US Schools Better Than Most Think, A Study Says

A NEW study takes a much rosier view than usual of American schools and families. It says US schools have improved over the past 20 years, and better-educated parents and smaller families are helping students learn. The Rand study says schools are not failing the nation's children, although they could be improved, says David W. Grissmer, who led the study.

``If you listen to the national debate, you would believe that families and schools are failing and government programs and policies don't work,'' said Mr. Grissmer.

The study ``challenges this conventional wisdom on all fronts,'' he said at a news conference in Washington Tuesday.

The study said standardized test scores for black and Hispanic teen-agers improved significantly between the mid-1970s and 1990, narrowing the gap with white students, who made much smaller gains. The average math and reading scores of students ages 13 and 17 increased the equivalent of 3 percentile points for whites, 11 points for Hispanics, and 19 points for blacks.

That suggests that desegregation and increased spending on schools, especially programs targeted at minority students, have paid off, the study says. Early education and nutrition programs for poor children also may have helped. The small improvement in white students' scores seems to be tied to family life, the study said. The factor that helped students most was better-educated parents, the study found. Smaller families also benefited students. The study concluded that two trends that have worried policy makers - an increase in working mothers and an increase in single mothers - had no significant effect when considered alone, except when poverty played a role.

US sues abortion protesters

THE federal government is suing eight protesters who blocked access to an abortion clinic in Milwaukee and forced it to shut down for about 90 minutes. Six of the defendants are among the first people charged under a new federal law protecting abortion clinics. Each was convicted of a misdemeanor, and face up to six months in prison and a $10,000 fine at sentencing Feb. 13.

The first person convicted under the new law was Paul Hill, a former minister who killed an abortion doctor and an escort July 29 outside a Pensacola, Fla., clinic. Mr. Hill also was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The Milwaukee defendants chained and locked themselves inside cars parked June 4 in front of the entrances to Affiliated Medical Services. Another protester was cemented into a 55-gallon drum in front of one of the doors, and had to be chipped out by firefighters.

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