Topics in the News
Affirmative action, which relies upon race-or gender-based preferences in school admissions, public hiring, and public contracting decisions for an institution, suffered a major defeat in the 1990s. California voters passed Proposition 209 in November 1996, making the state the first in the nation to bar state-sponsored affirmative action programs. After extensive legal battles, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the case that ruled that the law did not violate the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment. Also in 1996, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Louisiana, struck down an affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. That decision effectively banned race-based admissions at state-run schools in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, the three states that came under the jurisdiction of the appeals court.
President Bill Clinton at the commencement address of the University of San Diego in 1997 said, "I know that the people of California voted to repeal affirmative action without any ill motive. The vast majority of them simply did it with a conviction that discrimination and isolation are no longer barriers to achievement. But consider the results. Minority enrollments in law school and other graduate programs are plummeting for the...
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As reports of violence and a lack of appreciable rise in achievement scores plagued American schools, parents increasingly looked for options to sending their children to the local public school. School reform advocates, tired of fighting within the system, sought to develop alternatives to the public school system. Still others argued that the best way to hold the public schools accountable for performance was through the tried and true economic method-consumer choice. John Chubb and Terry Moe, in their provocative work, Politics, Markets, and America's Schools (1990), argued for a theory once proposed by Nobel prize winning economist, Milton Friedman: that free enterprise was necessary to force failing institutions out of business. While government could establish standards, a free-market system of private institutions providing education would inevitably use market forces to improve performance. Public debate on the options continued throughout the decade, with the various options gaining strength with changes in the ruling parties of the local, state, and federal governments. Although less than one-half of the people in an annual Gallup Poll favored allowing students to choose a private school at public expense, the numbers who agreed with the idea grew steadily during the 1990s, from 26 percent in 1991 to 44 percent in 1998.
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Ever critical of standardized testing as the sole means of measuring ability in students, countless educational reformers continued the mantra that assessments should be performance-based, that authentic methods of assessment were crucial. Noted assessment researcher Grant Wiggins said in his dynamic work, Understanding by Design (1998), "If tests determine what teachers actually teach and what students will study for—and they do—then test those capacities and habits we think are essential and test them in context." And yet, standardized tests, whether administered on a district or national level, continued to be the norm in terms of not only measuring student abilities, but also in measuring schools. Principals routinely bemoaned the fact that local newspapers published standardized test scores in a format that was designed to "rank" schools according to their average scores. They knew that the picture of a school's success was much richer than could be shown by a single score, and their attitudes mirrored the sentiments of reformers who fought for similar changes in the evaluation of students.
The Coalition of Essential Schools founder, Ted Sizer, in the article "Telling Silences" from the January 1996 Education Digest said, "The measures on which we ultimately depend have to plumb well what we...
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Goals 2000: Educate America Act
On 25 February 1990, the National Governors' Association adopted a set of six goals designed to boost student achievement in the United States by the year 2000. The goals were developed by the governors in consultation with the White House, and were based on a plan developed at an education summit that President George Bush had held with the nation's governors in September 1989. As the government continued to further define the objectives and budgeting issues that accompanied the bold move, critics and supporters began the debate on the appropriateness of federal intervention in a state mandate-public education. Key among the questions was how progress on the goals would be determined and whether a clear delineation between church and state was made in light of implied support for vouchers.
A New Law.
In March 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law. In addition to the original six goals, two were added that involved teacher training and the role of parents in a child's education. (The last objective caused great concern among conservative groups and was later amended.) Although considered by some an ineffective compromise, the law encouraged each state to set its own competency standards in lieu of a single set of national standards. The 1996 revision, designed to answer some criticisms about the role of the...
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The arguments over political correctness were not new to the 1990s, but took on a life of their own when discussions of college and school curricula were hotly debated in the media. On one side stood reformists who wished to see the inclusion of multicultural history and literature, on the other, conservatives who argued for a basic core curriculum that retained much of what had been known as the heart of the western civilization. In an ever-expanding field of knowledge, what was essential and what could be saved for later, more in-depth study? Proponents of the need to expand the concept of history argued that the dominant, "dead white males" of typical Western Civilization courses were but a small fraction of the picture of our past and needed to be expanded to include the contributions of women and those of various ethnic heritages. Critics charged that to forego the study of crucial individuals and facts in order to emphasize contributions by all subgroups of the population failed to provide students with a basic foundation to interpret the events, movements, and eras of history.
