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Cox Said to Be Looking into Merger With AT&T Broadband

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Cox Communications Corp., the nation’s fifth largest cable operator, is exploring a merger with AT&T Broadband, according to sources close to the company.

The discussions are part of a month-long search by AT&T Chairman C. Michael Armstrong for an alternative bidder to Comcast Corp., whose unsolicited $40 billion offer for the company’s cable group was rejected by AT&T’s board in mid-July as inadequate.

Neither AT&T nor Cox could be reached Monday for comment.

Armstrong has since held discussions with AOL Time Warner, the Walt Disney Co., and Microsoft about a possible investment or merger with AT&T Broadband, the nation’s largest cable operator.

But sources close to the situation say Armstrong is having little success. Sources close to Cox say the cable company signed a confidentiality agreement with AT&T, but has little inclination to make a move. Most industry and Wall Street sources have already dismissed Cox as a potential suitor because it lacks the scale to pull off such a deal. Cox serves only about 6 million customers, compared with AT&T’s 14 million.

Women Fall Further Behind Men on SAT

LOS ANGELES TIMES

After years of narrowing the gap with young men on the SAT college-entrance exam, women in this year’s high school graduating class fell further behind, the College Board reported Tuesday.

The widening gap renewed questions about the fairness of the high-stakes test, which is used widely by the nation’s top colleges and universities as a key criterion for admission.

Males outscored females by 42 points on the combined verbal and math portions of the SAT exam, up modestly from 38 points the year before. Math scores accounted for most of the difference, as in years past.

Critics say the results should sound alarms about possible “gender bias” in the SAT exam, on which 90 percent of four-year schools rely to help pick their freshman classes.

Females, these critics noted, outperform men in the real world of high school and college and by all rights should significantly outperform them on the exam.

That women do not beat men’s scores by 35 to 70 points overall indicates that the test is biased against them, one University of California, Berkeley researcher noted.

Smoking During Pregnancy Continues to Fall

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Smoking during pregnancy dropped by a whopping one-third overall between 1990 and 1999, with the greatest successes occurring among women in their late 20s and 30s, federal health officials reported Tuesday.

But smoking rates for pregnant teen-agers climbed during the latter part of the decade, generally mirroring the smoking habit patterns of teens overall, researchers said.

The results were released in a report compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and marked the first comprehensive look at smoking and pregnancy trends over the course of nearly a decade.

In 1990, when the agency began tracking the statistics, 18.4 percent of pregnant women smoked at some point during their pregnancies. By 1999, the figure had dropped to just over 12 percent -- a decline of 33 percent, while women generally had little drop in their smoking rate, CDC officials said.

Still, the 12 percent translates into a half-million mothers who continue to smoke during pregnancy.

“We’ve been watching the drops from year to year,” said T.J. Mathews, the author of the report, which was compiled by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “Of course, even when there’s one woman smoking during pregnancy in the United States, there’s too many.”

Study Finds Later Start Helps High School Students

THE WASHINGTON POST

High school students are much less likely to miss classes or stop coming to school regularly if they can sleep later on school mornings, according to the largest study done into the impact of high school start times.

The study of thousands of Minneapolis high schoolers also found that students got more sleep, behaved better, got slightly better grades and experienced less depression after the district switched from a 7:15 a.m. to an 8:40 a.m. start time in 1997.

Many districts have made high school classes start earlier in recent years for financial reasons and to accomodate after-school activities. But those near-dawn starts have become controversial around the country as research suggested that teens behave better and appear more ready to learn when classes start later. The new research is the most comprehensive yet to look at the issue.

Kyla Wahlstrom of the University of Minnesota, who researched the changes in Minneapolis and earlier in the nearby suburb of Edina, said that officials from scores of school districts nationwide have contacted her about whether they should make classes begin later. The Minneapolis data could help them make their decisions, she said.

“Attendance and continuous enrollment have improved significantly in Minneapolis schools since the start times were changed,” she said. “It certainly makes sense that less sleepy students are more likely to stay in school and will be more ready to learn.”

In the 1995-96 school year, for instance, an average of 83 percent of 9th grade Minneapolis students attended classes daily, Wahlstrom found by analyzing attendance records for the entire school district. By 1999-2000, ninth grade attendence had increased to an average of 87 percent.