The California school board last month unanimously approved academic standards for the sciences, ending a long-running feud in the state. The battle had primarily pitted advocates of a traditional emphasis on academic content--including several Nobel Prize winners--against those who stressed hands-on learning. [See "Science Friction," August/September.] The guidelines approved by the board reflected more of the traditional approach. The new standards specify what students at every grade level should learn and what subjects students should take from the 6th grade through the 8th grade. Although some critics argue that the standards were too specific, one of the authors of the document claims it will not tie the hands of teachers. The standards "are meant to say what the results are," says Bill Evers, a member of the commission that wrote the standards and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a think tank based at Stanford University. "They are not meant to dictate the classroom process."
The U.S. Supreme Court last month rejected the appeal of North Carolina high school drama teacher Margaret Boring, disciplined by school officials after selecting a controversial play for her students to perform. [See "Dramatic License," October.] Boring had sued Buncombe County school officials after she was transferred to a middle school job because administrators said she failed to follow a controversial-materials policy in staging the play for a student competition. Both a federal district court and a federal appeals court rejected Boring's lawsuit. The appeals court ruled 7-6 last February that a drama teacher's selection of a play is a curriculum decision subject to the control of school administrators. In their appeal, Boring's lawyers argued that teachers have First Amendment protections against being disciplined for expressing controversial ideas in the classroom. The justices rejected the appeal without comment.
Public schools in Knox County, Tennessee, may give teachers drug tests regardless of whether they are suspected of using drugs, a federal appeals court has ruled. Teachers occupy "a singularly critical and unique role in society" by their daily contact with students, concluded the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, based in Cincinnati, in its September ruling. The case stemmed from one-time drug screenings given to teacher applicants in the 53,000-student school system. The Knox County Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, had challenged the tests and now plans to appeal the 6th Circuit's ruling.
A student who claims the airing of the Jerry Springer Show at his high school got him into a fight that left him injured is suing school officials in Stratford, Connecticut. Joseph Calore's September suit says the often-raucous television talk show, aired by a teacher during his class's midterm exam last January, sparked a disagreement between him and another student at Stratford High School. That led to a fight that left Calore with a broken jaw, headaches, severe shock to his nervous system, and bruises, according to the suit filed in superior court in Bridgeport. The 16-year-old is now seeking at least $15,000 in damages for his injuries. A lawyer for the 7,000-student district says the school is not responsible for the student's injuries.
Sound Of Silence
It's hard to believe, but classrooms can be built to be too quiet. That's the problem school officials in Barnstable, Massachusetts, have been grappling with ever since they discovered that 70 classrooms in a new $45 million wing at the local high school are so soundproof that students can't even hear the fire alarm go off. Until the district can upgrade the classrooms with $23,000 worth of attachments to the public address system so that the students can hear the alarms, district officials are shelling out $1,000 a day to keep three firefighters standing by at all times. They will be paid from the construction project's $1 million contingency fund. Despite the high cost, officials are making the most of the arrangement. "It's positive in the sense that I'm sure we're the safest place around because they're here," says principal Wayne Alexander of Barnstable High School.
Teenagers have been known to trade gossip, clothing, and even the occasional insult. But contact lenses? It's become popular, it seems, for junior high and high school students in Texas to share their contacts. Students are trading noncorrective colored contacts or ones with patterns, such as bull's-eyes or skulls, prompting state Attorney General Dan Morales to issue a warning in September to public school officials about the dangers of the fad. Sharing lenses, he cautioned, could cause viral and bacterial infections that could lead to permanent eye damage.
The Kettle Moraine district in Wales, Wisconsin, is requiring piano lessons for all K-5 pupils after seeing encouraging results from a pilot program. Private funding will enable the district to provide the lessons to 1,800 elementary students for 90 minutes a week for the rest of the year. The district's decision follows the success of the pilot, which was based on research suggesting that music training can enhance skills that help children understand math and science concepts. Beginning in 1996, kindergartners in two of the 4,200-student district's four elementary schools were given 20-30 minute piano lessons twice a week. Testing showed that the kindergartners who had the lessons scored 43 percent higher on solving puzzles and 53 percent higher on block building than those who did not.
An Oklahoma mother who says her children have been ridiculed by classmates has asked a federal court to end the practice of having students grade each other's papers and then calling the grades aloud. Although such peer grading is common in schools around the country, Kristja Falvo says it has embarrassed three of her children, who attend schools in grades 6, 7, and 8 in the Owasso district near Tulsa. Falvo asked a federal district court in Tulsa last week to halt the practice immediately, claiming it violates students' constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment by disclosing private information. In a court brief, the 6,300-student district rejected Falvo's claims and stated that in its grading system, papers are returned afterward to students, who then have the option of reporting their scores confidentially at the teacher's desk or reading them aloud. The district also argued that grades fall outside the protection of the 14th Amendment.
Vol. 10, Issue 3, Pages 10-12Published in Print: November 1, 1998, as News Briefs