05/1998 School Choice Roundup

Published May 1, 1998

California * Colorado * Connecticut
Pennsylvania * Texas * Wisconsin


Toy Teaches Phonics

When Mike Wood’s pre-school son had trouble sounding out letters seven years ago, Wood helped teach him to read by using phonics. Discovering no toy on the market to teach phonics, in 1995 Woods left his law job to develop one, starting up a firm called LeapFrog to produce the Phonics Desk, a $50 toy that teaches the shapes, sounds, and pronunciation of letters and words.

Within two years, the popular Phonics Desk was on the shelves at Toys R Us, FAO Schwartz, Target, and many other chain stores. Woods also had merged LeapFrog with Knowledge Kids Enterprises Inc., a division of the Knowledge Universe education company founded by a group of investors including Michael Milken. In March, Knowledge Universe acquired Children’s Discovery Centers of America Inc., which operates 248 preschools and elementary schools in 22 states and Washington, DC.

LeapFrog now makes 17 toys, including innovative math games that teach counting, addition, and multiplication, plus a green plush frog called “Little Leap” that teaches phonics, shapes, colors, and the names of animals. As well as helping children learn to read at home, at day care centers, in after-school programs, and in more than 1,000 reading centers operated by the Riordan Foundation, LeapFrog toys also will soon be donated to more than 600 Head Start centers nationwide.
Contra Costa Times
March 31, 1998


School Construction Funding Suit Filed

Colorado’s system for financing school construction and repair should be declared unconstitutional, according to a class action suit filed January 13 by parents in five rural Colorado school districts. The lawsuit argues that under the existing finance system, which is based on local property taxes, some students attend schools “not fit for habitation, while other students in neighboring school districts attend schools with virtually unlimited educational facilities.”

In one case cited in the lawsuit, going up to the maximum bonded indebtedness allowed by law would permit the Lake County School District to raise only $8 million for capital improvements, when some $16 million is required to fix its schools.
Education Week
February 4, 1998


Education Funding Suit Filed

On behalf of seven schoolchildren as plaintiffs, twelve cities and towns in Connecticut have filed a joint lawsuit alleging that the state has not met its constitutional obligations for adequate financing of public education. If education funding were increased to the levels requested in the lawsuit, it could cost the state more than $160 million a year.

Criticizing the lawsuit as unnecessary, Governor John Rowland said the issue should be addressed not by the courts but by the state legislature. State Senator John Gaffey, cochair of the Senate Education Committee, said the problem is not state financing but the state’s reliance on property taxes to pay for local schools.

“What the towns want is property tax relief, and that’s what the whole issue is about,” he commented.
New York Times
March 19, 1998


State Board Eliminates OBE

The Pennsylvania State Board of Education won praise from Governor Tom Ridge and Education Secretary Eugene W. Hickok in March when the board voted to adopt two key education reform initiatives: eliminating outcome-based education and raising the minimum requirements for becoming a teacher in Pennsylvania. Replacing OBE will be a set of clearly written, measurable rigorous academic standards and a set of local guidelines for the development of curriculum and regular assessment of school and student progress in grades five, eight, and eleven.

Under the new rules, future teachers in Pennsylvania will be required to maintain a 3.00 grade point average in undergraduate liberal arts and general studies courses before enrolling in a Pennsylvania college of education. In the college of education, they will be required to maintain the same 3.00 GPA in the discipline they intend to teach.

Among other education reforms that Hickok will ask the Board of Education to consider is a recommendation for alternative certification, which will enable talented, qualified college graduates to obtain state certification through a one-year apprenticeship or internship program after passing the appropriate certification exam.
Pennsylvania Department of Education


TesseracT to Operate Two Charter Schools

The TesseracT Group Inc. (formerly Educational Alternatives Inc.) has been awarded contracts to operate its first two charter schools in Texas, with an expected enrollment of approximately 400 in 1998-99 and a combined capacity to accommodate 900 students. One school, located in Houston, will offer preschool and kindergarten services as well as classes in grades 9-12. The other, located in San Antonio, initially will provide classes in grades 6-12, but ultimately will serve students in grades K-12.

“These two new charter schools, along with the recently announced charter contract that we were awarded in New Jersey, are meaningful steps toward the achievement of our planned school openings for next school year,” said John T. Golle, chairman and chief executive officer of The TesseracT Group. In early April, New Jersey’s Pleasantville Charter School for Academic Excellence awarded TesseracT a contract to manage its charter school beginning in the 1998-99 academic year.

The TesseracT Group now operates 37 schools in seven states, serving over 5,000 preschool to post-secondary students. Current operations include four private TesseracT Schools–one each in Minnesota, New Jersey, Indiana and Arizona–and 31 preschool centers operated by TesseracT subsidiary Sunrise Educational Services, primarily in Arizona. Sunrise has expanded into the operation of public charter schools and currently provides these services in many of its Arizona centers.
The TesseracT Group, Inc.
April 7, 1998


“Sick” Teachers Force Schools Closure

Students in the Racine public schools earlier this year received a lesson from their teachers on the importance of precision in the English language.

Wisconsin state law bars strikes by public employees, including teachers. So when contract negotiations between Racine school district officials and the Racine teachers union broke down in February, hundreds of teachers suddenly called in “sick” and failed to show up for work at the schools.

The school district was forced to close several buildings during the week of February 14 as “sickness” struck teachers at a different group of schools each day. Without adequate teacher supervision, some students left school grounds and 300 students staged a walkout at one high school.

Concerned that a continuing “sickout” would jeopardize student safety, administrators closed down the 21,000-student system for two days the following week, an action that the union leaders called a “lockout.” Both sides agreed to restart negotiations and reopen the schools on February 25.
Education Week
March 4, 1998