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Alabama Superintendent Proposes Plan To Improve State's Schools

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Alabama's superintendent of education, Wayne Teague, began stumping the state last week in a series of 16 public hearings to promote his education-reform plan.

Developed at the request of the state board of education and presented to the board on Jan. 12, Mr. Teague's proposal calls for tougher graduation standards, with an optional honors diploma; mandatory kindergarten; revisions in teacher-certification requirements; improved professional development; and the appointment of special panels to study other issues such as school finance and teacher compensation.

While some of the initiatives--particularly those involving new funds--would require legislative action, state officials said other recommendations could take the form of regulatory changes and state-board resolutions, and could go into effect as early as March. "Many of these improvements will not cost anything," noted Luther Mitchell, a spokesman for the superintendent. "Dr. Teague has asked the financial staff to calculate the cost of those items that do have a price tag."

The 115-page document, entitled "A Plan for Excellence: Alabama's Public Schools," draws on ideas espoused in reports by the National Commission on Excellence in Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, as well as on conditions peculiar to Alabama. It concurs, in large part, with a report issued this month by the Alabama Association of School Administrators.

Among the topics covered in Mr. Teague's report:

Graduation requirements. For the standard diploma, the superintendent would require students to complete 22 Carnegie units, or two more than are now required, including four units of English, three of social studies, two each of mathematics and science, one in physical education, one-half each in computer literacy, "home and personal management," and health education, and 8.5 units of electives.

Mr. Teague also recommended the establishment of an honors diploma for students who complete, in addition to the requirements for the standard diploma, a third year each of math and science, two years of a foreign language, and a full year of computer literacy.

Homework and instructional time. The superintendent recommends making better use of the current 175-day school year, developing students' study habits at an early age, requiring homework regularly in all subjects, and curtailing extracurricular activities that interfere with class or homework time.

Kindergarten. Alabama now provides state-supported kindergarten classes to about half of eligible 5-year-olds. The state superintendent recommends making kindergarten available to all eligible children and requiring completion of a public or accredited private kindergarten program for admission to 1st grade.

Teachers' responsibilities and preparation. Teachers would be relieved of such noninstructional duties as cafeteria supervision, would participate in the development of individualized professional-growth plans to improve their performance, and would be employed for 185 days a year, instead of the current 180, to allow time for professional development.

The superintendent has urged that standards and a process be developed for the temporary certification of people who do not have education backgrounds to teach in fields, such as math and science, in which fully certified teachers are in short supply. He also recommends the expansion, through contributions from businesses, of a state scholarship program for prospective teachers in areas of critical need. Admis-sion and graduation standards at teacher-training institutions are under review.

Teacher compensation. According to the report, Mr. Teague and Gov. George C. Wallace (who also serves as president of the state board of education) should appoint a task force to develop an "adequate teacher-compensation system" for implementation in the 1985-86 school year, giving consideration to incentive pay, master-teacher programs, and career ladders.

Base salaries for teachers, meanwhile, should be brought up to the national average of $20,531 for 1982-83 or to a level commensurate with that of professions requiring similar preparation, the report says. State officials said the salaries of Alabama's teachers ranked 36th in the nation in 1982-83, averaging $17,850.

Finance and governance. In addition to the suggested comprehensive study of school finance in the state, Mr. Teague recommends that the state develop more effective ways of dealing with substandard schools--through providing more support and, if that fails, through reorganization or consolidation.

As a minimum, he says, all high schools should be required to offer all students the courses leading to the honors diploma. Those that cannot may be required to share teachers, transport students across district lines, or consolidate.

Mr. Teague also recommends that all 128 local school superintendents be appointed; about 25 percent of them are now elected. And he says local systems should be required to evaluate principals prior to their appointment and to require that principals have experience at the grade levels to which they are to be assigned.

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