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Superintendents Press for School Reform Before Public Support Lags

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Washington--A group of 32 school superintendents from across the country told the nation's educational leaders late last month to get on with the business of school reform lest the public grow tired of calls for improvements in schooling.

"If we do not use the current interest in education reform to improve the capabilities of our schools, the nation's future will, indeed, be at risk," said the members of the National Consortium for Educational Excellence in a report presented to Acting Secretary of Education Gary L. Jones here on Dec. 21. "The public has been so inundated by reports and reform proposals that the nation will become bored with repeated reports about the condition of our country's schools."

In their proposed "agenda for educational renewal," the superintendents suggested that teachers' salaries be increased across the board by a minimum of 15 percent and that those salaries be performance-based. They also proposed adding "more rigor to the courses that students take," improvements in instructional materials and methods, and higher levels of parental involvement in the education of their children.

Consortium's Beginnings

According to Linton Deck, chairman of the department of educational leadership at the George Peabody College for Teachers at Vanderbilt University and a leader of the consortium, the 42-page document released last month was rooted in a meeting of superintendents and other educators the weekend after the April 1983 publication of the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

"We took copies of the report to the meeting, we looked at it and talked about it, and the consensus was that we should undertake an effort to suggest means to implement its recommendations or to offer alternative suggestions," Mr. Deck said. The group's charge was later broadened to include a review of the other national reports on American schooling that followed the release of the excellence commission's document.

The consortium received a $250,000 grant from the Education Department to produce a report, and computer equipment worth $125,000 from the Nashville-based Northern Telecom Corporation to link the 32 participating school districts together.

Forty-two issues raised by the national reports were identified by the consortium members and Peabody College faculty, Mr. Deck said. Memoranda summarizing research and opinion on the issues were sent to the superintendents for their comments via the computer system, and their responses provided the basis for the consortium's report, he said.

Regulation vs. Development

In their report, the superintendents called for more balance between regulatory and developmental policies in reform plans. "Regulatory policies seek to constrain error and attack weaknesses by describing and rewarding virtue," they said. Although this approach is useful and will lead to some improvements, it "[does] not release energy and [does] not significantly add to the capacity of our schools to do good."

Developmental policies, on the other hand, "increase the capacity of teachers and administrators, create conditions in schools which permit effective schooling to occur, and improve the resources with which students can learn," they said.

The superintendents also warned would-be educational reformers to anticipate the problems inherent in change.

"Because reform proposals are sometimes seen as self-implementing, many of those seeking change feel their job has been done when the policies are established," they said. "Such a view underestimates the complexity of the task of reform, the inherent costs and tradeoffs, and the ability of educators to resist change."

Efforts that do not anticipate the problems of change, they warned, ''[are] likely to have little lasting effect."

Group's Recommendations

The consortium's advocacy of "more rigor" in the courses students take included more emphasis on mathematics and science at the elementary level. At the secondary level, they recommended a core curriculum comprising four years of English, three years of social studies, three years of math, three years of science, and a half-year of compu-ter science. College-bound students also should be required to complete two years of a foreign language, they said.

In addition to calls for pay increases and performance-based salaries for teachers, the consortium members said they supported the concept of career ladders, adding that teachers should be given more opportunities to participate in decisionmaking at the local level.

Under the heading of "joint collaboration," the superintendents promoted the idea of more direct pa-rental involvement in the education of children. Schools, they said, should "reach out and involve parents directly in the education of their children, such as making more effective use of learning time in the home." The group also called for additional federal and state resources for preschool child-development.

Copies of the report are available for $3.50 from the National Consortium for Educational Excellence, Box 514, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn. 37203.

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