The media's attention was drawn to the debate as it centered on the national history standards proposed by a team of educators and historians supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Eliciting harsh criticisms, the...
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A study released by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in 1993 reported that 85 percent of all girls and 76 percent of all boys in grades eight through eleven said that they had been sexually harassed in some manner in school. A survey conducted by Louis Harris & Associates of 1,632 boys and girls in public schools concluded that "sexual harassment in schools is creating a hostile environment that compromises the education of America's children." The survey characterized sexual harassment as "unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior," ranging from sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks to forced physical activity. Critics contended that the report used too broad a definition of sexual harassment.
Seventy-six percent of all girls polled and 56 percent of boys said they had been the recipients of unwanted sexual comments or looks. Sixty-five percent of girls and 42 percent of boys said they had been touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual manner. About 80 percent of such harassment was by other students, while the rest stemmed from teachers and staff, the poll found. Seventy percent of girls who reported being harassed said that they felt "very" or "somewhat upset" when they were subjected to such behavior, compared with 24 percent of boys. About one-third of the girls who reported...
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Single Sex Education
In 1992, a report issued by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) stated that girls faced widespread bias in classrooms across the United States. In the report, "How Schools Shortchange Women," researchers surveyed more than one thousand previous studies and articles on girls and education. Among the key findings cited in the report were the following:
- Girls continued to score lower than boys on standardized tests in mathematics and science, even though their grades in the classroom tended to be higher.
- Teachers called on boys more often, gave them more detailed criticism and allowed them to shout out answers while reprimanding girls for doing the same.
- Few girls chose to pursue careers in math or science, and few teachers encouraged them to do so.
- Many textbooks continued to stereotype women and failed to address issues of concern to women, such as discrimination and sexual abuse.
Although the report was designed to encourage a change in behavior in the co-ed classroom, the report was read by many as a mandate to pursue single-sex education.
In the following years, the media focused on how several states, specifically New York and California, experimented with...
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A Contested Theory.
In spite of its virtually universal acceptance among biologists as a fundamental scientific principle, evolution remained a point of contention in the 1990s in many classrooms, school boards, and among conservative Christian parents. Although the idea of natural selection occurred to naturalists Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Robert Darwin at about the same time, Darwin got On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859) into print first, and it was his name that became attached to the theory. Both Darwin and Wallace had been looking for a way to explain biological diversity. Briefly put, the theory of evolution by means of natural selection posits that individuals within a population differ in small ways, and these variations can be inherited. Farmers in the nineteenth century knew, for example, that black sheep tended to beget black sheep, and since black wool was less valuable than white, the shepherds prevented sheep with darker coats from breeding. This artificial selection, Darwin believed, had a counterpart in the natural world where some traits—size, coloration, or sense of smell—were desirable in that they made it more likely that an individual would reproduce either by making itself more attractive to the opposite sex (or, in the case of flowers, to pollinating bees) or...
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The proliferation of technology during the 1990s obviously affected schools around the country. As Vice President Al Gore said regarding the expansion of technology in schools in remarks to the 1994 National Education Association Higher Education Conference, "the net result will be to elevate our ability to equip the children and adults seeking education in this nation as we have never been able to do before." Computer technology became a necessary addition to the infrastructure of every school in the nation. Indeed, in some ways it redefined the concept of "school" through its ability to allow instruction and interaction to happen in more than one distinct location simultaneously. What once was a luxury became a requirement for schools. As the decade progressed so did expectations of students, parents, and employers about the school's ability to provide the necessary skills to function in an increasingly technical world.
As the use of the Internet became more commercialized in the latter part of the 1990s, it is hard to remember it was originally intended to connect university and government researchers across the nation and eventually the world with each other's data. A change in its use occurred when publishers wished to print their materials online. Copyright became an issue and programmers were set to...
