Barbara Kantrowitz

Stories by Barbara Kantrowitz

  • A Nation Still At Risk

    It could have been just another dull report, one of thousands issued annually by faceless bureaucrats and academics. But "A Nation at Risk," published 10 years ago this month by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, proved to be a landmark in the history of American school reform. With the sobering prediction that the country could soon be swallowed by a "rising tide of mediocrity" in elementary and secondary schools, it was a forceful call for major change. ...
  • Was It Friendly Fire?

    The first shots were fired shortly after 9:30 on that bloody Sunday morning in Waco more than a month ago. An hour later, four agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms lay dead or dying. Sixteen others were injured. As the standoff between the law and the Branch Davidians continued last week, NEWSWEEK learned that some federal law-enforcement officials now believe that at least some ATF agents were brought down by friendly fire. ...
  • Verdict After A Day Of Horror

    They were high-school football players, the pride of an affluent New Jersey suburb. But they were accused of a shocking crime: brutally ramming a baseball bat and a broomstick into the vagina of a mentally retarded young woman while nearly a dozen of their friends cheered. The chamber of there horrors was the finished basement of the neat clapboard house where twins Kyle and Kevin Scherzer lived. Last week, a jury found the Scherzers and two friends guilty of charges ranging from sexual assault to conspiracy in the March 1989 attack. The prosecutors singled out Christopher Archer, a clean-cut, handsome 21-year-old, as the "mastermind," calling him a "predatory" sex offender. ...
  • The Messiah Of Waco

    Young girls and old women, innocent and worldly, virginal and fecund. Within the walls of the kingdom on the flat plains of Texas, David Koresh knew them all-in the Biblical sense, former followers say. He began a decade ago with Lois Roden. She was 67 and the widowed leader of the Branch Davidians when the 23-year-old Koresh, still called by his birth name of Vernon Howell, arrived at the Mount Carmel compound. He confessed to the group that he worried about his excessive masturbation. Ex-members say Roden felt sorry for him and they became lovers, even tried to have a child. Koresh now disavows the union, saying she was as ugly as Medusa. ...
  • Mort To Post: Drop Dead!

    Stop me if you've heard this one before. Mogul steps in to save long-ailing New York tabloid. Vows to keep it going and make it the "people's paper." Big-name columnists hustle over to rival, complaining that the new owner is a sleazeball. Pundits predict all-out newspaper war. Readers shrug and turn on the tube. ...
  • A Touch Of The Poet

    His broken nose, a legacy of amateur boxing, keeps Liam Neeson from conventional leading-man handsomeness. But women who saw him awaken Diane Keaton's passion in "The Good Mother" or romance Mia Farrow in Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives" understand the Northern Irish actor's appeal. So does Natasha Richardson, who's costarring with him on Broadway in Eugene O'Neill's "Anna Christie." "He's sexy in the truest sense of the word," Richardson says. "He has raw and open sexuality. It's not contrived. It's not about looks, although he's a terrific-looking guy. It comes from somewhere deeper than that. You feel that he's been through a history." ...
  • The Right Choice For Chelsea

    The Decision was as eagerly awaited as a high-level cabinet appointment-or the color of Hillary's Inaugural ball gown. The Clinton family ended the suspense last week, announcing that 12-year-old Chelsea will attend an exclusive private school, Sidwell Friends ($10,400 annual tuition), instead of one of Washington's much-maligned public schools. Clinton spokesman George Stephanopoulos said it was a personal family choice, not a rejection of the District's system. But proponents of vouchers-using public money to pay for private school-accused Clinton of hypocrisy. The president-elect adamantly opposes vouchers; his critics say that means he's not giving poor parents the same choices he has. Other education reformers felt betrayed. "We are fearful that a message was sent of no confidence" in urban public schools, says Michael Casserly, interim executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of city systems. "We hope that he will prove otherwise." ...
  • The Bloom Is On The Rose

    His style is a mix of uptown and down home, black-tie charm with a North Carolina drawl. For 15 months, these opposites have attracted the A list-viewers and guests-to Charlie Rose's eponymous late-night interview show on New York's public-television station, WNET. One recent week's lineup: Tom Brokaw, writer Oriana Fallaci, boxer Riddick Bowe, columnist Jimmy Breslin, Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, film directors Richard Attenborough and Louis Malle. On Jan. 4, PBS is taking Rose national, with PBS stations around the country carrying the show. Rose doesn't know yet who his guests will be that night ("I'd love to get Clinton, at least for a few minutes") but he says a bigger audience won't change the basic concept of providing "a place where people can come home at night and just eavesdrop on good conversation." ...
  • The Ages Of Innocence

