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Calif. Scholars Launch Project To Better Understanding of Education

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Sacramento--Two of California's most highly regarded education professors, with a $300,000 foundation award, are directing a project to help close what they see as a serious information gap for state policymakers.

The new project, called pace (for Policy Analysis for California Education), will focus on such state-level issues as curriculum and graduation requirements, means of enhancing the education profession, and the extent to which recent state reforms--including a longer school day and year--have been implemented successfully. The project will be supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation of Menlo Park.

In addition to providing research reports and analyses to legislators and state executives, pace proposes to convene representatives of state agencies, education organizations, public-interest groups, and businesses in monthly seminars and to arrange polls of public opinion on selected education-policy issues.

Project directors will be Professor James W. Guthrie of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, and Pro-fessor Michael W. Kirst of the Stanford University School of Education.

Mr. Guthrie has held positions as a public-school teacher, elected school-board member in Berkeley, deputy director of the New York State Education Commission, and consultant to many state legislatures, and now serves as a member of the California Commission for Teacher Credentialing.

Mr. Kirst has had experience in both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, was chief school-finance consultant to the Florida state government in 1972, and served on the California Board of Education for more than seven years, including three as president.

pace, based on the Berkeley campus, officially begins its three-year operation this month and plans to select about 10 topics for its first year by Feb. 2, Mr. Kirst said.

Mr. Guthrie, in the research proposal he prepared for the Hewlett Foundation, traced a shift in decision-making from local school districts to the state as a result of court decisions, such as that in the Serrano v. Priest school-finance case, and governance changes brought about by Proposition 13, the tax-limitation measure passed in 1978.

"The escalation of school issues to the state level has been neither planned nor smooth," his proposal said. "One of the consequences is that state agencies have not yet constructed the information collection and analytic capacity needed to meld effective education policy."

California now gathers "accurate, timely" school-finance data, Mr. Guthrie said, but the state is "badly lacking in the collection of systematic information regarding curricular matters, instructional practices, graduation standards, student achievement, educational personnel, and other dimensions related to school effectiveness and productivity."

He suggested that the information is particularly important because reforms in all these areas were contained in California's 1983 school-finance law, "one of the most comprehensive state education interventions in United States history."

About once a year, Mr. Guthrie said, pace plans to undertake a public-opinion poll, conducted under contract by professional organizations, on education-policy issues. "Now that the legislature increasingly is the school board for the state, means for conveying public preference are more remote and less precise," he said.

His proposal listed these additional goals for pace:

It will try to design an expanded state information and data-analysis system in education.

It will act as a clearinghouse for education policy and evaluation studies and policy-related informa-tion from other states and, to a modest degree, from other nations.

Mr. Guthrie said that if pace is "thought to be promising by those intended as beneficiaries" at the end of the three-year trial, then funds might be sought to make pace self-sustaining, either directly from an agency of the state or from contracts for education-policy research.

The Hewlett Foundation's involvement in the project, according to Theodore Lobman, a program officer for the foundation, stems from a belief that "despite having one of the country's strongest governmental capacities, the state of California would benefit from independent assistance in independent policy analysis in elementary and secondary education.

"Everyone recognizes the need for comprehensive reform in public education," Mr. Lobman said. "While many problems are outside the reach of state policy, or should be, there is much benefit to be gained by a careful review of the state's role in supporting public schools. One of the principal purposes of pace is to help the state improve its own capacity for data collection and analysis."

The program officer added: "While there are thousands of public-policy analysts interested in federal activities, the number interested in state concerns is small. Of those, the number capable of translating academic analysis into material useful to bureaucrats and politicians is smaller still. Kirst and Guthrie are widely acknowledged to be within this small group."

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