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Wyoming Panel Urges Reforms That Would Limit Local Control

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A high-level commission in Wyoming has proposed a package of school reforms--including merit pay for teachers, greater state control of local districts, and more stringent academic and discipline standards.

The recommendations made this month by the Blue Ribbon Commission for Excellence in Education will probably be met by resistance from many educators in the state because of the extent to which the changes would shift authority from the local to state government, a state official predicted.

Said Audrey M. Cotherman, deputy superintendent of public instruction: "This is pretty heavy stuff in Wyoming, and it is deliberately provocative. People in Wyoming feel strongly about local control. These [changes] might not be big changes elsewhere, but they're big here."

The commission's report does not include recommendations on funding levels for the proposals. Members of the commission, appointed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Lynn Simons, said funding requests might be added to the final document that will be submitted to Ms. Simons next September. The early proposals will be the subject of five regional meetings in January.

The state education budget now is about $196 million annually; most of that goes toward foundation support of local districts.

Democratic Gov. Ed Herschler and the Republican-controlled legislature would be required to approve most parts of the reform package because the Wyoming Board of Educa3tion has little statutory authority except in the area of basic standards for education schools, districts, and teachers.

One of the commission's major recommendations would require all students to earn specified numbers of credits in several core-curriculum subjects before they may graduate from high school. The state now requires only that schools offer certain courses.

Students on a college-preparatory track would be required to take four years of both English and social studies, three years of mathematics, two years of both science and a foreign language, and five elective credits. Other students would be required to take four years of English, three years of social studies, two years of science and a foreign language, and nine vocational credits.

The commission also proposed using "sound educational criteria" to develop a statewide merit-pay plan for teachers. Under the proposal, the Governor would appoint a representative panel to develop the criteria and procedures for administering merit pay.

Another part of the proposal would require school districts to test students annually and to gather more statistical information on all phases of their operations.

The state does not require districts either to maintain detailed records of students' performance or to administer achievement or aptitude tests. The state's only comprehensive records cover school attendance and finance and special-education programs that receive federal or state funds.

"We just don't have any accurate information to show whether [instruction offered by schools] is working," said Byron Barry, the superintendent of the Cheyenne Public Schools and a member of the commission.

Other commission proposals would:

Increase the school year from 180 to 200 days and offer teachers five more days annually for inservice training. The state would also offer summer courses for students, both for remedial purposes and to prepare them to take standardized examinations such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Help schools improve the "quality" of the time students spend in the classroom. The state would encourage districts to reduce classroom interruptions and would offer training in classroom management to education students and to teachers already in the classroom.

In addition, students would not be permitted to miss classes for extracurricular activities. Most interscholastic sports competition would take place on weekends to eliminate the school time lost because of trav-el, and sports teams would be urged to play schools closer to their own. (See related story on page 1.)

Encourage districts to set discipline standards and allow teachers greater legal authority in enforcing them consistently.

Fund pilot projects to teach students "learning and thinking skills.'' The education school at the University of Wyoming would be asked to develop programs for training teachers in this area.

Establish partnerships between the university and community colleges and elementary and secondary schools.

Because Wyoming is largely rural, it ranks high on some indicators that are regarded as signs of academic strength. But such statistics are misleading, said a state education official. For example, the average classroom size last year was 17 students, but that average includes many rural schools that enroll only a small number of students, according to the official.

The state's 1981-82 average per-pupil expenditure of $3,642 was among the highest in the nation, but the average score of students on the American College Test was 19.2 on a scale of 36, the official said.

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