    A couple of years ago, inspiration struck Michael Willhoite as he sat in a luncheonette. A few hours later, he had written "Daddy's Roommate," the story of a boy who lives with his father and his father's male lover. Willhoite, who is gay and has no children, thought his readers would be young kids with gay parents. Instead, he's found a huge audience of grown-ups-some quite hostile. "Daddy's Roommate" is on the suggested reading list for New York City's controversial multicultural curriculum, "Children of the Rainbow," which urges first-grade teachers to mention gays in lessons on tolerance. Other books on the list are "Heather Has Two Mommies," about a child conceived by artificial insemination, and "Gloria Goes to Gay Pride," about a girl who faces bigotry when marching with her lesbian mothers. ...
  • If He Could Make It Here . . .

    Just because you're a hit out of town doesn't mean you'll shine on Broadway. Look at Joseph Fernandez. When he came to New York City from Miami three years ago to run the nation's largest school system, Fernandez had a national reputation as an innovative educator with lots of political savvy. As superintendent of the Miami schools for two years, he won high marks for reforming school management. But in New York, his achievements have been marred by months of fighting with school-board officials. Last week the battle escalated, with Fernandez in a bitter dispute over how to teach tolerance of homosexuals to elementary-school children. Even his most stalwart supporters were reluctant to predict a winner. ...
  • Practicing What She Teaches

    Karina O'Malley's ivory tower is anything but. A parade of young mothers, many with children in tow, walk past her open bedroom. Some poke their head in to ask a quick question, but most respect the raggedy strip of duct tape in the doorway that marks the space inside as her own. Professors need privacy, even in a homeless shelter. ...
  • A 'Sliver Bullet' Against Teen Pregnancies?

    Since it became available in this country last year, Norplant has been one of the most controversial forms of birth control-embraced by some as a silver bullet for myriad social ills and denounced by others as a racist tool. Last week Baltimore became the first city to take that debate into the classroom, announcing that a school-based clinic would soon offer the surgically implanted contraceptive to teenage girls. The program will start next month at a school for pregnant girls and new teenage mothers. If it's successful, the city hopes to include Norplant at all eight of its clinics in high schools and middle schools. "We look at Norplant as just another service we offer these girls," says Rosetta Stith, principal of Laurence Paquin School, where the pilot project will be located. ...
  • The Fourth R: Revolting

    It hasn't been a good year for Los Angeles. First the recession, then riots, then a series of earthquakes. Now a massive teachers' strike is in the offing. ...
  • In Berlin, A World Turned Upside Down

    All my life," says teacher Renate Remke, "I wanted to see the Brandenburg Gate from the other side." In November 1989, hours after her fellow East Berliners began smashing the wall, Remke joined the throngs pushing through the huge stone gate that had stood for decades in no man's land between East and West. When she talks about that moment, her voice wavers. Three years later, she can see the other side any time she wants. And yet the other side still seems so very far away. "People had too many dreams," she says. ...
  • Giving Women the Business

    It may be the year of the woman in the U.S. Congress, but a different trend is apparent in America's business schools. Like a cheap sock on a CEO's calf, the number of women at some schools is slowly sagging. At Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management, for example, women make up only 28 percent of first-year students, down from 37 percent in 1986. And even schools with a relatively stable percentage of female students are looking for ways to attract more women. "Women make up 50 percent of the population," says David Downes, director of M.B.A. programs at the University of California, Berkeley, where women represent about a third of the class. "Why don't women make up 50 percent of our program?" ...
  • What Kids Need To Know

    The kids in Tracey Torres's first-grade class at the Mohegan Elementary School in the South Bronx don't know they're part of an educational experiment. They just know that school is fun. Last week they made sentences out of Native American pictographs hung on a clothesline across the classroom. As one student pointed to the symbols, they yelled out the meaning: "We ... see ... deer." Then Torres and the children moved on to the next part of the lesson, a simplified version of how Asians crossed the Bering Strait to become this continent's first inhabitants. ...
  • Failing Economics

