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Voucher schools unaccredited

Florida—Ten of 34 schools that received vouchers this year under an education bill touted by Gov. Jeb Bush were unaccredited, according to the May 26 Palm Beach Post. Last year, six of 24 voucher schools were unaccredited. Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings says the law does not demand accreditation. But members of Bush’s own Republican party are demanding an investigation. “I know what I meant. The schools had to be accredited,” said Sen. Anna Cowin, who sponsored the bill.

Reading readiness improves

Arizona—Kindergarteners in the state’s 63 lowest-performing schools showed dramatic improvements in reading readiness over the school year, thanks to new reading programs and intensive teacher training, according to the May 20 Arizona Republic. Last year, only nine percent of full-day kindergarten students at the 63 schools had adequate pre-reading skills. Nine months later, more than half those students had improved their skills and were ready for 1st grade.

Teacher tests may be dropped

North Carolina—Lawmakers are considering dropping subject-area exams to make it easier for more out-of-state teachers to obtain in-state licenses, according to the April 28 News & Observer. Gov. Mike Easley opposes the idea, saying he does not want to lower standards to meet federal No Child Left Behind mandates, which state that schools must have fully licensed teachers in every class. A third of some 10,000 middle and high-school teachers hired every year in North Carolina are recruited from out of state.

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NATIONAL

Clinton’s bilingual line echoes Chicago. In announcing his opposition to a California ballot initiative that would ban bilingual education in that state, President Bill Clinton said he favors a clamp-down on bilingual programs, specifically a three-year time limit for students in the program to learn English. Clinton’s proposal echoes a new bilingual education policy passed in February by the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees.

The three-year goal represents an acknowledgment of widespread criticism of bilingual programs, according to the New York Times. Previously, the federal goal was three to five years.

Activists who support bilingual education said that they welcomed Clinton’s opposition to the California ballot initiative, but they opposed his proposed time limit for bilingual students. “We know that bilingual education works best without a time limit,” Ambrosio Rodriguez, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), told the Los Angeles Times. MALDEF’s Chicago office is one of several citywide groups opposed to the Chicago School Board’s new bilingual policy.

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans introduced bills that would gut federal support for bilingual education programs, according to Education Week.

Rep. Frank D. Riggs (R-Cal.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Children, Youth and Families, introduced a bill in April that would transfer control of federal bilingual programs to the states through block grants. Like California’s Proposition 227, Riggs’s bill would require parental permission before a non-English-speaking child could be placed in a class taught in the child’s native language.

Another bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Delay (R-Tex.), would go even further, abolishing the federal Office of Bilingual Education.

California voters were scheduled to vote on Proposition 227—also known as the Unz Initiative, after its chief sponsor, California businessman Ron Unz—a few days after Catalyst’s press time, but the measure was widely expected to pass. The proposition would dismantle most bilingual education and English-as-a-Second Language programs in California’s public schools. California currently enrolls 1.4 million students in some form of bilingual instruction, more than in any other state, and a quarter of the state’s children are not proficient in English.

MILWAUKEE

Local councils considered. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson started the year with a threat to take over Milwaukee’s distressed public school system unless it showed rapid improvement. Once that idea ran into constitutional questions and strong opposition in Milwaukee, state legislators responded with three different proposals to revamp the district this spring, including one that would have installed a five-member local reform council at each low- performing school in the city, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.

None of the proposals passed before the Legislature left Madison for the summer.

Under the local-council proposal, low-performing schools would have been selected in 2001, based on standards set by the Milwaukee School Board. Each failing school would have been turned over to a five-member council, which would include at least two parents and one teacher. The appointment of these members would have been split between the City Council and the School Board, with the former getting to name four members. Members were to serve four-year terms, and the councils would have had authority over staffing, curriculum and budget.

The Senate passed the local-council proposal, but the Assembly did not agree on many of the particulars. The Assembly passed amendments that removed the local councils, as well as some extra funding for summer school and after-school programs. Those amendments were defeated in the Senate, and the bill died there.

NEW YORK CITY

Study backs small schools. Researchers at New York University say that the city’s alternative high schools with fewer than 600 students are slightly more cost effective than high schools with more than 2,000 students.

The schools with fewer than 600 students cost more per student enrolled: $7,628 annually, compared with $6,218 at larger schools. However, they graduate a larger percentage of students in four years—63 percent, compared with 56 percent for larger schools. As a result, the smaller schools cost less per graduate: $49,553 over four years, compared with $49,578 for larger schools.

The figures are drawn from a study of the graduating Class of 1996 at 128 high schools, 21 of which had fewer than 600 students. Dozens of new small schools were not included in the study because they had not been around long enough to produce four years of data on a cohort of entering freshmen.

“A lot of the literature says small is good—particularly for poor and minority students,” Leanna Stiefel, the study’s primary author and an NYU economics professor, told Education Week. “So it’s good to put costs alongside of schools and find that, even when you do that, the costs relative to performance are good.”