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Spring 2001 Vol. 1 No. 1



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BRIEF TAKES


Whither the Atlantic Salmon?

Maine is home to the last wild, native populations of Atlantic salmon in the United States. Most salmon sold at markets and in restaurants do not come from the wild, but are commercially raised on fish farms. Last year, federal agencies listed wild salmon found in several Maine rivers as endangered, claiming that the species was nearing extinction despite the state's intensive conservation efforts. Regulations under the Endangered Species Act threaten to limit certain land-based activities near these rivers, and may affect the state's aquaculture and blueberry farming industries. Which is why Maine officials oppose the listing -- they argue that new restrictions will harm these important industries while not necessarily saving the salmon.

Less than 10 percent of the population needed for long-term survival of wild Atlantic salmon are returning to spawn in the Maine rivers, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The complex life cycles of salmon subject them to a variety of environmental factors. These include climate change, disease, and predation by other fish and mammals, but it is difficult to determine exactly why the fish are disappearing at such an alarming rate. Interbreeding and competition with escaped farm-raised salmon also may have disrupted wild populations.

At the request of Congress, a new Research Council committee is reviewing the status of Atlantic salmon in Maine, assessing causes of population decline, principal threats to survival, and actions that could increase the likelihood of long-term salmon survival. An interim report is expected later this year, and a full report will follow in 2002.   -- Shelley Solheim

(See listing in "New Projects and Publications" for additional information.)


Juvenile Crime & Punishment

When communities across the country saw large jumps in the number of violent crimes committed by juveniles during the late '80s and early '90s, policy-makers reacted, supporting measures to transfer youthful offenders at younger ages from the juvenile-justice system to adult court. States also made sentencing more punitive for a broader range of offenses, which led to more youths being detained and incarcerated.

The juvenile arrest rate for violent crime began to drop in 1994 and by 1999, it had returned to levels seen before the attention-grabbing increases. Although many have attributed the improvement to various get-tough strategies, the actual cause remains uncertain. Indeed, some of these policies were enacted after crime trends had already begun to turn around.

What has grown clear, however, is that treating juvenile offenders as adults may do more harm than good, concludes a new report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. A growing body of evidence suggests that even juveniles who commit serious offenses can be treated more effectively -- and without risking public safety -- in well-designed, community-based rehabilitation programs than in secure detention.

Increasingly, correctional facilities have grown crowded, often impairing their ability to provide adequate educational or support services to juveniles. Furthermore, crowded conditions raise the risk of injury to both staff members and young inmates, said the panel that wrote the report. For these reasons, the federal government should provide states with funds and other incentives to develop community-based alternatives for juvenile offenders and move away from institutionalization.

In addition, federal and state funds should be used to create treatment and intervention options that avoid grouping aggressive young people together, the report says. Group rehabilitation for troubled kids may inadvertently fuel antisocial behavior because such programs concentrate negative influences.

Given the overrepresentation of minorities in the juvenile-justice system, policy-makers also should set aside new funds to support a comprehensive, long-term research agenda aimed at fully investigating the issue and rooting out any sources of institutional bias, the report adds. Likewise, all publicly supported intervention programs should be closely monitored and routinely evaluated -- using valid scientific methods -- to ensure youngsters' safety and determine whether goals are being met.   -- Vanee Vines


Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice. Panel on Juvenile Crime: Prevention, Treatment, and Control; Committee on Law and Justice, Division on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; and Board on Children, Youth, and Families, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2001, approx. 400 pp.; ISBN 0-309-06842-8; available from National Academy Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $39.95 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies).

The panel was co-chaired by Joan McCord, professor, criminal justice department, Temple University, Philadelphia, and Cathy Spatz Widom, professor, psychiatry department, New Jersey Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark. The study was sponsored by the U.S. departments of Justice and Education, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.


Technology in the Classroom

Every day, somewhere in an American classroom, a teacher is discovering that students can use interactive software to develop much more than game-playing skills. Computers equipped with high-quality instructional programs can expand student understanding, such as helping them to visualize abstract ideas in ways that were once hard to imagine. Likewise, having Internet access means potentially bringing students around the globe together into communities of learners. While the possibilities for using information technology (IT) as a learning tool seem endless, school leaders and policy-makers have been cautious about embracing it for instructional purposes. Nevertheless, enthusiasm is building for how the education community might work with the IT industry to create applications best suited for improving learning in the nation's schools.

A new study by the National Research Council will assemble a committee of experts to explore how both learning and instruction could be enhanced through the creative use of information technology. The committee will examine new paradigms for combining technology and knowledge of the learning process, and explore opportunities for K-12 educators, software and hardware developers, and cognitive scientists to collaborate on improving education with new applications of technology. A final report is expected in 2002.   -- Mark Chesnek

(See listing in "New Projects and Publications" for additional information.)



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Copyright 2001 by the National Academy of Sciences