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Baltimore Adopts 5-Year Plan to Improve Schools

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Baltimore--City school officials here are putting the final touches on a sweeping five-year plan for the nation's eighth-largest school system--a plan that reads like a summary of the latest concepts in American urban education.

The plan, seven months in the making and now in its fifth draft, calls for dozens of critical changes in the operation of the Baltimore schools, from the way children will be taught to the way records will be kept.

Underlying the 47-page plan, which officials estimate will cost the school district about $10 million to $12 million per year, is the assumption that the city's pupils will soon be at the national norms on standardized achievement tests--and that reliance on systems will maintain that improving record. The document includes plans to:

Bring to every classroom a system of instruction called "mastery learning," in which groups of pupils do not progress through their lessons until each student masters specific

materials every step along the way. In recent years, school systems as large as Chicago and as small as Johnson City, N.Y., have moved similarly toward mastery learning. Baltimore will start this fall with several elementary schools, one junior high and one senior high using the program.

Increase dramatically the use of the computer as a learning tool, for career preparation, and to run the schools more efficiently.

Officials envision using small micro-processors to grade the mastery-learning system's mini-tests, as well as to provide computer-literacy courses for grades 3 through 12, courses in computer programming, and classes in which instruction is assisted by computers. One system of computer-assisted instruction, called plato, will be expanded to involve more than 100 terminals at 12 schools this fall. According to the five-year plan, half the city's 185 schools will have computers or terminals by 1983; all will have them by 1986.

Require subject-matter tests of competence for both new and tenured teachers, counselors, and other school-level personnel; set up formal in-service training requirements beyond those teachers now must meet for state certification; and evaluate school principals, in part, by the performance of their students.

Although the idea of competency tests for new teachers has swept the nation, no major school system currently tests tenured teachers. Nor does any large system evaluate its principals to a major degree on their pupils' achievement. In contract talks that open in December, these proposals are likely to meet opposition from the Baltimore teachers' union and the administrators' association.

Enrich the school system's curriculum by expanding pre-kindergarten classes into almost every elementary school; by providing special classes at every elementary school for pupils who achieve well above their grade levels; by bringing college-level, advanced-placement courses to 11th- and 12th-graders at each of the district's comprehensive high schools; by increasing the number and range of foreign-language classes; and by broadening the variety of "work-study" opportunities in vocational and non-academic programs.

In devising the five-year plan, Baltimore school officials also have considered but dropped plans to: extend the school day by a half-hour to six and a half hours, excluding the lunch period; set up specific competency tests for adminstrators and supervisors; and create "alternative learning centers" in each of the district's four geographic regions to serve troubled or unresponsive pupils.

Initial estimates peg the cost of the plan at about 3 to 4 percent of the school system's $320-million budget--no small expense considering that its sources of revenue are growing tighter and that it only avoided an illegal deficit last fiscal year by delaying payment of more than $1 million in expenses. However, school officials believe that a large portion of the cost--60 percent or more, according to one estimate--can be covered by shifting funds now spent in other ways.

As the five-year plan heads toward a public hearing on Oct. 14 and formal school-board approval in late October or November, school officials continue to stress that it is something far more than just another round of paper ideas. Nothing has been put in the document, they say, that they do not intend to carry out.

Said the city's school-board president, David C. Daneker: "It won't be the Bible. But it will put the burden of proof on those who want to do things differently."

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