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Violence in Schools
Perhaps more than any other educational issue in the 1990s, the subject of violence in schools made news. A rash of gun violence in seemingly "safe" suburban schools around the country indicated that violence was not just an urban problem. Lobbyists for and against gun control entered into heated debates about the cause of the problem. Hollywood, video games, parents, schools, and lack of religion all were blamed. In a mad search for the solution, few analysts could agree on the root of the problem. For the first time since the early 1970s, violence was seen as one of the major problems in schools according to the annual Gallup poll taken on public attitudes toward the public schools. It topped the list in 1998.
For years, isolated incidents of killings, shootings, stabbings, and other school violence saddened the country, but were acknowledged more as random acts of evil that were symptomatic of the plight of poor schools or sometimes the result of a single deranged mind. It wasn't until a pattern of mass shootings occurred around the country in the late 1990s that attention was focused on the problem as a national concern. How could these monstrous events happen? Was no one aware of the intentions of these shooters? How could they get their hands on these weapons of destruction? What was their...
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Annenberg, Walter H. 1908-
PHILANTHROPIST; PUBLISHER; DIPLOMAT
The Key to Leadership.
The 1990s provided Walter H. Annenberg the opportunity to contribute to one of the most fundamental causes he supported throughout his life—education. Long a financial supporter of various colleges and universities, Annenberg turned his eye to America's public schools with an unprecedented gift of $500 million. His shift in focus underscored his belief that education is what "holds civilization together," and that kindergarten through twelfth grade is where children grow intellectually and develop character and where our attentions must dwell. His 1993 announcement of matching grants to improve education in public schools was Annenberg's effort in turning attention to what he considered a national security issue: eleven-year-olds shooting each other was a nightmare for this country's future.
Walter Annenberg spent the better part of his adult life rebuilding the family fortune after his father was sent to jail and charged fines of $9.5 million in the late 1930s for tax evasion. As the sole son in a family of eight, Walter was named heir to...
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Cheney, Lynne V. 1941-
AUTHOR, CHAIRPERSON OF THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES
Lynne Cheney served as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for seven years under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush while facing several highly public and controversial issues, not the least of which was the debate surrounding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) support of a controversial exhibit by artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Her background as an avid champion of education at all levels led the NEH, however, to expand its mission beyond that of supporting scholarly research to include supporting excellence in both elementary and secondary schools. Several annual reports generated by the NEH during Cheney's tenure focused on the place of humanities in education.
Cheney, who earned a doctorate in nineteenth-century British literature at the University of Wisconsin, began her career as an instructor at the collegiate level. Her marriage to Dick Cheney (Chief of Staff for President Gerald Ford and Secretary of Defense for President Bush) influenced her decision to start freelance writing. The author or...
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Edelman, Marian Wright 1939-
CHILDREN'S ACTIVIST; FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF THE CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FUND
Devoting her life to improving the plight of children, Marian Wright Edelman failed to understand the blinders worn by citizens of one of the richest countries in the world when it came to investing in one of its most precious resources. Her ceaseless efforts to focus national attention on issues of child health care, teen pregnancy, children in poverty, child labor laws, and preparing children to learn, earned her well-deserved recognition as an effective lobbyist and consultant. She said, "How sad and unfair that the children who come into the world with the least-whose parents are the least able to provide them with health care, good nutrition, shelter, and stimulationare also the children who are least likely to have access to quality developmental early childhood education." Edelman's concern for children of all races and classes, and her arguments supported with indisputable facts and statistics, garnered widespread support for issues that she placed before government.
As a civilrights...
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Faulkner, Shannon R. 1975-
MILITARY ACADEMY STUDENT
Shannon R. Faulkner wanted to attend the prestigious South Carolina military college, The Citadel In 1993, when she applied to the 152-year-old institution, she was accepted. The problem was that it was all-male and she was female. Faulkner had deleted all references to her gender in her application, but when the school discovered the error they quickly withdrew their offer of enrollment. Accepted on her qualifications, but denied because of her gender, Faulkner started down the controversial road of changing tradition because she believed it was unconstitutional to discriminate against women by denying them a Citadel education. As one of two all-male, publicly funded military academies in the country, The Citadel braced for a long court battle. Armed with attorneys and the support of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Faulkner brought national attention to the issue.
