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R. I. Proposes School-Improvement Plan To Be Tied to State Aid

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The Rhode Island Board of Regents has endorsed a comprehensive school-improvement plan that would require all school districts to offer certain basic educational courses or else lose a portion of their state-aid allocation.

The proposed standards, which are scheduled to be presented for public hearings next month, could take effect during the 1984-85 school year. The board of regents will consider the plan for final approval in January.

The "basic education program," a 327-page document developed by the staff of the Rhode Island Department of Education, establishes minimum education standards in the areas of curriculum, school administration, student-support systems, and school districts' goals and philosophy.

The proposed regulations address, among other things, minimum course requirements for all students and would establish different graduation requirements for college-bound students and those students who do not intend to go to college.

High-school students planning to attend college would be required to have four credits in English, three credits in mathematics, two credits in a laboratory science, two credits in a foreign language, two credits each in social science and history, a half-credit each in the arts and computer literacy, and four credits in other courses.

Other high-school students would be required to have four credits in English, two credits in U.S. history and government, two credits in mathematics, and one credit in science, according to the department's report.

Under the plan, school districts would be required to conduct a self-study of their programs and to submit a report to the state department of education for approval. The department would then send staff members to school sites to verify the results of the districts' self-evaluation, according to Louis E. DelPapa, a consultant for the department.

"When the district superintendent receives the report, we expect him to prioritize the list into a five-year plan and report annually on which goals have been met," said Mr. DelPapa.

The department would be authorized to withhold state-aid payments from any school districts that do not make reasonable progress towards compliance with their own priority lists, according to Mr. DelPapa.

The state legislature passed a law earlier this year, Mr. DelPapa said, that ties state aid to school districts' compliance with the basic educational requirements outlined in the proposed standards. "If they do not follow through, it can affect their state aid," he added.

Mr. DelPapa said the plan is designed to ensure that all students, regardless of where they live, are provided with equal educational opportunity. "We want to make sure that a child in Providence has the same basic education as a child in Newport," he explained.

Over the next several months, according to Mr. DelPapa, new proposals are likely to be added as committees within the department complete their studies of the schools. One such committee currently is reviewing high-school graduation requirements for non-college-bound students.

Although the department's proposal has drawn praise from most state groups, it also is being viewed with some skepticism because it will mean added expense for some school districts.

Mary E. Cole, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, questioned the department's decision to proceed with its proposal without first considering the impact. "The only problem we have with it is that we've never had a fiscal analysis of the plan," she said.

"We completely agree that it is a good program," Ms. Cole said. The department, she added, has tried to make sure that the school committees retain control over the implementation of the plan.

But she contended that the regulations, in effect, remove the responsibility for educational programs from the school committees' control, especially in the area of curriculum.

Many school districts will be forced to pay the cost of implementing the proposed standards through property taxes, Ms. Cole said.

But according to Mr. DelPapa, the proposed standards should not require any additional money. "It's a basic education program; it's something that should be there already for every student," he said.

For example, Mr. DelPapa said, the state has never required the schools to provide for art or music. "It's been taught," he added, "but there's nothing in the laws or the regulations that says that item should be included."

The proposed standards, according to Mr. DelPapa, place a strong emphasis on foreign language, music, and art. "We're saying 'once you offer a foreign language for the first year, you must guarantee students at least two more years of that same foreign language,"' he explained.

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Any additional expenses would be difficult for many districts, Ms. Cole explained, because of a reduction in state support for the schools. The minimum payment was reduced from 30 percent to 28 percent of local districts' eligible expenses.

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