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Michigan School-Reform Panel Urges High-Tech, Early-Childhood Efforts

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A blue-ribbon task force in Michigan has presented Gov. James J. Blanchard with the education-reform report he called for in his state-of-the-state address last year--a set of ideas for immediate improvements rather than long-range planning.

The work of the Governor's Educational Summit Task Force--set up in September--represents an attempt by Governor Blanchard to develop a statewide consensus on educational improvements to deliver to the legislature in late January, according to Donald L. Bemis, superintendent of the Utica Community Schools and chairman of the task force.

The panel, made up of six members drawn from the public and private sectors, was asked to make its recommendations "realistic" for implementation in the 1985-86 school year. In addition, the proposals were to be applicable on the classroom level and relevant to a wide range of school systems across the state, Mr. Bemis said.

Model Programs

The task force recommended that its proposals be tested first with model programs and that the state provide guidance and financial support to schools and districts without forcing them to adopt the new recommendations.

Citing the educational benefits to poor and minority students and the large number of single or working parents in Michigan, the report recommended that the state provide planning and funds to districts to set up early-childhood-education programs for all 4-year-olds.

Use of Technology

The group also called for the establishment by the state board of education of an office of educational technology, which would help provide better planning for the use of high technology at the classroom and school-district levels.

The task force recommended, as well, expanded student testing, financial support for a scholarship program that would award academically talented high-school students college scholarships, higher teacher-certification standards, the development of a certification plan for administrators, mandatory professional-development programs for teachers, and a voluntary K-12 school-accreditation program.

Panel members also urged the state board to help local districts and industries identify the aims of school-business partnerships and set up model programs; aid districts in developing communication programs for parents, schools, and communities; and formulate model attendance and discipline policies.

One key proposal considered by the group--a longer school year--was discarded, however, after public hearings around the state and the testimony of experts suggested it had little support.

No assessment has been made of the costs of funding the recommendations, but the state department of management and budget is currently drawing up an estimate, Mr. Bemis said.

The task force's report comes one year after the release of the state board's "Blueprint for Action," a reform proposal that was issued last January.

The two reports overlap in many respects, Mr. Bemis said, but they differ in scope. "The state board's blueprint is a long-range plan," he explained, "but we're mostly interested in legislative action for 1985."

'Very Favorable' Reaction

Governor Blanchard's reaction to the report has been "very favorable," Mr. Bemis said, but the Governor has not yet indicated what specific proposals he will incorporate into his state-of-the-state address later this month.

Though Michigan is in a period of fiscal constraint, Mr. Bemis said, it is likely that the Governor and the legislature will provide some support for the proposals.

"Money is pretty tight now, but the Governor has put education as a very high priority," he said. "It was the only section of the budget that has received increased funding in the last two years."

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