Current Events

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Small Pay Raise

The average teachers' salary last year was $35,813, up 2.3 percent from the previous year, according to a study released in October by the American Federation of Teachers. That was the smallest pay increase in the 35 years the AFT has analyzed salary trends. When adjusted for inflation, teachers' earnings actually decreased last year. That has happened only one other time since 1981. Connecticut posted the highest average teachers' salary at $50,389, while Mississippi's was the lowest at $25,153. The study was based on data from the U.S. and state departments of education.

The Ax Falls

The Gwinnett County, Ga., school board has fired a teacher who defied a new state law mandating that each school day begin with a moment of silence. On the first day of school, Brian Bown, a government teacher at South Gwinnett High School, refused to comply with the mandate and continued lecturing instead. [See "Current Events,'' October.] When pressed by school officials, he walked off the job. The board voted Sept. 22 to dismiss him for "insubordination.'' Bown has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the moment-of-silence provision.

Uniform Policy

White-and-blue uniforms are standard attire this year for most elementary and middle school students in California's Long Beach Unified School District. Last January, the 57,000-student district approved a plan to require uniforms, making it one of the first large public school districts nationwide to do so. Still, parents may opt out of the program if they wish. Other California districts may soon follow Long Beach's lead. Gov. Pete Wilson recently signed into law a measure allowing districts to enact student dress codes--including uniform requirements. The governor says the new legislation should help districts ban gang colors and symbols.

A Reversal

Under orders from a federal appeals court, a family of Sikh children re-entered their California classrooms in mid-September wearing the ceremonial knives that had forced them to miss the second semester last year and the start of school this year. A federal district judge worked out the terms of the children's return, following a legal stalemate between their lawyer and Livingston Union School District officials, who believe the knives--central to the Sikh religion--pose a safety hazard. The terms stipulate that the knives, called kirpans, must be dulled, sewn into sheaths, and worn under the children's clothing. They are also subject to inspection by school officials. In an earlier preliminary ruling, the district judge said the school system could bar the knives. [See "Current Events,'' August.] The Sikh family appealed that ruling.

Common Ground

Twenty-three Pennsylvania education groups have banded together to launch a public-relations blitz designed to make sure citizens in the state hear an occasional good word about public schools. The Pennsylvania Coalition for Public Education includes teachers' unions, administrators' groups, and a number of other organizations. Spurred by increasingly vocal critics of the state's public schools, the various groups--many of which often line up on opposite sides of issues--have forged some common ground, according to David Sallack, president of the group. Representatives of the coalition have visited newspaper editorial boards, met with parents' groups, and distributed jargon-free issue papers on such topics as school finance and vouchers.

Candid Camera

Thousands of Delaware students boarded their school buses in September under the watchful eye of a video camera. The state is the first in the nation to outfit a portion of its bus fleet with hidden cameras to monitor student behavior. About 80 of the state's 1,250 buses carry the surveillance device inside a black box affixed to the ceiling. The others have an empty black box, but one-way mirrors prevent students from knowing which vehicles contain a camera. A pilot project last year convinced school officials to take the effort statewide. One school bus that had numerous discipline problems was transformed after the cameras were installed. "People called it the bus from hell that went to church,'' one state official said.

Service Comes First

The first high school in the country specifically devoted to community service opened its doors in September, promising to supplement textbooks with "real life'' education. Named after a Rhode Island philanthropist who donated $500,000 to launch it, the Feinstein High School for Public Service in Providence requires its 160 students to engage in several hours of community service each week as a condition of graduation. Students will advance from "explorer'' to "master'' to "major'' status based on various performance assessments. Instruction will be divided into three areas: ethics, service, and community studies; humanities; and technology.

Housing A School

The Houston school district and the city's housing authority have teamed up with Texas Southern University to open a laboratory school in a public-housing proj-
ect next fall. Eight apartments in two buildings will be renovated to house the public elementary school, which will enroll about 130 students. The Cuney Homes project is located near Texas Southern, a historically African-American university. The school will be staffed with district teachers, and education majors from the university will serve as student teachers.

Rules Are Rules

At LaMoure Elementary School in Bismarck, N.D., students learn that rules are rules and that they must be followed by everyone. So when state Gov. Edward Schafer arrived an hour late for a visit last month, he was given a tardy slip and sentenced to a half-hour detention. "We were waiting and waiting--so we had a whole hour to think up what we could do,'' says LaMoure principal Christine Hager. Although the governor did not stick around for detention, he did return the note, signed by his father.

Channel One Sold

K-III Communications Corp. has purchased the Whittle Educational Network, whose principal property is the controversial advertising-supported Channel One classroom news show. K-III, a diverse New York City-based media company that owns such educational enterprises as Weekly Reader, is paying about $250- million for the network. Christopher Whittle, founder of Channel One, will remain the nominal head of the network but will not be involved in day-to-day operations.

Vol. 06, Issue 03, Page 1-24

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