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A Survey of State Initiatives

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Only one of Illinois's 1,009 school districts reported having unfilled positions in mathematics and science in a survey conducted earlier this year, and education-school enrollments have stabilized after a long decline, but education officials suspect that many are teaching in their minor fields or relying on outdated preparation.

The major impetus for change is expected to come from a joint committee of the state board of education and the state higher-education board, which is studying the quality of instructional personnel, with special attention to math and science. The committee's report, which will address preservice and inservice training, certification requirements, and evaluation, is expected in early autumn.

In conjunction with that group's work, the state is exploring the possibility of bringing gifted students to state universities for instruction in math and science. The object, state officials say, is to give prospective teachers more clinical experience while providing more challenging work for able pupils.

The state legislature, in the session that ended on June 30, passed two bills codifying stricter high-school graduation standards. Illinois regulations currently require that school districts offer certain courses in math and science, but leave graduation requirements to local districts. Most districts already require at least two years of math and a year of a laboratory science, said Nelson Ashline, deputy state superintendent.

Both of the measures passed by the legislature require high-school students to "successfully complete," among other courses, two years of mathematics, including computer science. One version requires one year of science, and the other requires two. They are now before Gov. James R. Thompson, who will choose one to sign into law or veto both.

The State Board of Education opposed both measures and is urging Governor Thompson to veto them, insisting that such a move would be irresponsible unless some other mandates, including those requiring that students take driver education and consumer education, were relaxed or repealed. Furthermore, the state board's staff studied graduation standards nationwide and found that stiff requirements do not necessarily lead to higher achievement.

The legislature also created a 20-member commission on educational excellence, which is scheduled to make recommendations on curriculum reform and state mandates in fall 1984.

The state's higher-education board is considering increased admission requirements for state colleges and universities; standards in science and math are likely to be raised, state officials predict.

The state's role in facilitating the use of computers in schools is ''very pragmatic and very promising," Mr. Ashline said. By and large, he said, districts are finding ways to buy hardware with federal block-grant funds and local money, he said, but need help in learning how to use the equipment effectively.

In the past year, the state has spent about $500,000 in "seed money'' for 11 regional consortia of public school districts and private schools. In central locations, the consortia offer demonstrations of hardware, staff training, software libraries, and assistance on management applications of computers. With an appropriation of $1 million for the new fiscal year, state officials hope to set up new consortia to serve every district in the state. The networks are expected to become self-supporting, with fees from member schools, within two or three years. The state will continue to underwrite the development of software that is requested by a large number of schools.

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