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Illinois Groups To Design Model Education-Reform Plan for State

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Springfield, Ill--A 15-month project to develop a statewide school-reform plan designed to be a model for the nation has been unveiled by a Chicago-based research group and an organization of business leaders.

The $300,000 effort, entitled the Illinois Project for School Reform, is to be headed by Michael Bakalis, a Northwestern University professor of education who is also a former state superintendent of schools and deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Education Department.

Sponsored by the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies and a business leaders' group, Chicago United, the project is intended to fulfill a four-point mission:

To define policy options for education reform in Illinois and to restore public confidence in public schools. Among the areas to be reviewed are higher standards for student performance, stricter accountability for school personnel, a curriculum related to changing economic conditions, and revisions in the way teachers are trained and recruited.

To strengthen the commitment of taxpayers to public education, tar-geting particularly the 73 percent of the adult population without children in public schools.

To assemble a coalition in Illinois and attempt to align educational professionals, parents, and business and labor behind a comprehensive reform plan.

To bridge the gap between proposals for policy changes and the political process, which project officials say has proven to be a major hurdle to implementation in Illinois.

Follows Other Initiatives

The Illinois Project joins a growing number of ongoing reform efforts in the state. Last year, the General Assembly established the Commission for the Improvement of Elementary and Secondary Education, whose recommendations are due next January.

The State Board of Education has undertaken studies of state mandates and of teacher quality but its recommendations have been largely ignored, staff members acknowledge.

House Speaker Michael J. Madigan has convened a statewide conference and several regional meetings on school reform and his proposals are expected soon.

The new reform effort differs from others, its sponsors claim, because of its commitment to rally public support behind it.

Committee, Debate Paper

"The Illinois Project will seek citizen opinion and encourage public debate during the next year," said Richard Dennis, founder and chairman of the Roosevelt Center. "Our goal is reform that not only enjoys widespread public support but realistically addresses the severe problems facing us."

Toward that goal, an advisory committee will be created with members representing major education, taxpayer, public-interest, labor, and minority organizations. Mr. Bakalis said that as part of the plan to seek broad public participation, he will prepare a paper defining the issues facing schools, analyzing the arguments for and against various approaches, and assessing the costs.

The paper will serve as the framework for public debate at a series of community and regional conferences, he said.

Warren Bacon, head of Chicago United's education task force, called the Illinois Project "an experiment that, if successful, can and will be replicated in other states."

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