06/1998 School Choice Roundup

Published June 1, 1998

School choice news from the states.

Hawaii * Illinois * Massachusetts
New York * Oregon


Vacationing Substitutes Get Jobless Pay

What’s better than being a public school teacher in Hawaii and getting the summer off to enjoy the sun, sand, surf, and scenery?

Being a substitute public school teacher in Hawaii and getting paid during your summer off.

An added attraction of working for Aloha State public schools is that when school breaks up for the summer, substitute teachers can head straight for the unemployment office and claim jobless pay until school resumes in the fall. Although the Hawaii Department of Education filed suit to halt the practice, Circuit Court Judge Ricki May Amano ruled on April 24 that substitute teachers were entitled to collect unemployment pay during the summer vacation.

The state’s Department of Labor had paid vacationing substitute teachers for years, but Department of Education officials questioned the practice when they assumed responsibility for the payments in January. Following the judge’s ruling, the only way to stop teachers collecting unemployment pay during their vacation is to change state law, a solution the education department may now seek.
Education Week
May 6, 1998


First Lady Contradicts President on Local Control

When President Bill Clinton attacked local control of education during a visit last year to a suburban school in Northbrook, Illinois, his comments received a chilly reception from his audience of suburban school officials and parents, who fund over 90 percent of their school costs locally.

“We can no longer hide behind our love of local control of the schools and use that as an excuse not to hold ourselves to high standards,” declared the President on January 22, 1997.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed a different viewpoint on local control of education during a recent visit to suburban Elk Grove Village, Illinois, where she acknowledged the Republican position that schools should be funded and operated entirely locally.

The federal government “can lend a hand without undermining local control,” said the First Lady. Accompanied by Democratic Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, Mrs. Clinton backed the senator’s campaign to use federal dollars for school repairs and computer connections.

A spokesperson for state senator Peter G. Fitzgerald, the Republican challenger in the Illinois U.S. Senate race, commented that “local school officials, and not Washington bureaucrats, are the best way to improve schools.”
Daily Herald
April 30, 1998


Students Know a Lot, But It’s Mostly Wrong

Far from being ignorant of inventors and their discoveries, Massachusetts fifth-graders actually “know” a great deal about them, according to Harvard University research associate Sandra Stotsky. The problem is that much of what the fifth-graders “know” is wrong. Here are some of the responses to a statewide test last November:

  • “Eli Whitney was the inventor of the Cottin Gin. I think she was black. . . . Ben Franklin invented the light bulb.”
  • “The famous inventor Albert Einstein had an interesting life and was very smart. When people didn’t buy his telephone or his early recorder, he kept on trying to make it work.”
  • “Smart, black inventor Thomas Edison patented many things. Two things he patented was one the phonograph, and second the light bulb. Many people liked Thomas even through he was black.”
  • A student who thought Einstein invented Morse code remarked that “Albert Einstein still doesn’t get enough credit for all that he did for mankind.”

Only 55 percent of the fifth-graders could name a real inventor, with some thinking that Nelson Mandela, John Travolta, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird were inventors. Two named “Teddy” Roosevelt and Mark Twain as inventors of the light bulb.
Education Week
April 1, 1998


Cooking the Books With Ghost Students

For each student enrolled in a New York City public school, the city and state together send per-capita student aid of over $4,100 to the school. The allure of more dollars for more students has proven to be too much of a temptation for some public school administrators, who have inflated enrollment figures with ghost students to garner additional funds for their schools.

The principal at Brandeis High School was removed earlier this year after it was discovered that hundreds of former students were still being marked present–even though they had moved out of the district, transferred to other schools, or simply dropped out. The ghost students apparently take up very little space when attending ghost classes: 381 were enrolled in a single gym class reportedly held in the school’s guidance office.

However, seeing the ghost students may bring bad luck. After dean Ricardo Brenes complained about 1,000 ghost students at Martin Luther King High School, his career suffered a reversal as he was transferred and demoted. A citywide investigation has been opened into his complaints.
The Wall Street Journal
April 8, 1998


Superintendent Candidate for School Choice

Although 32-year-old businessman Spencer Schock is a successful product of the Oregon public schools, he would bring profound changes to the state’s education al system if he wins the race for state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Instead of maintaining the public schools’ monopoly status, Schock would force them to compete for students in a free market educational system involving charter schools and a $3,000 tuition tax credit.

“If you look around the world, state-owned monopolies are being dismantled at an unprecedented rate,” he says, noting the U.S. has deregulated oil, air travel, busing, trucking, and telephones. With deregulation of electric and gas monopolies already under way, he says, “The only thing left is Social Security and the public school system.”

Only when Schock was about to graduate from the Oregon public schools did he realize something had been missing from his education. After twelve years of instruction, he couldn’t diagram sentences for his valedictory speech. It got worse when he went to college.

“When I got to Stanford, I noticed the enormous gulf between the education I had received versus the one those who had spent twelve years in private school had received,” he said.
The Oregonian
May 7, 1998