This Week

"This Week" Continued...

Issue: "Modern martyrs," Nov. 30, 1996

Whither public education?

Business leaders worried about United States competitiveness in the 21st century found no comfort in two new education reports. The first, issued Nov. 19, showed American schools are making little progress toward a series of education goals set by the nation's governors in 1989. Despite six years of work toward the goals, the report said "overall performance is virtually static." Among the elusive education goals: increasing high-school graduation rates and raising reading scores. On Nov. 20, the Department of Education released results of the largest international study ever of how school children around the world perform in math and science. Students from 41 countries participated, with American eighth graders coming in 28th in math and 17th in science.

Air bag update

Responding to public concern over the danger that air bags pose to young children, small adults, and the unborn, the Transportation Department decided to allow drivers to have their air bags disconnected. Auto air bags have been linked to more than 50 deaths, including the deaths of 30 children.

Hard bargainer

Pope John Paul II, revered by millions as an anti-communist hero, met Nov. 19 with Cuba's communist leader Fidel Castro at the Vatican, a meeting that Mr. Castro described as "a miracle." The pope promised to visit Cuba in 1997, but only after extracting a promise that he would be allowed unrestricted travel access and be allowed to speak to anyone he chose. On several occasions, John Paul has voiced opposition to the long-standing U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, saying it hurts the poor. As street crowds chanted, "Down with the Communists," Romania's "ex-communist" leader was booted out of office in a run-off election Nov. 17. The new Romanian president, one-time college professor Emile Constantinescu, won by taking a page from an American political playbook of 1994: He developed a Contract with Romania that promised economic growth and rapid government reforms.

In brief

Emergency workers Nov. 18 rescued 34 people, choking and praying, from the English Channel tunnel after a fire broke out on a freight train, forcing the train to stop 11 miles into the 31-mile tunnel. The heat and smoke were so intense that it took firefighters eight hours to put out the blaze. At least 39 people died as steel-melting flames roared through the top four floors of a Hong Kong highrise Nov. 20. At least 80 people were injured in the blaze, which began at the bottom of an elevator shaft that acted as a flue in sending flames shooting to the upper floors of the 16-story building. In Puerto Rico, at least 20 people were killed and more than 80 hurt Nov. 21 when an explosion in Puerto Rico blew apart a six-story building. A Mars-bound Russian spacecraft failed to break out of Earth orbit Nov. 17 and crashed into the Pacific Ocean 1,800 miles off the coast of Chile. At first, it was thought the debris would scatter over northern Australia, which created something of a panic on the eve of President Clinton's visit to the country.

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