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OH, O-K. YOU WIN It's tough, the adage goes, to know another person's challenges until you've walked a mile in his shoes. Michael Albano now knows that's true. The Springfield, Mass., mayor canceled bus service for 70-odd students after the city built sidewalks they could use. But after eighth-grader Tiffany LaFlamme pleaded with him to reinstate the rides, Albano agreed to lug her 17-pound backpack full of books and other necessities from home to Kiley Middle School. On a warm, dry day the 1-1/2-mile trek took 25 minutes - after which a no-longer-fresh Albano OK'd bringing back the bus, at least from November to March.

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO Then there's Britain's Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who heads a government campaign to get commuters out of their cars and onto public transportation. Only, for his speech to the ruling Labour Party convention at Bournemouth last week, he and his wife, Pauline, rode to the hall from their hotel - less than a quarter-mile - in a three-limo convoy. His explanation: to protect her hairdo from the winds.

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US schoolchildren get a 'P' - for passable - as writers On the whole, American schoolchildren fall short of any real mastery of the written word. That's the US Education Department's finding after grading the 1998 essays, reports, and stories of 60,000 fourth-, eighth-, and 12th-graders from 35 states. Overall, more than three-quarters of the students demonstrated only a basic level of writing ability, which is not considered sufficient for success in college or the workplace. Just under 25 percent were classified as proficient. Girls, on the whole, scored significantly higher than boys. The states with the highest eighth-grade performances, based on the percentage of proficient writers:

Connecticut 40%

Maine 30%

Texas 30%

Massachusetts 29%

Wisconsin 27%

Virginia 27%

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- Associated Press

Compiled by Robert Kilborn and Lance Carden

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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