If last year was the year of the test and the standard, this year might be dubbed the year of school culture.
For a good chunk of the 1990s, teachers, governors, parents - pretty much everyone but kids - have fretted about what children are taught and who's teaching them. The result has been some significant changes: Outlines for what students should know have become more specific. More states now require regular testing of students that's linked to promotion. More ask teachers to take tests in subject areas and basic skills.
But the intellectual race has been joined by an equally pressing issue: not just what kids are learning, but the atmosphere in which they're learning it.
It's not just a matter of school violence, though shootings from Paducah, Ky., to Littleton, Colo., have galvanized communities around the US.
It's more. The welcome academic heft hasn't always been accompanied by a thoughtful shaping of a school's less-tangible elements. In many, playgrounds and breaks have shrunk. Opportunities to explore unconventional interests are limited. Teachers have or make little time to forge closer ties with kids.
But time and motivation build a school as surely as do effective textbooks and smart teachers. No one would argue that. The difference comes with a school that pulls these all together - and, amid the pressures to meet new standards and crunch higher numbers, makes the personal and academic connections that will teach children what it truly means to be an educated person.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society