Short Stuff 22.1

Illustration: Ted Rall 
Reprinted with permission of Universal Press Syndicate, all rights reserved. ©2007 Ted Rall

Resegregation Continues

White public school students are becoming less isolated from minority students, new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center shows. However, it’s nothing to cheer about.

“Even as the decrease in the white share of the public school population has led to a greater exposure of white students to minority students, it has also led to a diminished exposure of black and Hispanic students to white students,” said the report, titled “The Changing Racial and Ethnic Composition of U.S. Public Schools.”

The number of nearly all-minority schools has increased from 5,498 in 1993-94 to 10,135 in 2005-06. The number of nearly all-white public schools decreased from 25,603 to 16,769 during this same period. The center’s definition of a ‘nearly all-minority’ school is one in which fewer than 5 percent of the students are white.

“Roughly three-in-10 Hispanic (29 percent) and black (31 percent) students attended schools in 2005–
06 that were nearly all-
minority… and these percentages were both somewhat higher than they had been in 1993-94, when they stood at 25 percent for Hispanic students and 28 percent for black students,” the center said.

Everybody’s a Critic

Showing films in the classroom is a trickier proposition today than it was in the era of Duck and Cover. A Seattle teacher was reprimanded earlier this year for an unauthorized showing of the climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The reason: district policy requires films be presented with a “credible, legitimate opposing view.”

In an article for Edutopia, James Daly also reported that the Federal Way (Wash.) Public School District “imposed a temporary moratorium on the film; after two weeks of criticism… the school board still insisted that opposing views be considered,” Edutopia reported.

Possible Link Between Autism, Pesticides

California women who live near farm fields sprayed with organochlorine pesticides may be more likely to give birth to children with autism, according to a published study by California health officials.

The new study, the first to report a link between pesticides and the neurological disorder, found the rate of autism among the children of 29 women who lived near the sprayed fields in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river valleys was extremely high, the Los Angeles Times reported. Autism affects one in every 150 children.

The state’s department of public health warned that the research was exploratory.

“We have found very preliminary data that there may be an association,” Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health, told the Times. “We are in no way concluding that there is a causal relationship between pesticide exposure of pregnant women and autism.”

Most organochlorines, including DDT, were banned in the United States save for two: dicofol and endosulfan.

“But both are neurotoxins — they affect nerves and the brain — and cause reproductive effects and alter hormones in animal tests,” the Times reported. “In addition, dicofol is a possible human carcinogen.”

Whittle Goes Global

Edison Schools founder and chairman Chris Whittle is working with an education entrepreneur in Dubai to set up a worldwide network of 60 schools called Nations Academy. Tuition will range between $15,000 and $40,000 per year, and students will be able to move from one school to another without any real learning disruptions. The first schools are set to go online 2010.

Brotherly Love? Hardly

After enduring intense public haranguing and threatening phone calls that were said to border on “terroristic,” Philadelphia Public Schools has pulled Gay and Lesbian History Month from its official calendar. However, in an effort to be fair, the district also scratched similar diversity recognition months and days, including African-American and Hispanic Heritage months and International Day of Disabled Persons.

In keeping with the spirit of its diversity policy, the district moved to include Gay and Lesbian History Month — celebrated in October — on last year’s calendar, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The outrage was immediate.

“We were just not prepared for the controversy,” Cecilia Cummings, the district’s spokesperson, told the Inquirer. “We were besieged by calls, threats, letters, and we didn’t have the manpower to staff it. Nor did we have the preparation or training to really figure out how to deal with this issue in a way that could keep kids safe. We had meetings where adults were calling kids names.”

The district had received complaints in prior years, but never to the extent seen when they placed Gay and Lesbian History Month on the calendar, Cummings said.