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Miami: School shakeup

Supt. Rudy Crew plans an overhaul of 39 failing schools, according to the Aug. 17 Miami Herald. The plan includes 10 more days in the academic calendar, an extra hour in the school day, smaller classes and more training for teachers. Crew will have to negotiate with labor unions to implement the plan, but if the unions resist, Crew could take advantage of state Board of Education rules that allow districts to suspend union contracts in order to improve poorly performing schools. The director of United Teachers of Dade County says teachers who want to leave the 39 schools should be allowed to do so.

California: Funding lawsuit

The state has agreed to pay more than $1 billion to settle a class-action lawsuit charging that poor children were denied adequate textbooks, trained teachers and a safe school environment, according to the Aug. 11 Los Angeles Times. The proposed settlement, which is subject to approval by a judge, would require the state to spend $1 billion to improve 2,400 low-performing, deteriorating schools. The state will also pay nearly $139 million for new textbooks this fall.

Kentucky: GED program

A GED program for struggling students could result in schools dumping low-achieving students who might drag down test scores, according to the Aug. 12 Lexington Herald-Leader. Aimed at students who are still in school, the program requires that students take state tests and have their scores included in their school’s scores. But critics argue that requirement can be sidestepped because a student could complete the GED program, then be pushed to drop out before the end-of-year state tests are given.


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Police to take over school security. The New York City Board of Education will soon vote to put the Police Department in charge of school security, according to the Sept. 16 New York Times. Experts believe the plan would be the first of its kind.

The measure has undergone heated debate over the past five years. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has lobbied for the police takeover as a step toward improved school safety. The plan would shut a School Board security unit, which is being called the “F troop” in the wake of staff convictions. Critics of the plan say a police presence would give schools a prison atmosphere and could undermine principals’ authority in discipline matters. Former city schools Chancellor Ramon Cortines resigned in 1995 largely because of his “bitter feud” with Giuliani over the issue, according to the Times.

Rudy Crew, the current chancellor, opposed the plan initially but recently reached a compromise with the mayor: The Police Department will replace security guards on a one-for-one basis but not increase the security force. The measure, tentatively scheduled to take effect Nov. 1, would put 3,200 officers in 1,100 schools. Officers would not carry guns except at 128 schools already patrolled by police. Under the compromise, police, parents and school staff at each school would write up a safety plan.

How the measure would balance power between school officials and the Police Department remains unclear, according to the Times. For example, who decides whether a student should be arrested or suspended for a fistfight?

Some groups who initially opposed the measure support the compromise; others are withholding judgment until all the details are worked out, the paper reports.

Students interviewed by the Times expressed mixed feelings about the takeover: While safety might improve, they thought, many also feared police harassment. “With security guards, you could be friends,” said one high school senior. “With cops, there’s tension. We’re going to have to keep our distance.”

In Chicago, the school system is in charge of security, but uniformed police officers, working out of a special unit, are assigned to all high schools.


Teaching programs face skills test. Teacher education programs in Massachusetts may face closure if too many of their graduates fail a basic skills test, the Boston Globe reports in its Sept. 16 edition. The Massachusetts Board of Education voted to draft a proposal that would shut down college teaching programs if, for two consecutive years, more than 20 percent of their graduating students fail a basic skills test. The test is mandatory for teacher certification in Massachusetts and covers reading, writing and knowledge of the subject the graduate intends to teach. (Illinois also administers both a basic skills test and a subject-area test.)

When the Massachusetts test was given last April, 59 percent of aspiring teachers failed; in July, 47 percent failed. Only 2 of 54 colleges with students tested on those dates met the proposed cutoff: Harvard University and Wellesley College. This year, a total of 13 students completed teaching programs at those two schools.

Education deans say their schools are being unjustly blamed for the high failure rate, and note that the test has not yet been independently validated, the Globe reports. If approved, the state board’s proposal would not take effect until 2000.


Treatment of gay students rated. In a rating of how well 42 large school districts protect and support gay and lesbian students, Chicago and 16 other districts earned an ‘F.’

The report card released Sept. 10 by the New York-based Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) judged districts on six criteria, including whether they have a written policy specifically protecting students and staff from discrimination and harassment based on real or perceived sexual orientation, whether districts provide inservice training on issues affecting gay, lesbian and bisexual students, and whether the district has student groups that address homophobia. Chicago met none of these criteria.

In the Dade County (Miami, Fla.) public schools, one of eight districts that earned a perfect score, guidance counselors at 22 of 31 high schools offered gay and lesbian support groups last year, and students at five high schools started clubs, according to the Sept. 10 Miami Herald. Other districts receiving A’s are Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Francisco.

“Our big issue is safety,” Edda Cimino, a GLSEN co-chair in South Florida told the Herald. “These students have a right to learn in a safe environment. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t learn.”

Glsen also provided the Herald with these national statistics: About 19 percent of gay and lesbian students are physically attacked because of their sexual orientation; 13 percent skip school at least once a month due to such attacks; 26 percent eventually drop out.

The report was endorsed by the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and the National Association of School Psychologists.