    It was the Golden Dream in the Golden State: opening college doors to all Californians. The state's 32-year-old Master Plan of Higher Education has lived up to its pledge, creating a three-tier system that is a world model. The flagship University of California has nine campuses, including Berkeley and UCLA, with 167,000 students from the top of their high school classes. California State University serves 362,000 students at 20 campuses from Chico to San Diego. The 107 community colleges are a vital entry point for a wide range of students, from welfare mothers to laid-off workers. ...
  • Still Separate After 20 Years

    In 1971, Captain Shreve High School in Shreveport, La., had been fully integrated for only a year, and black and white students eyed one another uneasily. It was still the Old South-symbolized by the Confederate monument that occupied a place of honor in the courthouse square. That spring, Captain Shreve students added their own chapter to the city's divided history. When no black girls were elected by their classmates to the cheerleading squad, about a third of the school's 566 black students stormed out of the building. By the next day many of the 969 white kids were also at home. Their parents feared the protest might incite violence. ...
  • A Room With A Point Of View

    There are people who look at a bare window and see ... a bare window. And there are people who look at a bare window and see an opportunity for valances, draped swags and pelmets, Austrian blinds, Roman blinds, slatted blinds, roller blinds and mini-blinds. If you're one of the latter, PBS has a show for you: the new 13-part series "Decorating With Mary Gilliatt," which is running on stations around the country at various times this summer and fall. The show begins where "This Old House" leaves off-with bare walls aching for just the right touch of paint or paper-and PBS obviously hopes to capture "House" aficionados along with new-home buyers. ...
  • Tina: The Talk Of The Town

    The groom is 67, still witty and elegant but a little gray at the edges, with a predilection for long discourses on arcane topics. The bride is 38, an expatriate Brit who has made a brilliant career combining flash with dash. Can this marriage survive? ...
  • There's Life After Yale

    American schools have been called the best in the world, the worst in the world and a lot of other names in between. But until recently, few people would have thought of schools as a potential gold mine. Enter Chris Whittle, a Tennessee-based media entrepreneur. Last week he surprised the education elite by hiring Benno Schmidt, the president of Yale University, to help him develop a chain of profiitmaking elementary and secondary schools. Whittle's controversial plan, which he calls the Edison Project, is to build 100 campuses for 100,000 students by 1996. Eventually he hopes to enroll millions. Tuition will be about $5,500, the average annual per-pupil expenditure in public schools. Whittle plans to keep costs low by eliminating excess bureaucracy, using parent volunteers and installing state-of-the-art technology. ...
  • Taking A Lesson From Japan

    Picture this: in an elementary-school mathematic's class, children are drawing cubes. One boy is having trouble; although he's diligently copying the teacher's model, his cube still looks crooked. The teacher tells the boy to go to the blackboard and try again. He spends the rest of the class there, his work on display before all the other students. In an American school, a youngster subjected to such scrutiny might well burst into tears; the teacher would be considered harsh. But this was Japan, and the boy seemed unperturbed, says University of Michigan psychologist Harold W. Stevenson, one of the country's leading experts on Asian education. By the end of the class, the boy drew a decent cube and his classmates applauded. ...
  • One Nation, One Curriculum?

    In the last three years, 10-year-old Nick Lang's family has moved from Alaska to Colorado to Texas. For Nick, the moves !ant three very different schools in three very different districts. Some adjustment's were minor--studying Texas history instead of Colorado lore. But others were more taxing. "When we moved to Texas in January, the teacher expected every child to know their multiplication tables by heart," says Nick's mother, Roslyn. "In Denver, fourth graders hadn't memorized them yet. Nick started having stomachaches and didn't want to go to school." ...
  • The Calm After The Storm

    At the University of Chicago, Gerhard Casper earned a reputation as a legal scholar and a brilliant administrator. But the most important credential he brings to his new job as Stanford University president may be his status as an outsider-with no connection to charges that Stanford overbilled the federal government by up to $300 million in research grants. A sense of humor doesn't hurt, either. When he was named Stanford's ninth president last week, the 54-year-old Chicago provost had his own theory of why he was the search committee's unanimous choice. The German-born Casper joked that the trustees wanted someone who could correctly pronounce a Stanford motto: "Die Luft der Freiheit weht" (The wind of freedom blows). ...
  • Ask Your Boss About This Idea

