Grad time-or not?
Education secretary Margaret Spellings on March 31 announced her plan to direct all 50 states and 14,000 U.S. high schools to use the same formula to calculate graduation and dropout rates. The move is designed to plug a hole in the federal No Child Left Behind law. The law requires states to report school completion rates but allows states to set their own formulas-an allowance that has often resulted in inflated graduation rates and understated dropout rates.
For example, New Mexico has until now tabulated its grad rate using only the percentage of current 12th graders receiving diplomas while ignoring all students who drop out before their senior year. In 2005, all state governors agreed to use a single formula to calculate school-completion totals. But since the agreement didn't carry the force of law, few states actually complied. According to a report released April 1 by America's Promise Alliance, a nonprofit headed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, 1.2 million U.S. teenagers drop out every year, with some school jurisdictions achieving graduation rates as low as 30 percent.
A better way
"The physical body of Martin Luther King Jr. was forever gone, leaving a few small material remains behind," writes Life magazine photographer Steve Schapiro in a new book. "The half-drunk coffee cup gave me a moment of pause. He had left his room planning to return," Schapiro recalls of coming into the Lorraine Motel room hours after King was assassinated on the balcony just outside on April 4, 1968.
Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represented the poor sanitation workers King came to Memphis to support, marched in a steady rain 40 years later to remember his life and death. "Dr. King was like Moses," Leslie Moore, 61, a sanitation worker in 1968 who is still on the job, told the Associated Press. "God gave Moses the assignment to lead the children of Israel across the Red Sea. He sent Dr. King here to lead us to a better way."
A circuit court judge in Fairfax County, Va., has ruled in favor of a group of 11 churches, all members of the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV), who want to keep their properties after severing ties last year with the Episcopal Church over the issues of gay clergy and orthodoxy. They now have joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), the Nigerian branch of the Anglican Communion established in the United States.
Judge Randy I. Bellows cited a Virginia Division Statute in the ruling that churches could keep their property. "We are pleased with this initial victory today. We have maintained all along that the Episcopal Church and Diocese of Virginia had no legal right to our property because the Virginia Division Statute says that the majority of the church is entitled to its property when there is a division within the denomination. Our churches' own trustees hold title for the benefit of the congregations," said Jim Oakes, vice-chairman of ADV. The Episcopal Church is expected to challenge the court's decision.
An unusual coalition delivered an unusual appeal to Sudan's Islamic government ahead of the Arab League summit that began March 29 in Damascus. "The Arab League must act on Darfur," declared a group of over 20 Muslim human-rights organizations, aid agencies, and national associations from Britain, Pakistan, Germany, Malaysia, Canada, Iran, and Turkey. Darfur's humanitarian crisis "has cost the lives of at least 200,000 Muslims yet has not yet captured the attention of the Muslim world in the way that it should," they said in an open letter to Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa.
"This is a coalition of Muslim groups speaking out on Darfur for the first time," said one commentator, "including condemning the government of Sudan for blocking UN deployment."
Turn out the lights
The second annual Earth Hour, an Australian-born initiative encouraging individuals and organizations worldwide to shut off lights for 60 minutes, delivered underwhelming results March 29. In Australia, the amount of electricity saved decreased 17 percent from last year's total. Across Europe, France, Germany, Spain, and European Union institutions left the candles in the cupboard, and just 14 London businesses went dark. Stateside participation likewise proved meager, the nation's most noticeable contribution stemming from search engine giant Google's decision to color its homepage black.
Growing doubt about the value of reducing carbon emissions may help explain such difficulty in rallying the forces of green. Economic and environmental realists increasingly recognize that campaigns to lower greenhouse gases offer no hope of halting the earth's warming trend. Most European nations are failing to meet their Kyoto requirements or killing their economies trying. China and India refuse to sabotage their respective industrial revolutions with carbon restrictions. And even proponents of an emissions cap in the United States admit that any significant impact on climate change would require reductions to the tune of 80 percent, an abject impossibility.
