12/1997 School Choice Roundup

Published December 1, 1997

California * Colorado * Florida * Illinois
New York * North Carolina * Wisconsin


Show Us the Money!

Although the state is providing funds to reduce class sizes in California schools, the Riverbank Teachers Association claims that its teachers’ contract entitles teachers to about one-third of those funds. Diverting the money to teachers would have required the district to come up with the rest of the class-size reduction funding out of its own reserves. Rather than provide a windfall to the union, Superintendent Joe Galindo increased second- and third-grade class sizes.
Education Intelligence Agency


Mom, This Is Homework!

In a move likely to delight students and frustrate parents, video games are being assigned as homework to students at three Westminster elementary schools. The three-year $500,000 program, which is being conducted at nine other school districts nationwide, provides students with a Sony PlayStation and educational software for use at home. School officials admit they have no control over whether the students use the equipment to play conventional video games, but claim the students are more apt to do homework when provided with the equipment.

Ten-year-old Brandon Shields likes the program because, he says, “I don’t have to write.” Microsoft, Comcast, and TCI have all invested in Lightspan Partnership Inc., the company that produces the video lessons.
Denver Post


Students Face Random Drug Tests

In the first program of its kind in the nation, the Dade County School Board recently approved a $200,000 random drug testing program that would subject about 5,000 of the county’s 82,000 high school students to urinalysis for marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs. Parents who enroll their children in the program will receive the results of the urinalysis, together with suggestions on where to get help if their children need it. Individual test results will not be made available to school officials, who will instead receive cumulative information on the number of students who test positive and the drugs they are using.

Although the measure’s sponsor, Renier Diaz del la Portilla, described the plan as “parental empowerment,” another board member, Betsy Kaplan, labeled the program “invasive and reminiscent of a police state.”
Los Angeles Times


Teachers’ Strike Gets Nasty

Striking teachers yelled obscenities and made rude gestures at children in the North Greene School District in White Hall, Illinois when over 900 of them attempted to return to lessons taught by substitutes.

“Demonstrators also handed out fliers that viciously attacked the so-called ‘scabs’ in tasteless language far too graphic and ignorant for impressionable young eyes,” charged an Alton Telegraph editorial, adding “These are not the actions of teachers who care for their students.”

Before returning to work in late October without a settlement, striking teachers also made harassing telephone calls and picketed local businesses. Police confiscated a four-pound pick handle being waved at motorists by one striker; another striker jumped on the hood of a parent’s car, yelling obscenities.
Alton Telegraph
Jacksonville Journal Courier


Parents to Grade Teachers

Under the terms of a new teacher contract that includes a 17 percent pay increase over four years, Rochester parents now have an opportunity to grade their children’s teachers on such factors as academic performance, clarity of learning expectations, and homework assignments. Parents are restricted to commenting only on the teacher’s “home involvement,” and their comments must be returned not to the school administration but to the teachers directly.

In addition to home involvement, the new performance contract evaluates teachers on teaching practices, knowledge of subject matter, and their contribution to the life of the school and the profession.

While the Rochester contract does not permit parents to evaluate whether a teacher knows the subject matter of the class and how to teach it, a new Alaska state law has made these items a required part of parent and community input into teacher and administrator performance evaluations in the states’s public schools.
Education Week

4 Out of 5 Flunk Math Exam

A trial run of a new state math exam demonstrated that students would need to take more challenging courses to meet the state’s more rigorous high school graduation requirements. While only 19 percent of students earned passing grades overall, the rate rose to 62 percent for students enrolled in honors course. The new exam, which is based on revised curriculum standards that the state adopted last year, will be available as an option by 1999 and administered statewide by 2002.
Education Week


Teaching Road Rage in Driver Ed

Two female students enrolled in a Durham County Schools driver education class were given a hands-on lesson in road rage on September 19 when another car cut them off and, according to police, their instructor told them to chase after it. When they caught up, instructor David Cline got out of the car and punched the other driver, Jon David Macklin, on the nose. Macklin fled and Cline allegedly ordered the students to give chase again. Police pulled the student driver over for speeding but, after hearing Macklin’s story, arrested Cline, who has since resigned from the school district.

Road rage is estimated to be involved in one-third of all fatal car crashes, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.
Durham Herald Sun


Parents Should Be Seen, Not Heard

Citing the “adverse effect” that some parents are known to have upon the care, development, and education of their children, some Milwaukee Public Schools employees are questioning a plan that would allow parents and community members to participate in running local schools. “Our most glaring concern,” staff of the Eighth Street School wrote in a letter to the Milwaukee School Board, “is that the education of our Milwaukee Public Schools students would not be served best if educational decisions . . . were determined by volunteer parents instead of trained educational professionals.”

The local teachers’ union wasn’t happy with the power shift, either. “Under this proposal, volunteers would have the majority,” said Barry Gilbert, assistant executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. “What if they made bad decisions that end up harming children? Who is responsible?”
Education Intelligence Agency