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Mass. Panel Plans Review of Education System

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Citing the availability of recent studies by educational groups in the state, the co-chairmen of the Joint Education Committee of the Massachusetts legislature announced last week that they intend to serve as the coordinators of a comprehensive review of the state's education system based on those evaluations.

Although few details of the review have been worked out, according to a spokesman for Senator Gerard D'Amico and Rep. James Collins, it could result in legislation to reform curriculum, testing, and professional development in the state's schools and colleges.

The review of programs affecting students in elementary, secondary, and higher-education programs would be completed by November, according to the spokesman.

In announcing the proposal, Mr. Collins and Mr. D'Amico described the political climate as favorable for educational reform and said they planned to modernize the system and its academic offerings.

At the center of discussions, however, is the Massachusetts Board of Regents' proposal to increase admission standards for the state's public colleges and universities.

Commissioner of Education John H. Lawson said last week in an interview that his department is conducting its own study of curriculum, basic skills, competency testing, and staff development for the state's elementary and secondary teachers.

"At this time, I think [the review] is a general proposal," Mr. Lawson said, adding that he has been involved in discussions with Senator D'Amico and Representative Collins. But he said the proposal would eliminate duplication among programs and would produce stronger program initiatives.

One of the problems at the precollegiate level, according to Mr. Lawson, is that very little in the curriculum is mandated by the state. This study, he said, may determine a need for more mandated courses. At present, students are required to take physical education and one year of American history or civics.

"The state has relied on local control, but since the enactment of Proposition 2, [which cut property taxes and placed a cap on spending], some of that control has been restricted and the locals are looking to the state for help and relief," Mr. Lawson said.

Mr. Lawson said that Gov. Michael S. Dukakis has recently proposed an additional $150 million in aid to school districts. Because of that funding commitment, he said that "it is time to review to see what we can do better."

Under the Board of Regents' proposal, which is expected to be approved next month, applicants to the four-year colleges will be required to have four years of English, three years of math, two years of science, and two years of a language.

The proposed admission standards grew out of concern that the state does not have a uniform curriculum, according to Estelle M. Shanley, director of public information for the Board of Regents. "In effect, the board is serving notice [to school districts] that they must provide this kind of college-bound curriculum," she said.

"This means they are going to have to spend more money," Ms. Shanley said. The standards would be phased in by 1987.

The education department's evaluation of the basic-skills program will be completed in the fall, according to Mr. Lawson, and that study will be used to determine the need for other programs.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association is also conducting a study of teacher-related programs. Carol Doherty, the mta's new president, was unavailable last week for comment on the effort.

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