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Honig Announces California 'Merit-School' Plan

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Sacramento--Bill Honig, California's state superintendent of public instruction, last week proposed a three-year program that would reward the state's schools on a per-pupil basis for improving their performance in several measurable categories. If the proposal is adopted, California could become the first state to establish a merit-school program.

Mr. Honig outlined his "merit-schools recognition program" at a news conference that also produced the announcement that he will seek re-election to the state chief's post in 1986.

Under the merit plan, schools would receive grants of $50 per student annually for three years, for increased enrollments in rigorous courses, improved performance on standardized tests, increased writing assignments and homework, better attendance, and decreased dropout rates. Schools would be ranked in several categories so that schools with similar characteristics would be competing against each other. (See Commentary on page 24.)

Mr. Honig told reporters that his plan would cost $30 million in its first year, but he suggested that he would be willing to accept less money. The state budget submitted by Gov. George Deukmejian contains $15 million for a school-incentive program based on improvement in test scores--one of the features of last year's omnibus school-finance-reform law.

Mr. Honig said that using a variety of measurements to assess school performance is "much more professionally sound" than using test scores alone.

"It's better than what we have," he said. "Everybody prints the test scores. That's all we look at now."

Mr. Honig said that he shortly will begin negotiations with the legislature and the Governor's office to seek support for his program.

The superintendent also said school districts with 90 percent of the state's students and teachers have applied for state funds to begin a "mentor-teacher program"--another provision of the 1983 finance-reform law. Under the program, teachers judged as outstanding by their colleagues may receive grants of $4,000 if they undertake additional duties in teacher training or curriculum revision.

Governor Deukmejian said earlier this month that a survey by his office indicated that 32 percent of the districts were not putting the mentor program into effect and that the demands of teachers' unions were a factor.

"Reports of hard bargaining sessions in many districts during the past months misled some into thinking that the reform movement had gone awry," Mr. Honig said. "It's the result that counts--and I'm here to tell you that the vast majority of school boards, administrators, and teachers are producing those results."

Mr. Honig said the Governor's proposed budget for the next school year is $330 million short of the funding projected in the 1983 reform law and that many districts will receive much less than a stay-even 3 percent cost-of-living increase. However, the Governor appears to be amenable to raising his initial budget proposal, Mr. Honig said.

Asked about his own plans in the context of the extensive school reforms getting under way in California, Mr. Honig said: "I plan to seek re-election. I think it's going to take at least eight years to get this in place."

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