News In Brief

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Don't Ask

Michigan officials have pulled a social studies question from the state's 8th grade test following complaints from Arab and Jewish groups. The multiple-choice question asked students to identify the religions contributing to turmoil in the Middle East. The answer, according to the testmakers: "Islam and Judaism." Critics argued that the region's conflicts are political and economic, not religious.

Parents Lose

A state appeals court has ruled that a Denver parents' group cannot sue over an allegedly "abysmal pattern of poor performance" in the city's public schools. The suit, brought against the district by the Denver Parents Association on behalf of 3,400 parents in the city, charged that the school system fails to provide textbooks and maintain classroom discipline, "dumbs down" performance standards, and misuses credit waivers to improve graduation rates.

Razing Money

The Jefferson County, Colorado, school board has voted to allow citizens to raise money to remodel the library and cafeteria at Columbine High School. The two rooms were the primary locations of the shootings last April that left 15 people dead. The $3.1 million project will replace the library with an atrium that leads to the cafeteria and build a new library elsewhere in the building. Some students and parents say they want the library to remain intact and argue that the money would be better spent on counseling and school security.

Straw Men

The Hastings Mallory School in Oswego, New York, suspended five 4th grade boys in February for poking straws at bodies pictured on juice cartons. The principal of the 450-student school deemed the behavior sexual harassment and sent the boys home for two days.


Mississippi has the highest corporal punishment rate in the nation, according to a recent report from the Ohio-based National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment. The group found that more than 12 percent of the state's students had been struck with a paddle by a teacher at least once during the 1996-97 school year. Corporal punishment is banned in the District of Columbia and 27 states.

On The Job

The latest findings from a long-term study of students in career academies—small "learning communities" that offer vocational and academic training within larger schools—indicate that they help at-risk students stay in school. Manpower Demonstration Research Corp., the nonprofit conducting the study, notes that 32 percent of the "high risk" students who did not attend a career academy dropped out of high school, compared with 21 percent of other students. The same study also found that career academies seemed to have no effect on students' standardized-test scores.

Lux Lobbying

The Illinois board of education and the two boards overseeing the state's higher education system have hired a top Washington lobbying firm to pursue more federal funding for the state. The agencies are spending $182,000 on a five-month contract with Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers, a law firm that's represented corporate giants such as Philip Morris and Microsoft. In the contract, state officials specify that the firm is expected to help increase Illinois' federal education funding by 6 percent. While a handful of education agencies in large states such as California and New York have Washington representatives, observers say the high profile—and cost—of the Barbour firm is unprecedented.

.Com And Get It

Former U.S. Secretary of Education and presidential candidate Lamar Alexander has helped launch a procurement Web site for educators. Called, the site aims

to make shopping for school supplies easier and cheaper by letting officials place Internet orders with vendors. "We're going to help schools use the Internet to save money, whether they are buying frogs for biology class or erasers or school buses," Alexander said at the site's February launch.

Strike Out

Oklahoma's attorney general has put the kibosh on plans to insert language in the state's science textbooks questioning the theory of evolution. In November, the state textbook committee approved a statement that described evolution as "a controversial theory which some scientists present as a scientific explanation for origin of living things." The committee cited objections raised by those who criticize the theory on religious grounds. Attorney General Drew Edmondson blocked the move, however, claiming the group had exceeded its authority. State law permits the committee only to accept or reject textbooks submitted for consideration by book publishers.

Trip Slip

Chicago school officials have disciplined high school Spanish teacher Christine Matishek for leaving a student behind at the end of a three-week exchange trip to Spain. When 16-year-old Morgan Park High School student Preston Ross III lost his passport, Matishek arranged for a chaperone to assist him in securing a new one in Madrid while she and 18 other students returned to the United States as scheduled on February 12. Ross followed several days later. Officials assigned Matishek, a 26-year veteran teacher, to a non-teaching job at Morgan Park High for three days.


The Philadelphia school board has approved a plan to install 200 video cameras on school buses to encourage better behavior and promote safety. Though the district once assigned adult monitors to every bus, it has been phasing them out to cut costs. The district currently rotates 20 cameras among buses that no longer have monitors on board. Of the district's 950 buses, about 500 carry special education students. Most of these will continue to have adult attendants.

Calculator Risk

Students have complained that the calculators state officials gave them to use in the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in February were malfunctional. Students claim miscalculations occurred when they punched in numbers quickly on the Casio HS-10 calculators. The manufacturer is investigating the glitch, but state officials don't expect the incident to affect test results.

Magic Marker Michelangelos

Lance Rahman, Alyse Small, and Nick Horst, 2nd graders at Ferdinand Elementary School in Ferdinand, Indiana, didn't get in trouble for doodling on the furniture in January. Their teacher, Susan Pund, had her class sketch mini-masterpieces on the bottom of their desks to learn what it must have been like for Italian artist Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Vatican City. The working conditions were slightly different, of course: The kids didn't risk vertigo, and Michelangelo didn't risk finding gum on the ceiling.

Vol. 11, Issue 7, Pages 14-16

Published in Print: April 1, 2000, as News In Brief
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