to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.
Barbara Klein. A new school year is beginning in the United States. On our
program today, we discuss some of the issues facing American education this
first Monday in September is Labor Day in the United States. It marks the unofficial
end of summer and a traditional signal that school is about to start.
public schools often begin sometime during August. They have different reasons
for starting early.
Tucson Unified School District in Arizona began classes on August eleventh.
Communications Director Chyrl Hill Lander says the earlier
start time makes it possible for students to take semester exams before winter
vacation in December. She says the school district also wants to follow a
calendar similar to that of the nearby University of Arizona.
schools in Virginia still open the day after Labor Day. But the public schools
in Montgomery County, in the southwestern part of Virginia, began classes on
August twentieth. Human Resources Director Mark Pashier says his
county has been opening schools in August for at least the past eight years.
reason, he says, is the Standards of Learning tests that schoolchildren in
Virginia take every spring. School officials want the students to have the most
time to prepare for them -- which means starting the year before Labor Day.
federal government plays an important part in American education. For example,
the government provides money for research, early childhood programs and going
to college. In fact, the credit crisis over the past year has increased the
importance of federal student loans and other financial aid. Some private
companies have left the student loan business.
government also enforces federal laws against discrimination in schools. An
example is a nineteen seventy-two law called Title Nine. Under that law, no one
can be excluded on the basis of sex from any education program or activity
receiving federal aid. One major effect was to expand sports programs for
recently, the Bush administration expanded student testing requirements as part
of efforts to force public schools to improve.
passed the No Child Left Behind Act of Two Thousand One, President George
Bush's education policy. He leaves office in January, but the law has no end
date and does not require re-approval by Congress.
involvement in education policy has grown but still remains limited. There is
no national education system, no requirements for what to teach. Education has
always been considered mainly a local issue.
state and local government has its own rules and guidelines. This explains why
school calendars are different across the fifty states.
economy and rising prices for goods and services will be producing some
noticeable changes this year.
states require public schools to provide transportation to and from school for
students who need it. But high fuel prices have been cutting into school
budgets. Some students will have to walk farther to get the bus because of
service reductions. Others will have to walk or ride their bike to school or
make other transportation plans.
money on bus fuel, some districts are lengthening the school day and having
students go only four days a week instead of five. The Maccray school district
in Minnesota is trying a four-day week beginning this school year. The
superintendent says the move should save the district at least sixty-five
thousand dollars in transportation costs.
American Association of School Administrators asked school chiefs across the
country what their districts were doing about these high costs. The group
released the survey results in July. Fourteen districts reported moving to a
four-day school week. Eighty-two others said they were seriously considering
more than two hundred districts reported reducing their use of heat and air
conditioning in schools to save money. Ninety-five others said they were
of food service is another issue for schools. The problem is not just higher
food prices but also higher prices for plastic goods made from oil. The School
Nutrition Association says many administrators decided at the end of the last
school year in June to increase the price of school lunches.
in May and June of this year found that about one hundred fifty districts are
raising meal prices by an average of sixteen percent. About sixty districts had
already increased lunch prices during the two thousand seven-two thousand eight
prices, the weak economy and the housing market collapse are also having other
effects. Stores launched back-to-school specials earlier this year, giving
parents a chance to search longer for lower prices. More families than last
year planned to buy online -- a way to compare prices and save fuel.
the National Retail Federation, a business group, released findings from its
yearly survey of back-to-school spending. The survey found that spending levels
for clothing, shoes and school supplies would remain about the same as last
parents planned to spend some of their tax rebate check on electronics like
computers and cell phones. Tax rebates went out to millions of Americans as a
way to pump money into the economy.
survey found that the average family with school-aged children would spend
about six hundred dollars on school-related purchases this year. The estimate
was thirty dollars higher than last year.
back-to-college spending was expected to drop by seven percent, after five
years of strong sales. The survey also found that fifty-four percent of college
students were saving money by living with their parents this year. Just below
fifty percent lived at home last year.
National Retail Federation predicted a combined fifty-one billion dollars in
back-to-college and back-to-school spending this year.
the United States the legal age to drink alcohol is twenty-one. But some
college and university presidents have recently signed a statement. The
statement says: "It's time to rethink the drinking age. Twenty-one is not
working." At least one hundred twenty-eight presidents have signed it so
statement calls on elected officials to support a public debate over the
twenty-one year old drinking age. It also calls on officials to "invite
new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible
decisions about alcohol."
nineteen eighty-four Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. The
law threatened states with a ten percent cut in federal highway money if they
set their drinking age lower than twenty-one.
college presidents say a culture of dangerous and secretive "binge
drinking" has developed and often takes place off campus. They say adults
under twenty-one have the right to vote, serve on juries and join the military
"but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer."
statement does not say what the legal drinking age should be. But many of the
presidents who signed it said they think people should be permitted to drink at
opposed to lowering the drinking age quickly criticized the statement signed by
the college and university presidents.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the current
drinking age has reduced traffic deaths involving drivers eighteen to
twenty-one by thirteen percent. Its latest study says alcohol-related traffic
deaths last year among all age groups were down almost four percent from the
group Mothers Against Drunk Driving says the twenty-one year old drinking age
has saved twenty-five thousand lives since nineteen eighty-four.
International Association of Chiefs of Police also expressed strong opposition
to the idea of lowering the drinking age. It says drivers between the ages of
sixteen and twenty-one are involved in fifteen percent of all alcohol-related
traffic deaths. It says lowering the drinking age would only raise that number.
colleges are promising stronger enforcement of alcohol policies this year in an
effort to reduce drinking-related problems.
reason students may drink a lot is because they think everyone does it. Yet
researchers find that students in general drink less than their friends think.
Some schools, including the University of Virginia, have found that one way to
reduce drinking is to present students with the facts.
program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara
Steve Ember. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs can be found at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA