Souter retirement sets off speculation

In a May 1 letter to President Obama, U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter said he would be retiring from the nation’s high court in June. Souter’s announcement has set off a flurry of speculation about a successor, and it has educators wondering what his departure might mean for schools.

In June 2000, the moderate Souter wrote the dissent on Mitchell v. Helms, a case deciding whether the use of federal funds for private schools violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 provides for the allocation of funds for educational materials–such as library media and computer software–to public and private elementary and secondary schools to implement "secular, neutral, and nonideological" programs. In Jefferson Parish, La., about 30 percent of Chapter 2 funds are allocated for private schools, most of which are religiously affiliated. Mary Helms and other public school parents filed suit on the grounds that Chapter 2, as applied in Jefferson Parish, violated the separation of church and state.

The court ruled that such a use of federal funds did not violate the law. Souter, along with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens, dissented. In the dissent, written by Souter, the justices stated that taxpayer money should not pay for parochial school materials.

"The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause bars the use of public funds for religious aid. … To the plurality [majority], there is nothing wrong with aiding a school’s religious mission; the only question is whether religious teaching obtains its tax support under a formally evenhanded criterion of distribution. The plurality equates a refusal to aid religious schools with hostility to religion. I respectfully dissent," he wrote.

At the end of a presidential press conference about swine flu, reporters tried to shout questions about Souter, but Obama declined to answer.

"No Supreme Court questions," he said to reporters.

Souter’s departure is unlikely to change the court’s divided judicial philosophies. Obama’s first pick for the high court is likely to be a moderate nominee, much like Souter.

Many court watchers think the president will choose a woman to fill the vacancy, so there would be another woman on the bench to join Ginsburg, currently the court’s only female justice.

At 69, Souter is much younger than either Ginsburg or Justice John Paul Stevens, 89, the other two moderate justices whose names have been mentioned as possible retirees. Yet those justices have given no indication they intend to retire soon, and Ginsburg said she plans to serve into her 80s, despite her recent surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Souter, a regular jogger, is thought to be in excellent health.

In Philadelphia, Sen. Arlen Specter said he would like to see more ethnic and gender diversity on the high court.

"I think that, given the proportion of women in our society, … one out of nine is underrepresented," said Specter, a recent convert to the Democratic Party. "The court could use some diversity along a number of lines."

Interest groups immediately began gearing up for Souter’s replacement.

"Obama’s own record and rhetoric make clear that he will seek left-wing judicial activists who will indulge their passions, not justices who will make their rulings with dispassion," said Ed Whelan, president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, said, "We’re looking for President Obama to choose an eminently qualified candidate who is committed to the core constitutional values, who is committed to justice for all and not just a few."

Some of the names that have been circulated include recently confirmed Solicitor General Elena Kagan; U.S. Appeals Court Judges Sonya Sotomayor, Kim McLane Wardlaw, Sandra Lea Lynch, and Diane Pamela Wood; and Leah Ward Sears, chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Men who have been mentioned as potential nominees include Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein, and U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo of Chicago.


Supreme Court of the United States


$2,000 for school-based running programs

ING will provide 50 $2,000 grants to schools that desire to establish a school-based running program or expand an existing one. The grant program was created in an effort to help fight childhood obesity and introduce kids to the benefits of running, a habit of physical fitness and healthy lifestyle choices through the ING Run For Something Better School Awards Program in partnership with the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE).


Up to $300,000 for foreign language study

The Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) is providing grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) for innovative model programs providing for the establishment, improvement, or expansion of foreign language study for elementary and secondary school students. Under this competition, five-year grants will be awarded to LEAs to work in partnership with one or more institutions of higher education to establish or expand articulated programs of study in languages critical to United States national security in order to enable successful students to achieve a superior level of proficiency in those languages.


Win a technology innovation package worth more than $4,300

eInstruction and Knowledge Delivery Systems is inviting educators to tell them what online resources they have or would like to use that contribute to the success in their classroom. At the end of the sweepstakes we will select 9 winners; 3 from each of the three categories: grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. There will be three grand prize winners who will receive an interactive makeover for their classroom, worth over $4,300. The makeover includes: Interwrite Workspace with ExamView reader; Interwrite Mobi; 32-Pad CPS RF Clicker System; one-year subscription to ExamView Learning Series; and free installation and training.
Two winners will also be selected from each of the three categories to receive a free 3-credit online graduate course from a regionally accredited KDS university partner.


Up to $12.8 million for school lunch equipment

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provides a $12.8 million one-time appropriation to California for equipment assistance grants to school food authorities (SFA) participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The NSLP equipment assistance grants are to improve the infrastructure in the NSLP; however, the authority for the grants was provided in the context of the overall effort to stimulate activity within the American economy. The program serves sponsors of the National School Lunch Program. This program focuses on sites in which fifty percent or more of the enrolled children qualify for free and reduced-price meals.


Iconic texts still missing from e-libraries

A growing number of schools are embracing books in electronic format, but many classic titles that have become staples of the English curriculum still aren’t available as eBooks.

Getting permission to release a book in electronic form can be as hard–or harder–than writing it: It took six years get J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy released in eBook format, more than half as long as Tolkien himself took to write all three books.

"The Tolkien estate wanted to be absolutely confident that eBooks were not something ephemeral," says David Brawn, publishing operations director at HarperCollins U.K., which announced last week that the late British author’s works–among the world’s most popular–would at last be available for downloading.

