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Coming up for air

Schools in the US could be forgiven if they think it's time to come up for air after a year of relentless assaults over test-taking and test results. But 2000 promises to hand educators just as many tough issues - and ones that could rattle support for their endeavors even further.

Numbers - student scores, teacher scores, district results - were the focus in 1999. This year, by contrast, will aim the spotlight more brightly at social issues for which schools have long been an unsettled crossroads - particularly religious ones.

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This spring, the US Supreme Court will hear a Texas case concerning school districts' rights to allow student-led prayers at football games. It will also weigh in on a Louisiana dispute over parochial schools receiving state- and federally funded materials.

Vouchers, which provide public funds for private and parochial schools, got a comeuppance last month when the Federal District Court in Ohio blocked Cleveland's program. But six other cases challenging public funding of private education are pending, and expectations are that the Supreme Court will ultimately take on the issue.

And the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools continues to draw partisan squabbling, not to mention growing disagreements over teaching evolution and creationism.

All of that - and testing isn't going away. It's enough to keep schools holding their breath. And how adults resolve their differences will teach children as much about respect and mutual understanding as anything we put into the curriculum.

*E-mail newcomba@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society