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Principals Discuss How To Improve School Climate

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San Francisco--Secondary-school principals, challenged by dramatic changes in the character of their student populations, appear to be increasingly concerned about improving their schools and dealing more effectively with student "learning styles."

These issues were a recurring motif late last month at the 66th annual convention of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (nassp), attended by more than 8,000 educators from across the country.

Among the most popular sessions at the four-day event were discussions on how to apply a variety of techniques--from "Japanese management principles" to the ideas growing out of new research in "learning styles"--to improve school quality.

But Scott D. Thomson, nassp's executive director, said the task will continue to be a difficult one.

It is ironic, he noted, that just as school management and teaching practices promise to improve dramatically, public education in America is facing a major credibility problem.

"We must do a better job of marketing," Mr. Thomson said. And to enhance the quality of the "product," he proposed five education priorities for the 1980's.

Improved student quality through higher graduation standards. Every high-school student, he said, should be required to take an English course every year, at least two years of reading and writing or a foreign language, two years of mathematics, a year each of a biological and physical science, and a course in computer literacy.

Improved teacher competence through greater attention to professionalism and less concern about "welfare" issues. "It's up to the profession to upgrade itself," Mr. Thomson said.

Stronger educational leadership through a focus on school improvement and applying the results of research on what constitutes an effective school.

Concentration on educational rather than social goals. "We need to go back to the solids, not the basics," Mr. Thomson said.

Renewed emphasis on schooling as a national resource. "Perhaps we should be less concerned about the challenge of Russian tanks and more concerned about the competition of Russian schools," he said.

The first part of a national study on middle schools was released at the conference, revealing that principals of middle schools think their greatest need is for better-prepared teachers.

The survey indicated that the majority of principals of schools serving pupils in various combinations of grades 5 through 9 believe that teacher-training institutions are ignoring the needs of "students in the middle"--those between elementary and high school.

According to James W. Keefe, director of research for the association, the report confirmed a growing trend in the use of middle schools, particularly in the Midwest. The grade configurations of these schools are not yet clearly defined, he said, but most often they eliminate the old junior-high-school pattern and place the ninth grade in the high school.

"We get more questions at the national office about what to to with the ninth grade than any other issue," Mr. Keefe said.

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