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Michigan Board Approves Plan To Improve Education System

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Lansing--The Michigan Board of Education last week adopted the most comprehensive education-reform package in its 20-year history, according to officials in the Michigan Department of Education.

The plan calls for extending the school year from 180 to 200 days, and lengthening the school day. It urges stricter graduation requirements, state accreditation of schools, and performance standards for both promotion and graduation.

Under the plan, if local districts fail to adopt the recommended graduation requirements by 1988, the state board will seek legislation to mandate them. The cost of the plan is estimated at almost $500 million.

The recommendation for statewide graduation requirements represents a major departure in a state that has a strong tradition of local control. But some state education officials are now saying local control may not suffice.

"We are finding that students are entering college and the world of work and are not as prepared as they should be," said Gumecindo Salas, state board president. "These students are competing with students from all over the world. It is no longer a local issue, it is a global issue."

Now, the state requires only a semester of civics for graduation.

The plan calls for at least four years of communication skills, three years of social science, two years of mathematics, two years of science, a year of physical education or health, a semester of "hands-on" computer education, and two years of fine or performing arts, vocational education, practical arts, or a foreign language.

College-bound students would have to take at least two years of a foreign language, and three years each of mathematics and science.

The plan, entitled "Better Education for Michigan Citizens: A Blueprint for Action," has received mixed reactions.

Some observers question whether, given Michigan's current political and economic climate, there is much hope of full funding. Two state senators have been recalled after voting for a temporary income-tax hike, and others are threatened with recall. State Senator Lana Pollack said this movement is having a "chilling effect on hopes for a better education system."

"In the end, the public is going to have to decide, either directly or indirectly, how much they are willing to pay for an education system that is competetive with the best in the world," Mr. Pollack said.

The plan also recommends retraining teachers and increasing their salaries; establishing homework policies; expanding a state testing system; improving programs for gifted students, and for those who need remedial instruction.

--Cassandra Spratling

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