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Arizona Panel Cites 'Unpopular Choices' Needed To Improve Schools

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A longer school year, increased graduation requirements, and programs designed to attract "gifted" students to the teaching profession are necessary for educational reform in Arizona, a report from the Governor's Committee on Quality Education states.

The report, "Education in Arizona: Popular Concerns, Unpopular Choices," was presented to Gov. Bruce Babbitt last month by the 21-member committee, which is composed of state and local educators, parents, and business representatives.

The report contains, as the title suggests, recommendations that will require "compromise."

"These reforms will not be easy to achieve," the report states. "They will require a willingness to compromise on matters commonly regarded as immutable; a re-examination of traditional ways of doing things; a re-ordering of priorities; restructuring of [the] budget; and additional financial resources."

Without increasing state revenues, enacting many of the committee's recommendations will require "difficult" choices, according to the report.

"For example," it states, "it may be impossible to pay adequate teacher salaries unless [other] programs are dropped."

Aid to Public Schools

Although Governor Babbitt has been a strong supporter of educational reform, particularly in the areas of mathematics and science, last winter he proposed reducing state aid to public schools by about $30.5 million for the 1983-84 school year.

The final appropriation for the 1983-84 school year was $880 million, according to Arizona Education Department officials, about $62 million above the 1982-83 budget.

At the time the 1983-84 education budget was set, the Arizona legislature was debating proposals to help ease a projected budget deficit of $200 million--the result of a severe recession in the state. The state's copper and building industries are depressed and revenues from sales and income taxes have fallen. Legislation in 1980 that limited property taxes also has contributed to the problem.

But in spite of the need to trim the state budget, the legislature adopted several of Gov. Babbitt's mathematics and science initiatives during its last session, including special training programs for students and teachers, forgivable college loans to mathematics and science teachers, and a computer-literacy requirement for state teacher certification.

In order to fund the mathematics and science programs, the Governor had advocated a shift in emphasis--and funds--to mathematics and science education. In its report, the Governor's committee recommended a similar policy for carrying out educational reforms.

The committee did not attach funding levels to its proposals, but the report states: "Several critical measures mandate either more money or a different allocation of existing funds."

With state officials predicting a large deficit again this year, Governor Babbitt probably will endorse only the recommendations of his committee that do not cost much, said Prudence Lee, an aide to the Governor.

He is expected to endorse a $6-million merit-pay plan and continued funding of the $400,000 mathematics and science initiatives, she said.

Given the state's economic situation, it is "unlikely" that the Governor will recommend a tax increase to fund the reforms, Ms. Lee explained. However, he is expecting increased revenues from a land trust fund to provide "new" money that could pay for the merit-pay plan, she said, adding that he may also suggest some rearrangement of funding priorities again this year.

One of the costliest recommendations of the committee was to increase teacher salaries by 25 percent over the next three years.

"There was unanimous agreement that teacher salaries are too low and must be adjusted upward if we are serious about improving the quality of education in Arizona," the report states, adding that a serious consequence of low salaries is the low number of gifted" college students who pursue teaching.

The committee also recommended merit pay, performanced-based bonus plans, support for summer projects, accelerated salary awards, and sabbatical leaves as ways to encourage teachers to remain in the profes-sion. The committee had suggestions for improving teacher-education programs as well. It recommended providing education students with a stronger background in basic academic subjects; more emphasis on human-relations and communications skills and less on methodology; and increasing the amount of time a prospective teacher must spend as a student teacher.

Rather than increasing certification requirements, the committee urged that officials make the process more flexible to allow "highly qualified, noncertified individuals to enter the teaching profession."

Curriculum Reforms

Based on the recent national reports on education reform, the Arizona committee decided to recommend an increase in high-school graduation requirements to four years of English; three years of mathematics, science, and social studies; and half a year of computer science.

Special attention must also be given to the needs of gifted and handicapped children, the committee said.

The state should provide "adequate" financial resources to educate handicapped children and school districts should be given a financial incentive to provide advanced courses for academically gifted children, the report says.

The committee suggested that the state board of education initiate a detailed study for all grade levels on the amount of time teachers and students spend on instructional activities and recommended that the state should, on a provisional basis:

Increase the school year from 175 days to 185 days;

Begin kindergarten at age four;

Expand the minimum time for grades 1-3 from four to five hours a day;

Expand the minimum time for grades 4-6 from five to six hours a day; and

Require high-school students to take a minimum of five academic courses, rather than the four currently required.

Bilingual Education

Because the state has "a substantial number of people who do not speak English or for whom it is a second language," the committee made several recommendations for the state's bilingual-education programs.

Teacher preparation for bilingual instruction must be improved, early-morning and after-school instruction in English should be available for non-English-speaking students, and the effectiveness of various approaches to achieving proficiency in English should be evaluated, the report states.

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