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Pennsylvania Governor's 'Agenda for Excellence' Wins Praise

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Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh of Pennsylvania last week joined a growing number of state leaders who have proposed reforms in elementary and secondary education in recent months.

In an "Agenda for Excellence" announced in Pittsburgh at a meeting of school principals, the Governor recommended a new core curriculum, a statewide testing program for students and teachers, mandatory state-funded remedial work for low achievers, financial rewards for top students and teachers, and a one-year "apprenticeship" for all new teachers.

The plan would be phased in between the 1984-85 and 1987-88 school years and would cost the state $107.4 million annually once it is fully implemented, according to the Governor, who said he would not raise taxes to pay for it. Pennsylvania, which has 1.8 million public elementary- and secondary-school students, last year paid $1.76 billion in general operating aid to school systems.

Favorable Response

The response to Governor Thornburgh's proposals was favorable. The state's board of education, which must approve many of the plan's initiatives, has indicated its support for the Governor's "entire agenda," according to its secretary, Jeffery N. Grotsky.

"In general, we are very supportive" of the plan, said Helen E. Caffrey, executive director of the state Senate's Education Committee. "There is a good chance that the legislature will support the plan financially," she added. The legislature would have to enact measures establishing the state-supported remedial program and the financial rewards for students and teachers.

Many of the state's education associations also endorsed the education-reform package. Nancy M. Noonan, president of the 130,000-member Pennsylvania State Education Association, which has repeatedly clashed with Gov. Thornburgh on education matters over the past few years, said it was her group's "sincere desire to cooperate with the Governor" in implementing school reforms. She said the teachers' union will give the Governor's proposals "serious consideration."

Under Mr. Thornburgh's plan, the state's high-school graduation requirements would be rewritten to include three years of mathematics and science (up from one each), four of English (up from three), two of art and humanities (where there are no requirements now), and three years of social studies (up from two). The estimated cost of implementing these new requirements is $40 million a year.

Standardized Test

The Governor's plan also calls for a standardized test of reading and mathematics skills for students in grades three, five, and eight. The program, called "Testing for Essential Learning and Literacy Skills," was described by the Governor as an "early-warning system." Those who fail to score at their grade level on the examinations would be enrolled in state-funded remedial programs, at an estimated cost to the state of $56 million annually.

Saying that "society cannot justi-fy billing hard-pressed taxpayers for 12 years of schooling for each child with only the guarantee of 6th-grade competence as a return on its investment," Mr. Thornburgh proposed the establishment of a "Pennsylvania Honors Program" as an incentive for students to do well in school.

Under the program, the state would establish a test based on a "demanding, four-year curriculum of academic courses." Those who do well on the test would receive an Honors Diploma; those who score in the top 1 percent would receive a $1,000 college scholarship.

Noting that "the public no longer is in a mood to support the same level of pay for every teacher, when the performance of some teachers so obviously is superior to the performance of others," the Governor proposed an "Excellence In Teaching" award program that would give up to 5 percent of a school system's teachers one-year, $2,000 bonuses.

Excellence, Leadership

School boards would establish the criteria for making these awards, but they would have to be approved by the state department of education, which would favor criteria that stress excellence in the classroom and school, leadership in the devel-opment of new teachers, and evidence of scholarly work in the teacher's subject area, according to the Governor. The estimated cost of the program is $10 million a year.

Under the Governor's plan, education schools would be required to offer students fewer pedogogical courses; a test of basic skills and subject-area competence would be required of all teaching candidates; and each new teacher would have to successfully complete a one-year "apprenticeship" under the guidance of a local "support team" with the authority to recommend whether the new teacher should be certified.

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