"We were finally able to convince the Tolkien estate that the eBook is a legitimate, widespread format," Brawn said.

Tolkien’s addition to the e-club fills a major gap, and, with eBooks the fastest (and virtually only) growing sector of publishing, other authors and their estates have softened as well.

Former holdouts Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel have allowed their books to be digitized, and John Grisham will reportedly do the same. Grove/Atlantic Inc., which has published William Burroughs, Samuel Beckett, and Malcolm X, expects many of its older works to become available.

"We’re getting less resistance every day," says Grove associate publisher Eric Price.

But you could still build a brilliant collection with the books that remain offline. They include, most notably, the Harry Potter series and countless other favorites: Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22; Lolita and To Kill a Mockingbird; Atlas Shrugged and Things Fall Apart; The Outsiders and Fahrenheit 451.

"eBooks will be increasingly important as schools try to make content more widely available to students," said Bob Moore, executive director of information technology for the Blue Valley Schools in Overland Park, Kan. "It would be unfortunate if some publishers and/or authors resist the move to online content, as it will ultimately limit the access that people have to their materials. It would be about as foolish as a music recording artist resisting iTunes or similar technology."

No eBooks are available from such living authors as Thomas Pynchon, Guenter Grass, and Cynthia Ozick, or from the late Studs Terkel, Roberto Bolano, and Saul Bellow. Only a handful, or less, have come out from Paul Bowles, Hunter S. Thompson, and James Baldwin.

The reasons are legal, financial, technical, and philosophical.

– The author or author’s estate simply refuses, like J.K. Rowling, who has expressed a preference for books on paper and a wariness of technology. And don’t expect to see A Streetcar Named Desire or any other Tennessee Williams play on your eBook reader.

"Right now, his estate is totally opposed to any kind of electronic licensing," said literary agent Georges Borchardt, who represents Williams’ estate. "They just don’t trust the technology."

– The book doesn’t fit the eBook format. Because e-technology has had limited capacity to handle illustrations, paper–recycled paper–was needed to read Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the companion to the Academy-Award winning environmental documentary. Rodale Books hopes to release Gore’s follow up, Our Choice, as an electronic text when the traditional book comes out this fall.

– The author, or the author’s representative, is holding out for more money. Agents complain that eBook royalty rates, commonly 25 percent of net receipts, are far too low and should be doubled, saying that digital texts cost virtually nothing to produce and distribute.

"Publishers get a huge profit, more on eBooks than on anything else," says Timothy Knowlton, CEO of Curtis Brown Ltd., where authors include business writer Jim Collins (whose Good to Great is unavailable as an eBook) and religious scholar Karen Armstrong (whose recent work can be downloaded).

"From my perspective, that’s patently unfair–and it’s going to backfire on the publishers who insist upon it."

Knowlton says that HarperCollins is among those giving 25 percent. Ana Maria Allessi, vice president and publisher of HarperMedia, a multimedia group at HarperCollins, did not confirm or deny the number, but said the same rate has been offered since 2001.

"We feel it’s the right royalty, one that allows for growth of the format while still returning to authors a respectable amount of money," Allessi said.

– The author, or author’s estate, is open to eBook rights, but still not convinced that the market is big enough to justify the expense and risk of digitizing a text. Arthur Klebanoff of RosettaBooks, an eBook publisher, remembers numerous attempts to get rights to To Kill a Mockingbird and other older classics, only to encounter skepticism about sales.

"Some of the biggest names are still waiting for the market to prove itself," Klebanoff said.

The digital red tape is especially thick for books issued before the Kindle/Sony Reader era. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a cult favorite published in 1996 by Little, Brown and Co., is finally expected to come out as an eBook. Grove/Atlantic hopes to have an e-version of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, released on paper in 1959, ready for the novel’s 50th anniversary.

"We have to go through every single contract to see which ones have a clause that might pertain to electronic rights and which ones didn’t," says Grove’s Eric Price. "When you’re going through thousands and thousands of contracts, it’s a slow, slow process."

Sometimes, just finding out whether a book has e-rights is a complicated process.

A handful of Jack Kerouac books can be downloaded, including Dharma Bums, Wake Up, and the original manuscript (the "Scroll" edition) of On the Road, but not the edited version of On the Road that is known to millions.

The manager of Kerouac’s literary estate, John Sampas, first said that On the Road was not available as an eBook, because the publisher (Viking) had not asked permission. He then called back and said the book was available, but realized he might have been talking about the "Scroll." Sampas suggested contacting Viking, which said it does have rights to the popular edition, has plans to release it, but has not decided upon a date.

School and library representatives said eBooks are one more way to get students interested in reading–and not having the option of an electronic format for some classic texts would be a shame.

"eBooks are … indicative of the changing school library environment, where multiple formats are needed to meet the needs of a diverse student body," said Ann M. Martin, president of the American Association of School Librarians. "Just like in the past, students need to have choice in materials to read, and currently choice is extending into alternative formats. It is not so much a shame that a print book would [not] be offered in eBook format as much as it would be a shame that students would not have the choice to decide which format they would prefer."


American Association of School Librarians

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Empowering Education Through Technology resource center. Integrating technology into the classroom can be a challenge without the right guidance. Go to: Empowering Education Through Technology