Unpopular among not only alumni and students of The Citadel, but their mothers and daughters as well, Faulkner's efforts to enroll in the traditional academy were hotly debated...
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Massey, Walter E. 1938-
PHYSICIST; PRESIDENT OF MOREHOUSE COLLEGE; CHAIRMAN OF THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Walter Massey, who had majored in physics at Morehouse College, returned as president to his alma mater, a prestigious, historically black college for young men in Atlanta, Georgia, after a long, distinguished career teaching and promoting science around the country in universities and scientific organizations. Beginning his physics work at the Argonne National Laboratory at the University of Chicago, Massey chose education over pure research as a way to become involved with the social issues of the 1960s. His assistant professorship at the University of Illinois led to work at Brown University, and eventually a return to the University of Chicago and Argonne. At that time, he was actively involved with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, becoming the president of its board of directors in 1988 and chairman from 1989 to 1990. He was appointed by President George Bush to chair the National Science Foundation in 1991, and left that position only for a role as senior vice-president and provost at the University of California.
While at the University of Illinois, Massey began to realize the struggle faced by black students entering college with a poor preparation...
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Nye, Bill 1955-
Education and Entertainment.
Bill Nye the Science Guy was one of Vice President Al Gore's favorite TV shows. The zany half-hour program aired on Public Broadcasting System (PBS) channels around the nation and, though it was aimed at fourth graders, it appealed to people of all ages. In a format replete with "cool" music, stunts, and flashy graphics, Bill Nye the Science Guy took one important scientific concept with each episode and used it as the learning objective for that show. Interviews with "way cool" scientists and bizarre demonstrations of how science is applied in everyday life were hallmarks of the Emmy-Award winning program.
Bill Nye was raised in Washington, D.C., and studied mechanical engineering under Carl Sagan at Cornell University. After beginning his engineering career at Boeing Corporation in Seattle, Washington, Nye began moonlighting as a stand-up comic after friends dared him to enter a Steve Martin look-alike contest. He premiered the Science Guy as a regular on Almost Lively a local comedy-variety television show. He and several...
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Riley, Richard W. 1933-
SECRETARY OF EDUCATION; GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA
The "Education Governor."
Richard W. Riley began his political career as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1963. After losing the Democratic nomination in 1974, he was elected in 1979 as the governor of South Carolina. Although the South Carolina legislature rejected his first education reform package, he returned with a proposal formulated from ideas proposed by citizens at local forums he had organized. In order to garner widespread support for his plan, he began with convincing local business and educational leaders of its worth. Riley then launched a massive public relations effort to convince voters to fund the plan with a one-cent increase in the sales tax. With the slogan, "A Penny for Their Thoughts," Riley used this statewide support to engage the legislature in a debate that ultimately resulted in passing the Education Improvement Act of 1984. Tougher standards for students, teachers, and administrators proved valuable when, in the next few years, student performance in South Carolina made a marked jump in national comparisons.
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Sizer, Theodore R. 1932-
FOUNDER OF THE COALITION OF ESSENTIAL SCHOOLS
Ted Sizer left Harvard University and the position of Dean of the School of Education in the late 1960s to return to "the trenches." He wanted to experience life in a school to better inform his theories of educational reform. As Headmaster of the elite Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he found excellent examples of what to do and what not to do. Again in the late 1990s, Sizer ran a school along with his wife, Nancv. This time it was one of his Coalition of Essential Schools, the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Rhode Island. Sizer was able to see some of his best ideas for student achievement.
Horace as a Trilogy.
Perhaps best known for his trilogy of books using a fictional, composite teacher to remark on the state of public education, Sizer made his mark on the educational reform movement over the course of several decades. Horace's Compromise (1984), Horace's School (1992), and Horace's Hope (1996) together form a picture of Sizer's interpretations of what is, should be, and could be in the realm of U.S. education. Reflecting the maturity of Sizer's own involvement with the field, Horace drew an authentic view of the realities and possibilities faced by teachers every day. The ideas proposed in the...
