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Lethal Weapon

The rate at which 15- to 19-year-olds were killed by firearms leaped a dramatic 77 percent between 1985 and 1990 to 23.5 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 1985, according to a new federal study. The 1990 rate of firearm deaths—which include murder, suicide, and accidents—meant that one of every four deaths in that age group came as the result of a firearm injury, said the report, released by the National Center for Health Statistics. Firearms are the second leading cause of death—behind motor-vehicle fatalities—for teenagers in the 15- to 19-year-old age group.

The Payoff

Teachers in Fairport, N.Y., have entered into an agreement with the school district there that will reward teams of teachers if their students perform well on tests. The merit-pay model, which was approved last month by the 480-member Fairport Educators Association, is patterned after team and incentive programs in business. Under the incentive plan, teachers in early elementary, middle level, and high school groups will receive financial incentives of up to $300 annually if their pupils’ test scores improve. The teachers have agreed to several penny-pinching measures to help pay for the rewards.

Stop the Mail

Annoyed by thousands of student letters they received last year in support of a tax hike for education, Florida lawmakers recently introduced a bill to prohibit teachers from orchestrating letter-writing campaigns. They complained that teachers were foisting their personal opinions on students, who then parroted them in print. The original bill would have made it virtually impossible for teachers to assign classes to write letters that might influence officials at all, says Charlene Carres of the Florida American Civil Liberties Union. An amended version would only have barred teachers from requiring students to write letters with a particular viewpoint. “Frankly,” says Carres, “we could have lived with that.” But no one will have to; the bill died in a Senate panel.

An Early Summer

In March, the Kalkaska, Mich., public school district closed its schools and graduated its seniors because it lacked the funding to stay open until June. District officials announced their decision after local voters overwhelmingly voted down a 28 percent property tax increase necessary to overcome a $1.5 million shortfall in its $10.3 million budget. At press time, state officials and lawmakers were still trying to figure out what, if anything, they should do.

Health Hazard?

Eight utility companies in New York state have agreed to study the possible effects of high-voltage power lines near schools. State Attorney General Robert Abrams had requested the study because of research showing a possible link between exposure to electromagnetic fields and childhood leukemia. One company, Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., has already found 35 elementary and secondary schools in upstate New York that are within 100 feet of high-voltage lines—a distance considered potentially risky. The utility has agreed to make modifications on two power lines near Voorheesville School in the Albany area; one line that is 10 feet from the school building will be taken out of service, and another, 70 feet away, will have its power considerably reduced.

A Diploma At Last

Dave Thomas, the founder and folksy commercial spokesman for the Wendy’s fast-food chain, has received a high school equivalency diploma 45 years after dropping out of high school. Thomas, who developed the restaurant chain into a $3.6 billion-a-year business, received his diploma at a special ceremony at Coconut Creek High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he lives. The businessman, 60, left school at 15 to work in restaurants. Passing the seven-hour test, Thomas said, was “one of the most important accomplishments” of his life.

Dear Fidel

Students in Ron Steffey’s history class at Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, Va., have found a pen pal in Fidel Castro. Last fall, the class wrote the Cuban president after learning that, as a 12-year-old, Castro had written President Franklin Roosevelt asking for a $10 bill. The class enclosed a $10 bill with their letter. In March, a Cuban official in Washington, D.C., visited the school bearing a letter from the dictator along with a Cuban peso. The students are hoping the exchange will help renew the cordial relations between the two nations.

Homeschooled

A study of 53 adults who were taught at home by their parents suggests that homeschooling does not impair children socially. The study by J. Gary Knowles, an assistant professor of education at the University of Michigan, found that a typical number of the home- schooled adults had married, and none was unemployed or receiving welfare assistance. More than 40 percent of those studied had attended college, and 15 percent had completed a graduate degree.

Musical Comedy

Always in the vanguard of political correctness, the city of Berkeley, Calif., now can lay claim to a high school choir for the “melodically challenged.” Founded last fall by Monica White, a student at Berkeley High School, the six-member Tone Deaf Choir aims to broaden the singing opportunities available to students who never met a note they could hit. “We’re trying to make tone-deaf students feel better about their singing and not annoy the rest of the world in the attempt,” says Monica. While the Tone Deaf Choir has not yet graced live audiences with its cacophonous repertoire, it has performed “Auld Lang Syne” and “Amazing Grace” during local radio interviews. Monica doubts that too much practice will spoil the choir’s singular talent for offkey entertainment. “The point is not to get better,” she says, “but to have fun.”

A Novel Brief

The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal in March to review a legal battle over a sunken ship was a disappointment not only to the salvors who found it in 1987, but also to a group of educators who had filed an unusual friend-of-the-court brief in the case. The Court declined to review a lower-court ruling that the wreck of the S.S. Central America did not belong to the salvors but instead belonged to the descendants of American and British insurance companies that had paid claims after it sank in 1857. The steamer carried gold worth as much as $1 billion today. The educators’ brief urged the Justices to review the case. Their argument was novel, if perhaps not legally weighty: The search for the ship led to educational tie-in projects, and a ruling discouraging future undersea exploration “threatens to diminish invaluable educational opportunities made possible by modern telecommunications.” The project yielded a cable-television documentary and a videodisc curriculum for middle and high schools. In addition, students at six South Carolina schools talked with project workers via amateur radio, while working to plot the ship’s location and calculate the value of its gold.

Vol. 04, Issue 08, Pages 8-10

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