This Week

"This Week" Continued...

Issue: "Rethinking divorce," June 13, 1998

Legislating phonics

Phonics is back-and many teachers aren't happy about it. State legislators, impatient with declines in reading scores, have begun to try to legislate phonics from the statehouse. Education Week reported that since 1990, 101 bills mandating phonics instruction in the public schools have been offered in states throughout the nation. Sixty-seven of those plans were offered in the past two years. The legislation is too specific, critics complain, meaning it "leaves little room for interpretation," as EW put it. University professors of education are complaining about "mandates for professional practice," and "simple solutions to very complex problems." The legislators, for their part, cite recent research that points to the importance of phonics-based reading instruction in the early years.

World in brief

Panic attack
International bailout patrols continued to eye Russia for an Asian-styled economic meltdown. On May 31 President Clinton pledged U.S. support for an international financial-aid package if Russia is unable to meet its short-term debts. That statement was timed to shore up the country's declining markets, but the following day Russia's main stock index sank more than 10 percent. The economic crisis is tied to shortfalls in oil revenues and taxes, together with declining foreign investment in the wake of a political crisis that stems from the shakeup of President Boris Yeltsin's cabinet. A bailout package brokered by the International Monetary Fund would mark the fourth time in nine months the fund has been called in to soothe market panic. Afghan disaster meets relief shortage
Relief agencies remained unable to confirm the number dead from a May 30 earthquake in northern Afghanistan. Estimates ranged from 2,000 to 5,000. The quake, registering 6.9 on the Richter Scale, struck an area devastated in February by another massive quake, which claimed more than 2,000 lives. UN agencies and the Red Cross-operating with only three borrowed helicopters-struggled to meet the need for food and medicine among the now-homeless and at the same time ferry the injured to emergency medical facilities. Soccer snarl
France's socialist government accused airline pilots of holding the World Cup hostage. With the beginning of the world soccer championship scheduled for this week, Air France pilots were nearly a week into a strike that has grounded 80 percent of flights. Air France, the official carrier of the World Cup, promised to transport the 32 national teams competing in the event, but it directed other passengers to trains. French train drivers, too, have scheduled a walkout over pay cuts for the eve of the tournament.

Nuclear chest thumping

Pakistan exploded another nuclear device less than 48 hours after its initial detonation of up to five atomic bombs set off an Asian arms race. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen called the nuclear rivalry between Pakistan and India, which in mid-May launched the initial nuclear tests, "a very dangerous situation." The two nations, he complained, were "engaging in a chauvinistic chest-pounding about their nuclear manhood." Foreign ministers from Britain, France, Russia, China, and the United States-who are the world's major nuclear powers as well as the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council-met to discuss ways to head off the nuclear escalation. What they did not discuss was multilateral economic sanctions. With scant support from its allies, the United States moved to impose restrictions on foreign aid to India and Pakistan, as well as to oppose international loans to both countries. In Washington, business interests ranging from multinational bankers to wheat farmers took a number at the Commerce Department to lodge their opposition to regulations imposing the trade restrictions. Undeterred by Western chest-pounding, India's ruling Hindu Nationalist Party unveiled its first budget since taking power just over two months ago. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said there would be "no compromise on defense preparedness" and pledged to raise defense spending 14 percent. The government proposed spending increases of 68 percent for its Atomic Energy Commission, which oversees civilian and military nuclear programs, and hefted the Department of Space budget by 62 percent. It oversees the development of rockets for satellites and military purposes. Meanwhile, a review panel convened by CIA chief George Tenet concluded that U.S. intelligence failed to warn of India's nuclear weapons tests because of poor leadership and substandard intelligence gathering. The panel said U.S. espionage efforts in places like India are stretched too thin and spy satellite data is not adequately evaluated. In its key finding, the panel blamed the Clinton administration, including Mr. Tenet, for ignoring the pledges of the incoming Hindu nationalist party to conduct nuclear tests.

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