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Southern Lawmakers Pledge Support for Education Improvement

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Asheville, N.C.--Southern legislators meeting here last week adopted a resolution calling on their states to "sustain and increase" efforts to improve the quality of education in the South.

The approximately 100 lawmakers attending the legislative work conference of the Southern Regional Education Board (sreb), the policy analysis and advisory organization supported by the states, agreed that their public schools had made "impressive" progress over the past two years, but concluded that "much remains to be done." The resolution they adopted--"Priorities for Future Actions to Improve the Quality of Education in the South"--recommended that:

States establish "more rigorous" high-school graduation requirements if they have not already done so, and states and local boards of education continue their efforts to upgrade high-school curricula;

Public and private colleges and universities tighten admission standards to improve educational quality;

Financial incentives be established to attract and retain outstanding teachers and reward excellent teaching;

States adopt a common teacher-certification test and simplify the certification process;

The resolution urged the states to establish more rigorous preparation and selection standards for principals and to examine the content of mathematics and science courses, instead of merely adding more courses in these fields to the public-school curriculum.

It also called on the states to define more thoroughly their objectives for vocational education; to determine at what level vocational courses are most effective; and to eliminate vocational-education courses that duplicated one another.

Governors Robert Graham of Florida and James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina both said in addresses at the conference that colleges and universities have a major responsibility to help states upgrade the quality of the public schools.

Higher education's traditional attitude toward public schools, Governor Graham said, "has been something less than benign neglect."

"The attitude has been that the public schools, at most, were the responsibilities of the colleges of education," the Governor said. "I think that attitude is no longer acceptable.

"The improvement of public education must be seen as the responsibility of the total college and university as an institution."

Who, Governor Graham asked, should be more interested in the quality of public school math and science teachers than college professors in those disciplines? Not only are they responsible for preparing students to become teachers, he said, but their success or failure in that responsibility will come back to haunt them, since their graduates will teach the students who will later fill their institution's freshman classes.

"A key to enhancing the prestige of the education profession is to get those persons who are looked up to as the leaders of our disciplines in the universities to broaden their scope as to who they think their brethren in academics are to include our public-school faculties," Governor Graham said.

He also called upon universities to find ways of preparing non-education graduates to teach.

In his remarks, Governor Hunt said that North Carolina's universities are working more aggressively with that state's public schools than ever before. And Donald Phil-lips, acting director of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center at Research Triangle Park and the Governor's science and technology adviser, said several North Carolina universities are working with public-school science and math teachers to help them upgrade their teaching skills.

In another conference session, Renee Hoover, an assistant dean at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, described for the participating lawmakers the experimental program being run by the university to develop talented new teachers for schools in North Carolina and Tennessee. Sponsored by the Lyndhurst Foundation of Chattanooga, the program permits able liberal-arts students to attain a master's degree in education while bypassing educa-tion-school courses.

The legislators also devoted some of their discussion to the final report of the sreb task force on higher education and the schools (See Education Week, June 1, 1983). The report assesses the progress that the 14 member states have made toward the goals initially outlined by the task force two years ago.

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