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Number 138 July 1997
Homeschooler wins national spelling bee. Rebecca Sealfon of Brooklyn, age 13, became the first homeschool student to win the National Spelling Bee in its 70-year history. This year's 245 national contestants included 17 homeschoolers, the highest number to date.

NEA tries counseling to improve its image. The National Education Association has hired the Kamber Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm, to help the 2.2 million-member union recover from its low popularity. Kamber counseled the NEA that it was hurt by its adoption of a 1995 resolution celebrating Gay and Lesbian History Month. Kamber suggests that the NEA overcome its negative image by portraying itself as the defender of public education and by playing a more aggressive role in directing reform. For example, the NEA is now backing charter schools.

Grade inflation is recognized as a problem. The College Press Service reports that 43% of grades given at Harvard are A or A-. At Stanford, 90% of all letter grades are A or B. At Pacific Lutheran University, 50% of all grades are A, and nearly 40% of the 1997 graduating class received degrees with honors. In a recent poll of University of Washington faculty, 91% responded that grade inflation is a problem.

American college entrance tests are easier than other countries'. A comparison of U.S. college entrance exams (such as the SAT), which are the gatekeepers of higher education, with exams of France, Germany and Japan shows a huge gap in expectations, performance, and consequences. Japanese students are expected to know higher levels of math, including calculus; U.S. students can stick to 9th grade algebra and geometry. French students must explain their answers in depth; Americans can guess at multiple choice. Germans who fail their exams do not go to college; Americans who do poorly on the SAT attend a less choosy college.

New student appearance regulations proposed. Appearance regulations for inclusion in the Prince William County (MD) school system's code of student behavior have suggested limitations based on concern that some students wear clothing and ornamentation that is disruptive in a learning environment (such as extremely short skirts) or physically dangerous (such as sharp spiked hair, collars, or jewelry). The new code would require that "overall appearance must meet basic standards of decency."

inside this issue . . .

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