U.S. Supreme Court Weighs A New Kind of School Test
Education officials await a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to determine if they can test students for drug use. Of course, schools already have the OK to test student athletes, but the outcome of the current case, heard in March, will determine if schools also can randomly test any student, particularly those who participate in extracurricular activities. The court is expected to issue a decision by mid-year.
The court upheld the right of a school to test athletes in 1995. Arguments in that case claimed that athletes risk their own physical wellbeing and that of other students if they use drugs and play sports.
The new case, Board of Education vs. Earls, is based on the complaint of Lindsey Earls, a student from Tecumseh, Okla., who says she was angered and embarrassed when she and other students were pulled out of choir practice one afternoon three years ago and asked to supply urine samples. "It was really tense, with each girl in a stall, and a teacher we all knew outside listening for the sound of urination," she told the media. "The kids I hung out with didn't use drugs."
During oral arguments, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor questioned the effect drug testing would have on students involved in extracurricular activities. She questioned whether it was "counter intuitive" to randomly test these students. "The students you want to reach aren't the ones who participate in extracurricular activities,' " says Michael D. Simpson, assistant general counsel for the National Education Association. Drug tests might lessen these students' enthusiasm for school. They may, in turn, avoid extracurricular activities and be less tied to their schools.
Education associations are divided on the drug testing case. The NEA supports Earls and the students who challenge drug testing. "We are opposed to suspicion-less drug testing," says Simpson. There is a difference between testing students suspected of using drugs and randomly testing any student, he adds. Schools already have the authority to test students who show symptoms of drug use; they don't need further authority to test other students, he argues.
The National School Boards Association takes the opposite view. In its brief on the case, NSBA supports the right of every local school district to deal with this issue in the way it sees fit. "This policy is not punitive," says Edwin Darden, senior staff attorney for the association. "There is assurance that parents re notified and that students are getting help with an issue of concern." Drug testing is a tool that schools should have at their disposal, Darden says.
During the past three years, 5 percent of schools have tested student athletes for drug use; about 2 percent have tested students who participate in extracurricular activities, according to the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. www.nea.org, www.nsba.org
Paige Seeks to Close the Achievement Gap
On average, American black students trail white counterparts in reading proficiency and math. Statistics show that 28 percent more white students than black are proficient in reading; 29 percent score higher in math. Department of Education Secretary Rod Paige has formed a new partnership with the National Council of Negro Women to try to close the achievement gap.
The partnership's first task is to study the best practices of high performing schools in low-income or high-minority school districts. Paige and Dorothy Height, chair of the council, say that 4,500 schools with either high-poverty or high-minority enrollment scored within the top-third of all schools in their states. "The findings confirm what Height and I believe: That poor nd minority students can-and do-achieve at high levels," says Paige.
During the next three years, the partnership will teach best practices to other districts. The council will be especially involved in outreach to parent and teacher organizations in school district