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People in the News
William J. Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education, was quoted in Vanity Fair in 1994: "The moral education of our children is the first priority of a nation. We're not just talking about learning subjects here, about history or calculus-whatever. In the education of our children, we're involved in nothing less than the architecture of souls."
Derik Bok, Harvard University president reporting in 1990 on the university's divestiture of all stockholdings in tobacco companies, said the decision had been "motivated by a desire not to be associated as a shareholder with companies engaged in significant sales of products that create a substantial and unjustified risk of harm to other human beings."
Ernest L. Boyer, President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, commented on the increasing federal role in education, "If I had ever whispered 'national standards', I think I would have lost my job [as Commissioner in the 1970s]. We bent over backwards 15 years ago so that no one would think we were interfering [with state and local control of education]. Within a decade, we have gone from this preoccupation of local control to national standards. There is no turning back."
William E. Brock, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, proclaimed in 1990: "Education is the most backward single institution in all the...
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Marguerite Ross Barnett, 49, first black woman to serve as head of a major U.S. university, 26 February 1992.
Daisy Bates, 84, civil rights leader and former president of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who gained national attention when she counteracted the governor's attempt to prevent nine black students from entering Little Rock's Central High School, 4 November 1999.
Terrell H. Bell, 74, top U.S. education official (under three Republican presidents), who commissioned the 1983 report, "A Nation at Risk," which helped draw public attention to declining educational standards, 22 June 1996.
Allan Bloom, 62, professor of political philosophy at the University of Chicago, who gained fame for his 1987 best-selling, yet controversial, book, The Closing of the American Mind, 1 October 1992.
Ernest LeRoy Boyer, 67, former U.S. Commissioner of Education under President Jimmy Carter and president of the Carnegie Foundation, who published several books on education, including Scholarship Reconsidered (1990) and The Basic School (1995), and served as chancellor of the State University of New York, 8 December 1995.
Harvie Branscomb, 103, chancellor of Vanderbilt University, who guided the...
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Mary Alampi and Peter M. Comeau, eds., American Education Annual: Trends and Issues in the Educational Community (Detroit: Gale, 1999).
Regis Bernhardt and others, eds., Curriculum Leadership: Rethinking Schools for the 21st Century (Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press, 1998).
Sari Knopp Biklen and Diane Pollard, eds., Gender and Education (Chicago: National Study of School Evaluation [NSSE], 1993).
Rita Chawla-Duggan and Christopher J. Pole, eds., Reshaping Education in the 1990s: Perspectives on Primary Schooling (London & Washington: Falmer Press, 1996).
Lynne V. Cheney, Telling the Truth: Why Our Culture and Our Country Have Stopped Making Sense, And What We Can Do About It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995).
The College Board, Higher Educations Landscape: Demographic Issues in the 1990s (New York: College Board publications, 1995).
Constance Ewing Cook, Lobbying for Higher Education: How Colleges and Universities Influence Federal Policy(Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1998).
Marian Wright Edelman, Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999).
Edelman, Stand for Children (New York: Hyperion, 1998).
Samuel M. Ehrenhalt,...
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Important Events in Education, 1990–1999
- The U.S. Department of Education reports that enrollment of African Americans at private colleges and universities in the United States rose by 7.1 percent between 1986 and 1988, while African American enrollment in public universities rose by only 0.2 percent in the same period.
- Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores show that the national average for mathematics remained constant at 476, while the average score on the verbal section fell from 427 to 424, the lowest in a decade.
- The College Board, in its annual report on college costs, reports that the average cost of a year of college increased by 5 to 8 percent for the 1990–1991 school year. The most expensive colleges are Bennington College in Vermont ($21,550 for tuition and room and board), Sarah Lawrence College in New York ($21,490), and New York University ($21,400).
- The National Assessment of Educational Progress releases a report on the first test of student geography skills. Although most students are able to locate major countries on a map and demonstrate knowledge of places and subjects recently in the news, they struggle with trade, environment, and population growth.
- The Teach for America program begins to recruit young liberal-arts graduates to teach for two years.
- On January 9, the U.S. Supreme Court rules...
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