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A Change Of Heart?

The Bush administration has apparently abandoned its opposition to federal funding for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, greatly improving the odds that the board will get the new infusion of federal money it is counting on for research and development.

“I think it's in the national interest to support [the board],” Education Secretary Lamar Alexander said in July. “I think the board can be a powerful voice for change if they can develop a consensus as to how to evaluate good teaching. It could mean that districts all over America could pay good teachers more for teaching.”

Observers credit the secretary with changing the position of the administration, whose officials had argued vigorously in the past that federal funding for the private, nonprofit certification board is inappropriate. The board hopes to begin assessing teachers for national certification in 1993.

Alexander does not acknowledge that he engineered a reversal, but says: “I don't have positions independently of the administration, and I would not have said that without having discussed it within the administration.”

At a national forum held in St. Louis in late June, national board officials and other prominent educators hinted that they were confident of federal support, frequently alluding to the board's newfound “friends” in Washington—Alexander and his deputy secretary, David Kearns. Kearns was a member of the board until he was tapped this spring for the Education Department post.

Still, in mid-July, other administration officials were saying that there has been no official reversal on the national board, and several congressional aides familiar with the issue said they had not heard of any change. The President's Plan Takes Off Amid mounting concerns over politics, resources, and usefulness, President Bush's New Schools initiative has blasted ahead with what education observers agree is blinding speed.

The President's Plan Takes Off

The initiative, the largest research project in American educational history, would develop models to radically reconfigure America's schools. The models would be tested on at least 535 experimental schools, one in each congressional district and two more in each state.

In July, the White House launched the New American Schools Development Corp., a private, nonprofit organization set up to fund the project. The corporation's chairman, Thomas Kean, president of Drew University and former governor of New Jersey, in turn, named the NASDC's board of directors, almost all business leaders. At press time, the project had raised $30 million toward the $150 million to $200 million it hopes to raise from the private sector.

NASDC officials expect “design teams”—universities, think tanks, educators, or other interested groups or people—to begin submitting model-school proposals as early as this fall. A handful of the teams will receive grants of up to $30 million to further develop their plans. The grant competition will be closed in January.

But while everyone is impressed by the speed at which the project is moving ahead, many educators, politicians, and business leaders are expressing profound doubts about the endeavor.

Business leaders worry that the ultimate goal of the project—to build the 535 New American Schools—is an unreplicable folly that will not translate into the systemic reform they seek to promote. Educators, on the other hand, question why the private sector has been tapped to fund what has traditionally been a public—and specifically a federal—responsibility: research and development. They fear this is more evidence of the privatization of public education.

And U.S. Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., complains that the Bush administration is bypassing Congress, possibly to avoid oversight, in order to fund research slanted to its political ilk.

But the loudest complaints have been raised by educators engaged in ongoing, corporation-funded research who are worried that their projects will be left high and dry if their benefactors shift resources to the New Schools project. Corporate giving to precollegiate education now hovers between $225 million to $250 million a year. To fund the new schools initiative at the level the president wants means either a doubling in business's K12 philanthropy or death to many existing projects.

Corporate foundation officials echo the panic, fearing that their chief executive officers, once touched by the magic hand of the president, will have no choice but to raid their foundation coffers. “I wouldn't want to call this a crisis yet,” says Sophie Sa of the Panasonic Foundation, “but we are gravely concerned.”

Public Education Isn't Always Free

Most people take it for granted: All American children have a right to a free public education. But it isn't necessarily so, according to a new survey.

Thirty-four states permit school systems to charge students various fees, and in nearly half of those states the fees are commonly assessed for such academic materials as workbooks and textbooks, researchers Roger Hamm and Sandra Crosser of Ohio Northern University report in the June issue of the American School Board Journal.

In the states that permit fees, the most commonly assessed charges are for damaged textbooks and equipment. Roughly 30 states allow such fees, the researchers say. They also found that 20 states permit schools to charge students for laboratory experiments and field trips, 15 for workbooks, 11 for pencils and paper, and eight for required textbooks.

Although a majority of states permit fees of some kind, state education agencies told the research team that most districts do not levy them for academic materials. That practice is common, however, in 15 states, the researchers found.

Growing numbers of school districts are exploring the practice, Hamm and Crosser say, as they search for ways to cope with recessionary budget pressures. Supporters of the idea contend that the fees are more acceptable to the public than tax increases because only those who use the fee-subsidized services pay for them.

Improving Facilities

It's no secret that school buildings in many communities are run down and in need of repair. School-construction experts and education officials from 30 states met in June to address the problem and what to do about it.

Those attending the Washington, D.C., conference—sponsored by the Council of Educational Facility Planners International, the National Governors' Association, and the National Conference of State Legislatures—drew up a national strategy.

Among other things, their plan calls for a national campaign to inform the public of the need for improved educational facilities and the creation of a coalition to influence state and federal legislation. In addition, the participants say they will push for the first national assessment since 1966 of the physical condition and adequacy of schools.

Catholic School Union Rejected

A Minnesota appeals court has ruled that a state labor agency erred when it allowed teachers at a Ro-man Catholic high school to form a bargaining unit against the wishes of school officials.

The Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services last year certified an affiliate of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers to represent the teaching staff at Hill-Murray High School, a Catholic school near St. Paul. The bureau ruled that the state's collective bargaining law applies to employees at church-affiliated schools, and it oversaw an election in which 18 of 27 eligible teachers voted to be represented by the MFT unit.

But the three-judge appeals panel ruled in June that the labor bureau's application of the law to the church school “would infringe on church autonomy and interfere with church control of that institu-tion” in violation of both the state and U.S. constitutions.

Courts elsewhere have decided the issue differently. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled in 1985, for example, that the New York State Labor Relations Board could exercise jurisdiction over Catholic school employees. In its ruling, the Minnesota appellate panel said it disagreed with the 2nd Circuit court's analysis.

Vol. 03, Issue 01, Pages 18-20

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