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Shaking Things Up

If you look at the story at the right, you'll note a new logo: "Making Waves."

It's a reference to the people determined to shake up what they see as often-unresponsive public schools.

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A growing number of philanthropists, activists, educators, and parents have grown impatient with public schooling - and with the pace of reform, even in a decade that has tackled higher standards and more testing.

The result? Just count the options that virtually didn't exist a decade ago: charter schools; magnet schools; private or parochial schools with tuition paid by tax-funded voucher; public schools with nontraditional curricula, such as Montessori; school choice (attending a school out of district); home schools, but with some classes or sports at the local public school.

All are "public" choices, funded by tax dollars.

Over the next months, we'll be looking at key players and events that are steadily changing K-12 education. This week, our focus is the growing number of private foundations that fund vouchers for low-income children.

The desire for greater influence in children's education is prompting unprecedented numbers of people to consider action.

In California, voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether the state's 8,000 public schools should be governed by a council of teachers and parents - with the latter holding at least two-thirds of all seats.

To supporters, it's key to promoting parental involvement, something that can help students. To others, it could spell the undoing of hard-won standards, as each school's curriculum would stand at the whim of the council.

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The measure backs up a recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, which found that 48 percent of Americans wanted more say in the selection and hiring of teachers, up from 41 percent in 1990. Indeed, education has a starring role in contests nationwide, with another poll finding that a candidate's position on education and public schools was the most important consideration in how almost half of citizens would vote.

Few would have guessed that the reform set in motion 15 years ago would propel such intense experimentation, if often only around the edges.

But those experiments have triggered rising expectations - as well as frustration. And the changes they have spurred have profoundly altered a key notion: that education is best left exclusively to the trained experts. That's a development that could make the greatest waves of all.

* Send comments to Learning Editor, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail

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