It's often said that going to war without France is something like going duck hunting without your accordion. Now NATO and U.S forces in Afghanistan will find out just how important French fighters are. President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed that he intends to send a new battalion of French troops to eastern Afghanistan, enabling U.S. forces to reinforce Canadian units in the more volatile Kandahar province.
A French battalion amounts to 700-800 troops, and Sarkozy also has indicated France might send 200 special forces to Afghanistan. They would be involved in command operations and training the Afghan army, and would augment more than 2,000 French troops in the area.
Liberalism's favorite punching bag-free trade-took another hit last week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that she would push the House to change "fast track" rules that require Congress to vote on trade deals within 90 days after a president submits them. The particular target: a trade agreement between the United States and Colombia.
That agreement also became a hot issue in the presidential race when it was revealed that Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's chief political strategist, had met with Colombia's U.S. ambassador and, as a lobbyist, worked to advance the trade deal. Clinton opposes the deal, and Penn last week resigned from her campaign. Another close Clinton adviser also supports the pact: her husband Bill.
UN peacekeepers chased hungry Haitians with rubber bullets and tear gas after they stormed the presidential palace April 8 demanding the resignation of President René Préval. Residents huddled indoors as riots over soaring food prices-which have increased by 40 percent in the last year-turned into looting. The U.S. Embassy suspended visa services and routine operations April 9 because of the violence after buildings were pelted with rocks.
He once labeled Christianity a "religion for losers," but on April 1 Ted Turner announced that he is joining forces with three Protestant denominations to fight malaria in Africa. The goal of the $200 million partnership with Turner's United Nations Foundation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the United Methodist Church is to stop deaths from malaria, which claims the lives of more than 1 million people a year. The 69-year-old CNN founder says he regrets saying anything negative about religion: "As I get older, you know, I get more, you know, more tolerant."
Turkey's secular elite is on a mission to ban the country's ruling party from politics, claiming that the Islamist party could take the secular nation down a path it has worked hard to avoid. Judges of the Constitutional Court unanimously decided on March 31 to take up the case for shutting down the AK party and barring Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and dozens of other lawmakers from politics.
Meanwhile, the fourth trial hearing against the murderers of three Christians one year ago has been postponed for a month because court clerks failed to file a request to replace judges accused of bias in the case.
Struggling to find a bottom, the housing market dipped further in February, according to a report last week from the National Association of Realtors. The group's index of existing home sales hit its lowest level in eight years and was 21 percent below the level for February 2006. "The question was whether things were starting to stabilize," Global Insight economist Patrick Newport told the Canadian Press. "Apparently they're not."
Also unstable: Plans for a federal bailout of lenders and homeowners in bad mortgages. The White House announced a plan to expand an existing mortgage insurance program to help 100,000 more borrowers. Leading Democrats want to insure 1.5 million more borrowers, potentially putting taxpayers on the hook for tens of billions of dollars.
Remembering deep wounds
On April 16, Virginia Tech students in Blacksburg, Va., will return to the university's Drill Field, where hundreds gathered on the same night one year ago to grieve the 32 students and professors gunned down in the deadliest shooting spree in American history.
University officials have canceled April 16 classes and announced a schedule of on-campus activities for a day of remembrance: In the morning students will gather for a public reading of the names and biographies of the slain. At sundown students will hold a candlelight vigil on the Drill Field, where they held a similar event one night after the shootings last year.
In late March, university officials announced new safety measures the school has established since last year: More than 20,000 students and faculty have subscribed to "VT Alerts," a messaging system that notifies subscribers of campus emergencies via several formats, including email and text messages.
Workers have installed locks in all general assignment classrooms that may be locked from the inside. (Classrooms in Norris Hall, where gunman Cho Seung-Hui killed 30 people, couldn't be locked from the inside.)
As the grim anniversary approaches, J.R. Foster, campus minister for Reformed University Fellowship, told WORLD he thinks students are anxious about the day. Foster noted the concerts, sporting events, and ceremonies held over the last year to help students move forward, and he said some have been helpful.
But with the anniversary, "I think there are many students who realize now there are deeper wounds of the heart that concerts and games will not heal," Foster said. "I will urge my students to cling to the gospel's hope of a new heavens and a new earth where such atrocities are no more."