Commission Is Queried on Reform Costs
Philadelphia--Members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education who met with education leaders and government officials from five states here last week were bombarded by questions about who would be responsible for implementing and paying for the reforms proposed by the commission.
Those attending the meeting praised the commission members for helping prepare the nation for education reform. But a number of administrators, school-board members, and state legislators warned that implementing recommendations to cut class size, extend the school year, raise teacher salaries, and establish merit-pay programs would cost millions of dollars that they do not have.
"Many changes will be costly, and much of the burden will fall on states already in a financial crunch. ... States have only enough money to preserve essential services, not make improvements," said Lucille Maurer, a delegate to the Maryland General Assembly. Ms. Maurer noted that "there is a broad sweep for improvements, but not for taxes" to pay for them.
"Smaller classes, higher pay, and a longer year" carry a "hefty price tag," said Floretta D. McKenzie, superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools. She said that to decrease class size by one student would cost her school district $4 million per year.
"The commission's silence on how to foot the bill leaves the question lingering," she said, noting that Japan and West Germany, America's strongest economic competitors, have a "strong national commitment" to education.
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schools come from families on public assistance, one local educator said that it was "unfair to leave an excessive burden of additional cost at the state and city level."
Commission members responded that the task of determining a price tag for their reform program "was not in the commission's charter," and Secretary Bell reiterated the Reagan Administration's policy that "the major funding role for education ought to rest with the states."
"Education is to state governments what national defense is to the federal government," he said.
The purpose of the meeting--the eighth in a series of 11 regional conferences--was to continue discussion about A Nation At Risk, the commission's final report; to hear from governors, state education leaders, and legislators what has been done in their states to implement the recommendation of the report; and to "spur further initiatives," according to members of the commission.
The conference, which was held at the University of Pennsylvania, attracted more than 1,000 participants from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. (Another forum on the recommendations of the excellence commission was held last week in Athens, Ga. Others will be held in Kingsport, Tenn., and Seattle.)
Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey outlined the proposals--to raise beginning teachers' salaries, establish a master-teacher program, and open teaching posts to candidates not trained in education schools--that he presented to a special joint session of the New Jersey Legislature earlier this month. (See Education Week Sept. 14, 1983.)
New Jersey educators present at the conference expressed doubt that the legislature would approve the package.
"The ideas are good, but are they practical?" asked Carol A. Hoeh, vice-president of the Ocean County, N.J., school board and a 1st-grade teacher.
Ms. Hoeh said that taxes are already high in the state and that the upgraded salaries for new teachers would upset those who have worked in the schools for four years and still do not make $18,500. "If we are going to raise salaries, we need to upgrade the whole salary scale for teachers," she said.
Other educators took issue with the Governor's merit-pay plan and raised several questions: "How do we determine who is a master teacher?'' "What do we do when 6 percent of teachers deserve to be master teachers, but we have funding only to recognize 5 percent in that way?" ''What do we say to parents when their child does not have the master teacher this year?"
Officials from Pennsylvania and Delaware also described their states' education-reform efforts.
In Pennsylvania, final adoption of new state minimum high-school graduation requirements (that would raise the number of required credits from 13 to 21 and triple the number of credits required in mathematics and science) is slated for November, according to Richard C. Wilburn, the state's chief education officer. State officials are also reviewing curriculum standards, evaluating the "preparation, supervision, and recognition" of teachers, and considering a statewide testing program to assess student progress. Pennsylvania is one of the few states without a testing program, according to Mr. Wilburn.
The Delaware Legislature this year allocated additional funds to decrease class size, introduce teacher competency tests, develop basic-skills programs, and improve programs for the gifted and talented, according to Lt. Gov. Michael N. Castle. He added that the state was in the midst of a comprehensive review of education in grades K-12.
Gov. Pierre S. duPont 4th of Delaware called on educators to "lay out the challenge" for school improvement by working "to motivate, interest, and involve parents." The job of school improvement requires ''more than the support of educators and interest groups," he said.
"We need to involve parents in the system. The letter home sent by teachers can be a channel of good news," said Penny R. Cipolone, a teacher at Gateway Regional High School in Woodbury Heights, N.J., who last year was named the state's teacher of the year.
She urged teachers, who are "besieged by paperwork, student council meetings, and milk money," to raise their grading standards; to "refuse to change the 62 grade to 65" to pass students who are failing; to collect--and correct--homework assignments; and to encourage good students to pursue teaching as a career.