

Vol. 02, Issue 01, Pages 20, 22

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