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Conn. Plan Unveiled To Improve Schools

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Commissioner of Education Gerald N. Tirozzi of Connecticut has proposed a sweeping school-improvement plan that would mandate a longer school year, more academic courses, revisions of the compulsory-attendance law, and expanded kindergarten services.

The plan would cost about $192.3-million in additional state funds over the next four years, according to estimates from the state department of education, but that figure does not include the cost of recommended salary increases for teachers. Connecticut's current education budget is about $620 million.

The commissioner's proposals, based in part on the recommendations of several study groups that have been assessing the state's education system, were unveiled last month during a special meeting of the Connecticut Board of Education.

The state board is scheduled to vote on the commissioner's proposed plan--which is called "Connecticut's Challenge: An Agenda for Educational Equity and Excellence"--in January.

Legislative Action

If the plan is approved by the state board, the proposals will then be sent to the General Assembly for consideration during its 1984 session, according to Lise S. Heintz, public-information officer for the state department of education. Most of the items require legislative action, but some, such as the commissioner's request for studies of early-childhood, vocational, and adult education, require only the board's approval, according to Ms. Heintz.

Under the commissioner's plan, high-school-graduation requirements would increase from 18 credits to 20 credits and districts would be required to expand class periods from 40 to 45 minutes.

Ms. Heintz said the plan would establish--for the first time--a core curriculum consisting of four units of English, three units each of mathematics and social studies, two units of science, one unit each of physical education and the arts, and six electives. She said districts now set their own curriculum requirements.

The most expensive proposal, according to Ms. Heintz, is the commissioner's recommendation that the board phase in a longer school year. Over the next four years, the school year would increase from 180 days to 190 days for students and to 200 days for teachers.

During the 1987-88 school year--the last year of phasing in the proposal--the extended school year would cost about $73.2 million of the overall $192.3-million package. But, according to Ms. Heintz, only about half of the cost would be borne by the state; local school districts would be liable for the other half.

The amount each district paid would be based on its wealth and ability to support the reforms.

The commissioner has also proposed that the board increase certification requirements for teachers and that teacher-preparation programs adopt new procedures and standards, including a required competency examination in reading, writing, and mathematics.

The commissioner's plan does not call for specific pay raises for teachers, but it does incorporate the recommendation of a state task force on teachers' salaries.

Ms. Heintz said the commissioner's plan asks the state board to appoint a committee to study raising salaries.

"At this point," Ms. Heintz explained, "our recommendation on teacher salaries is for a study committee to decide how districts can best implement higher teacher salaries" and is therefore not a cost item in the department's total estimates.

The commissioner has further proposed that the state board require all districts to provide full-day kindergarten programs instead of the current half-day programs, according to Ms. Heintz. She said the commissioner also would like the department to conduct a study of educational services for 4-year-olds and has proposed lowering the compulsory school-attendance age from 7 to 5.

In addition, the commissioner's proposal calls for statewide testing of 4th graders to ensure that they have mastered basic skills and to assess the need for remediation.

The commissioner's plan is scheduled for two public hearings later this month, according to Ms. Heintz.

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