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Texas Board Approves Curriculum-Reform Plan

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The Texas Board of Education, which last month tentatively approved a set of curriculum reforms for the state's schools, has voted to approve the plan with amendments to the implementation schedule.

The reform package calls for increased high-school graduation requirements and sets statewide standards for the "essential elements" of 13 subjects at various grade levels. The result of a 1981 legislative mandate to upgrade the state's curriculum standards, the 500-page plan also sets statewide criteria for the amount of time students in kindergarten through 6th grade should spend on courses. (See Education Week, Feb. 22, 1984.)

The package was approved by the board on March 10 by a vote of 24 to 4. Under the amended plan, the state's school districts have until the 1985-86 school year to implement the standards, according to Leroy F. Psencik, director of the division of curriculum development. The original plan required districts to comply by the 1984-85 school year.

"This will give districts time to do staff development and revise local curricula," Mr. Psencik explained. The instructional-time requirements mandated by the plan are scheduled to be implemented during the 1984-85 school year.

A proposal to limit the number of school days a high-school student can miss for extracurricular activities was at one time included in the curriculum package. Although the proposal was eliminated from the plan at the board's Feb. 10 meeting, an amended version, which includes numerous exceptions to the rule, is being discussed at 20 statewide public hearings this month.

Teacher-Education Standards

At the same meeting, board members heard public testimony on new standards for teacher education that were part of recommendations presented by the Texas Education Agency's Commission on Standards for the Teaching Profession in January. The commission, which was established in 1979, has recommended changes in institutional and program standards for undergraduate and graduate programs, according to Grace Grimes, deputy commissioner for professional development and support and the commission's first chairman.

One of the commission's recommendations is that students in secondary-education training programs take six additional hours of professional-education courses in pedagogy. That proposal was opposed by several educators who presented testimony at the board meeting.

Lewis L. Gould, a history professor at the University of Texas, and Betty Jane Kissler, chairman of the history department at Southwest Texas State University, testified that the proposed changes run contrary to the public's demand for teachers with well-rounded educational experience. In addition, they and others argued, the added hours of courses would require students to complete a fifth year of training.

Other commission recommendations include restructuring the elementary-education program to offer more levels of training; mandating that every teacher must take courses in reading and the teaching of reading; and changing the secondary-education program to allow a 36-hour program in one field, instead of the current standard that requires students to have two teaching fields. "The commission heard testimony that more people would go into teaching if they could [focus on] a single field," Ms. Grimes said.

In addition, the commission has recommended that certain teaching fields--such as anthropology and sociology for elementary-level teachers--be eliminated.

According to Ms. Grimes, the commission's recommendations call for more specific course standards. Prospective teachers would have to study such topics as the legal aspects of education, classroom management, and discipline techniques.

Current standards for teacher education fall into three categories: standards that were established in 1955, competency-based standards that were adopted in 1972, and a combination of the two sets of standards. The commission's recommendations, Ms. Grimes explained, are an attempt to make the standards uniform.

The recommendations will be the subject of a second public hearing in April, Ms. Grimes said. A final vote by the board is scheduled for May.

Final Recommendations

In a related development, the Select Committee on Public Education--the panel named by Gov. Mark White in 1983 to study ways to improve the state's schools--met at the end of last week to make its final recommendations for upgrading elementary and secondary education in the state. The committee's deliberations have received widespread attention, in part because of the outspokenness of its chairman, the prominent industrialist H. Ross Perot.

Following its consideration of the findings of five subcommittees, the select committee is expected to present a final report to Governor White. Although the state legisla-ture is not scheduled to meet until January 1985, officials speculate that the Governor will call a special session this summer to consider education-reform legislation.

Two teacher-compensation proposals are among those the committee is weighing. The first, a 13-point plan endorsed by four Texas teachers' organizations, emphasizes performance and experience.

The Texas State Teachers Association, the Texas Federation of Teachers, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, and the Association of Texas Professional Educators, in a joint position paper submitted to the committee last week, called for a 24-percent base-salary increase over the next two years for every teacher in the state. The group also recommended a four-tiered plan for compensation, no limit on the number of teachers who could attain any level, and higher salaries for experienced teachers than for low-ranking school administrators, according to Patsy Duncan, director of instruction and professional development for the Texas State Teachers Association.

"This is the first time under the call of the select committee that the four groups have been asked for input," Ms. Duncan said.

Classroom Instruction

The position paper also proposes that at least two-thirds of all school days be devoted to classroom instruction and that teacher contracts be extended to 11 or 12 months for those teachers who opt for the a longer term, according to Ms. Duncan.

The second career-ladder plan was developed for the committee by a Dallas management-consulting firm. The plan is similar to the teachers' proposal in that it calls for the establishment of a four-step career ladder allowing teachers to advance to the top within 15 years. The plan recommends that teachers be judged on their performance, experience, and professional growth through additional college credits, workshops, and seminars.

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