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Connecticut Board Rejects Longer School Year

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The Connecticut Board of Education has rejected a proposal to lengthen the school year for students but has approved a broad school-improvement plan that would mean a longer school year for teachers, expanded kindergarten services, and more academic courses at the high-school level.

The plan, which was proposed last month by Commissioner of Education Gerald N. Tirozzi, underwent only a few revisions before it was finally approved by the state board during a two-day meeting earlier this month.

The cost of the reform package, which must be approved by the state General Assembly, was initially estimated at $192.3 million.

But officials within the Connecticut Department of Education now are estimating that full implementation of the plan approved by the state board will cost only an additional $110 million over the next four years, according to Lise S. Heintz, the department's public-information officer.

The state's current education budget is about $620 million.

The reduced cost estimate, Ms. Heintz said, is the result of the state board's rejection of a proposal that would have lengthened the school year for students from 180 days to 190 days, and their decision to postpone "one of the more controversial" proposals on teacher certification.

The commissioner's original plan proposed lengthening the school year for teachers by 20 days, but, according to Ms. Heintz, the state board agreed to add only 10 extra days for teachers. She said the board wanted to provide teachers with more time for professional-development activities, grading papers, and reviewing textbooks.

Ms. Heintz said the state board also adopted the commissioner's recommendation requiring local school districts to provide teachers with professional-development programs and authorizing the state department of education to establish a year-round institute for teachers.

Although the commissioner's proposal on teacher certification will not be included in the package for legislative consideration, Ms. Heintz said the state board approved the certification proposal "in principle," and that the Teacher Certification Advisory Council has been directed to develop other options for improving state certification standards by Sept. 1.

Recertification of Teachers

The commissioner's plan would have eliminated lifetime certificates and would have required recertification of more senior teachers every five years based on the amount of professional-development coursework they had completed during that period. Ms. Heintz said the state board's action on teacher certification means a delay of any changes in the certification rules for at least one year.

The board also voted to ask Gov. William A. O'Neill to appoint a citizens' committee to study and make recommendations on raising teachers' salaries and targeting sources of funding.

Under the plan approved by the state board, high-school graduation requirements would increase during the next school year from 18 to 20 credits for freshmen, and districts would be required to expand class periods from 40 to 45 minutes starting in 1985-86.

The plan would establish--for the first time--according to Ms. Heintz, a core curriculum 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. School districts now set their own curriculum standards.

"This is considered a fairly significant step," Ms. Heintz said. Currently, she added, "the only course required for a diploma is ... U.S. history."

The board also voted to ask the legislature to lower the compulsory school-attendance age from 7 to 5 and to require all school districts to provide full-day kindergarten programs of at least four hours. Ms. Heintz said about 10 of the state's 165 school districts now offer full-day programs.

If approved by the legislature, the plan would require school districts to begin offering full-day programs during the 1986-87 school year.

The board also adopted a proposal calling for statewide testing of students at the 4th, 6th, and 8th grades, to be phased in by the 1986-87 school year. The basic-skills tests would be used "to diagnose higher levels of achievement," Ms. Heintz explained, and identify those students who need remediation.

To address the state's shortage of mathematics and science teachers, the board approved a loan-forgiveness program for students who plan to become teachers. Teacher candidates would be eligible for up to $5,000 per year to be used towards expenses at any college or university in the country.

Ms. Heintz said the board also approved the commissioner's request for the appointment of commissions to examine vocational and adult education, education programs for 4-year-olds, and mandated services for severely handicapped children.

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