    Leading the list of desirable employee benefits in the 1980s was help with child care. Now RJR Nabisco is pioneering what could become this decade's most sought-after perk: college-tuition assistance. Executives of the cigarette and snack manufacturer say their lofty goal is to eliminate financial barriers to higher education for all their employees' children. Starting in the 1992-93 academic year, RJR Nabisco will offer a range of financial aid, including scholarships and loan subsidies. Under a tax-deferred savings plan, the company will match annual contributions of up to $1,000 for each of a child's four years in high school. The plan is available to all of RJR Nabisco's 35,000 U.S. employees-except for the top 147 executives. "We have no doubt that those people ought to be able to pay for their own children's education, "said a spokesman. "This is not meant to be a perk for senior management." ...
  • Sexism In The Schoolhouse

    The girls in Jill Gugisberg Wall's science class at Farnsworth Elementary School in St. Paul, Minn., get angry when they think about the bad old days. At the schools they attended before coming to Farnsworth, "the boys got all the attention," says Carrie Paladie, 12. "Every time we asked a question, the teacher would just ignore us." Her classmate, 11-year-old Jennie Montour, agrees: "The boys got to participate in everything." Jennie says the teachers made her feel "that I was stupid." Their new science teacher's mission is to change all that. "In my classroom," she says, "I encourage everyone to be involved." ...
  • An 'F' In World Competition

    President Bush calls his plan for fixing schools "Education 2000." In that year, he promises, American students will lead the world in math and science. But judging by the results of international achievement tests released last week, Bush may have to rename his program "Mission: Impossible." South Korean and Taiwanese students whipped Americans in the math and science exams for 9- and 13-year-olds. The United States ranked near the bottom. Americans did excel in one part of the test, a survey of leisure and study habits - although the distinction was nothing to be proud of. As Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander noted: "It was not among our six education goals to lead the world in the amount of TV our students watched." ...
  • Sociology's Lonely Crowd

    Kai Erikson, the chairman of Yale's sociology department, could think of a word that aptly described the mood of his colleagues last week. But, he cautioned, "you can't print it." A more genteel synonym, he suggested, might be "outraged." It was an understandable reaction to the news that a faculty committee had recommended slashing the department's staff by almost 40 percent as part of a broad cost-cutting plan. Like most major research universities, Yale is struggling with the recession and a decline in federal research grants. Although two other departments, linguistics and operations research, would be closed outright, the blow to sociology struck a nerve. "Sociology has always had an image of being more liberal than the other social sciences," says Princeton University's Paul Starr. "In a generally conservative time, sociology may seem expendable." ...
  • A Head Start Does Not Last

    Head Start is virtually the only antipoverty program backed by liberals and conservatives, parents and early-childhood experts. Even in the midst of the recession the federal government doled out $2.2 billion this academic year for programs in all 50 states, guaranteeing up to two years of preschool for 600,000 3- to 5-year-olds. This week, President Bush is expected to announce that he is asking for a record increase in Head Start funding in the fiscal 1993 budget. Much of the support for Head Start is based on the belief that it levels the playing field for poor kids, giving them, as Bush put it in his 1988 campaign, "an equal place at the starting line." But now, a new long-term study suggests that underprivileged youngsters need a much bigger boost if they are going to finish the race. ...
  • Breaking The Divorce Cycle

    There is one day they all remember, the day they first heard the news, the day their world changed forever. For Sara Dadisman, it was her 13th birthday. Even now, two decades later, talking about it is difficult. "It seems as though my mom did it almost to hurt me," says Dadisman, who lives in Madison, Wis. "Sometimes I think, 'Was that real? Did she really do that to me on my birthday?' But I can remember her giving me a present, a Barbie doll or something, and then telling me she and my dad were getting a divorce. I was devastated." The year that Dadisman's parents broke up, 1971, fell in the midst of a watershed period in the history of American marriage. Before that point, divorce was relatively rare and youngsters felt ashamed of their status as products of what were then called broken homes. But over the next decade the divorce rate soared to a record high. In 1965, the divorce rate was 2.5 per 1,000 population; by 1976, it had doubled, to 5.0. Through most of the 1970s and...