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Few US Schools Now Named for People, Especially Presidents

Study warns of loss for civic education in trend toward choosing names of things like animals or trees. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Public schools in New York, America's biggest city, commonly have numbers for names. But this is unusual. In the United States, the process of naming a school often involves parents and the community as well as elected school leaders.

Researchers say school names can show civic values and also shape them. For example, naming a school after a historic person becomes a way to teach students about that person's importance in history.

A new study examines the naming of American public schools. The study is from the Manhattan Institute, an organization that does public policy research.

The study shows that fewer and fewer schools are being named after people. Instead, more schools are being named after the local area or natural features like hills, trees or animals. The researchers say these changes raise questions about the civic duty of public education.

They looked at seven states with twenty percent of all public school students in the country. They found similar results in every state: new schools are less likely to be named after people.

This is true especially with presidents. For example, in Arizona, public schools in the past twenty years were almost fifty times more likely to be named after such things as landforms or plants.

In Florida, out of almost three thousand public schools, the report says five honor George Washington, the nation's first president. Eleven honor the manatee, an endangered sea animal found in that state.

In fact, the study says that today, a majority of all public school districts nationwide do not have a single school named after a president.

School officials say they try to choose names that will not offend anyone. For example, a few years ago, the city of New Orleans banned the naming of any school after a person who owned slaves. Other school systems have rules against naming new schools after any person, living or dead.

The researchers say naming a school after a person can lead to important debates about democratic values. They call for more research to identify the causes and effects of the changes in school names.

The causes may include changes in American culture as well as in the political control of school systems. One area worth exploring, they say, is the link between trends in school names and weak results for public schools on measures of civic education.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Joan Kornblith.