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Alaska Board Likely To Act on 'Effective Schools' Document

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This week the Alaska State Board of Education is scheduled to begin discussing the recommendations of a special report that one official in the state education department said represents "the most thorough review of effective-schooling practices ever conducted in Alaska."

The recommendations, which are contained in the 76-page report of the Governor's Task Force On Effective Schooling, were the focus of a series of public hearings recently held throughout the state, according to Harry Gamble, chief spokesman for the Alaska Department of Education.

According to Vincent H. Casey, president of the state board of education and chairman of the task force, the report narrowly defines the role and responsibilities of the state's public schools and calls for an extensive overhaul of the state's elementary- and secondary-school curricula and high-school graduation requirements.

'Effective Schooling Practices'

The report, Mr. Casey added, also calls upon the state board to adopt 45 specific "effective-schooling practices," which were compiled for the task force by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory of Portland, Ore. He said that special emphasis was placed on identifying effective-schooling practices in the following general areas: parent participation; computer-assisted instruction; class size; the principal as instructional leader; time factors; and classroom organization and grouping.

Mr. Gamble said the Jan. 27 meeting would mark the state board's first official reaction to the report. He said the purpose of the day-long discussion would be to set a timetable for implementation of the report's numerous recommendations.

Gov. Jay S. Hammond established the task force in January 1980 with the mission of devising a process that could determine the quality of education in the state's public schools, according to Mr. Casey.

The governor felt such an assessment would be appropriate, he added, in light of the rather large, recent increases in the state's contribution to Alaska's 52 local school districts. In fiscal year 1981, the state appropriated approximately $400 million--roughly one-third of its total budget--to local education efforts.

"The state was paying out more and more money every year, but the districts were not accountable for the manner in which that money was spent," Mr. Casey said. "The governor felt it was necessary to inform citizens of effective-schooling practices in order to give them a yardstick by which they could measure how good a job their local schools were doing."

Improving Quality

According to Ben Williams, director of the Education Commission of the States' education-improvement center, Alaska joins 30 other states that have attempted to find new ways of improving both the quality and cost-effectiveness of education.

The Alaska project, however, differs from most other state education-improvement efforts in two major respects, according to Mr. Williams.

"First, the program is innovative in the sense that it attempts to assign responsibility for the education of children to other agencies and groups within the community as well as to the schools," he explained.

"The report clearly states that 'there are some things that schools are best suited for, and other things that parents and, for exam-ple, child-welfare agencies can best handle.'

"That's a good idea in the sense that it helps build public confidence in public education," he continued. "All too often the public expects the schools to do things that they really aren't well equipped to handle."

In addition, Mr. Williams said, the Alaska task force spent much more time culling proven effective-schooling practices from existing research, unlike other state school-improvement efforts.

"Some states just look informally at the research, but Alaska really looked in depth at scientific knowledge on school-improvement practices," he said. "That's where they took an additional step that sets them apart."

According to Mr. Casey, a number of citizens have written letters to the state board and the state education department criticizing the task force report for limiting local control over public schools.

Differing Communities

He said, however, that the task force took into account "the reality that communities in Alaska differ quite a bit and that what works in a school in Anchorage might not work in a school in Angoon."

"All that we did in the report was to explain some variables that have been identified in effective school systems," he continued. "We never said that every school had to follow our recommendations to the letter."

Now, Mr. Casey said, it is up to the Alaska state board to decide which of those recommendations merit implementation in the state's public schools.

"I'm not sure that all the recommendations will be adopted by the full board," he predicted. "For instance, the task force recommended that all school districts offer kindergarten programs where elementary schools are operated, with the provision that attendance be optional.''

Some communities feel, he said, that the lack of adequate means of transportation in their district would make such a rule impractical.

"There has also been some negative feedback on proposed curriculum changes, primarily in districts where the proposed changes would force large expenditures for new textbooks and materials."

Mr. Casey said, however, that he was convinced the task-force report will have a positive influence on educational quality in Alaska. "Even if just one-third of this is approved," he said, "I believe that it will get the state moving in the right direction."

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