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Secondary-Level Schooling Choice Proposed by Minnesota Group

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The Minnesota Business Partnership, a group of 58 chief executive officers, last week made five recommendations for restructuring the state's public-school system to ensure that students are adequately prepared for the future.

One of its proposals--involving the creation of an educational-elective system for students in the 11th and 12th grades, possibly involving vouchers--quickly stirred negative reactions from some members of the state's educational community. But educators also said last week that the group's work was interesting and offered provocative ideas for further study.

$250,000 Study

The partnership's plan is based on an 18-month, $250,000 study conducted by Berman, Weiler Associates, a Berkeley, Calif., education-consulting firm that conducted a study of California's K-12 education system for the California Business Roundtable in 1982.

The firm's report is based on statistical analyses of student performance and interviews with education experts, teachers, administrators, parents, and students.

"While Minnesota's K-12 system has produced good results over the years ..., recent student performance is declining," said Lewis W. Lehr, chairman and chief executive officer of the 3M Company, and head of the seven-year-old partnership's Education Quality Task Force.

"Fortunately, the situation can be reversed," he said. "We believe this plan offers Minnesota an opportunity to set new standards for educational excellence."

10-Year Development Seen

The recommendations will be presented to the state legislature next year, according to the report. The plan, which the business group says should be implemented over a 7-to-10-year period with no increase in real spending, urges:

That education from kindergarten through grade 10 be aimed at achieving an agreed-upon level of competence in certain core subjects, and that each student follow an individually designed learning program toward that end.

That schooling be restructured into three levels: the elementary level (grades K-6), which would continue its current range of course offerings; the common high school (grades 7-10), which would focus on core academic subjects; and specialized schooling, in which students would receive a state grant during the equivalent of grades 11 and 12 to attend two years of specialized schooling of their choice.

The grant program would create a market for the offerings of existing or new public and private institutions and could be run as a voucher system, according to John Cairns, a member of the partnership, but would not have to be.

That Minnesota develop uniform, statewide tests for all students upon completion of the 6th and 12th grades to measure their mastery of core subjects. Minnesota currently has an assessment program at three grade levels, but it does not measure students' individual educational progress.

That teachers be afforded the status they deserve. Instruction would be managed through teams composed of a lead teacher, teaching assistants, and adjunct teachers.

That authority over curriculum and instruction be decentralized, with decisions made by school-site coordinating committees and school-level boards of education.

"The challenge is not simply to prevent further erosion of Minnesota's present level of education," the report maintains, "but to move to a new plateau--one that reflects a fuller realization of youth's potential and establishes Minnesota as a leader in the revitalization of American education."

Many elements of the partnerel30lship's report are similar to themes that Commissioner of Education Ruth E. Randall has sounded in the past year, according to Laura Zahn, executive aide to Ms. Randall.

"The 'major restructuring' theme is certainly one that she has been talking about since she became commissioner in July 1983," Ms. Zahn said.

In addition, the commissioner has advocated the testing of individual students' progress and the decentralization of authority.

But Ms. Zahn said there are certain parts of the report with which Ms. Randall differs, among them the mandatory competency tests at grades 6 and 10 and the voucher plan for the 11th and 12th grades. She would support vouchers from public schools to public schools, but not from public to private, as the report advocates, Ms. Zahn said.

Dick Mans, president of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of Teachers affiliate, commended the study. "We're very impressed with Berman, Weiler Associates and the amount of work they did," he said. "It was a well-done, extensive piece of work."

Further Study Warranted

But he also noted that while there are portions of the report that the union supports, other parts warrant further study, including the elective system for the 11th and 12th grades.

Mr. Mans said he raised his concerns at a meeting with the partnership last week and would reiterate them at another meeting in January. The group is meeting with other education groups, he said, to gauge their reaction to the report.

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