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N.E.A. Launches Mastery in Learning Project in Effort To Improve Schooling

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The National Education Association has launched a $600,000 project to help schools upgrade curricula, increase faculty involvement in decisionmaking, and make mastery of subject matter the new standard for student achievement.

The association's "Mastery in Learning Project" will involve 29 elementary, middle, and high schools nationwide over the course of four and a half years.

"We need to work toward a day when there will be abundant opportunities for students to learn individually, to work in small groups, to work with machines that speed up learning, and to work in a variety of settings," said Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the nea

Focus on 'Central Issues'

"In our efforts to upgrade schools," she added, "we seem able only to talk about 'more'--more homework, more hours in the school day, more days in the school year, more textbooks, more Carnegie units for graduation. We don't seem to be focusing on central issues: what is significant in the course of study, how do students learn best, and how can we teach more effectively?"

Ms. Futrell invited schools to participate in the program.

The nea is initiating its mas-tery-in-learning program now as a response to a nationwide reform movement that has limited itself to addressing quantity instead of quality, according to Robert McClure, who will head the project for the association.

"We are concerned that too much of what is now going on in the reform movement is not closely enough related to what is central and important about schools--curriculum and teaching and learning," explained Mr. McClure, who is a former associate director of the nea's instruction and professional-development programs.

The project, he said, will rest on three assumptions: that schools must pay attention to the basics of curriculum, teaching, and learning; that faculty members must have a greater voice in decisionmaking; and that educators must expect students to acquire depth in the subjects they study.

Two Phases

In the project's first 18 months, nea officials will review the existing research on learning, curriculum, effective teaching, and school organization. The project's goal in this phase will be to define the essentials for "mastery" in each subject area. A resulting resource manual on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes evident in successful teaching and learning will then serve as a project guide for pilot programs to be tested in five public schools.

The project's second phase, which will begin in September 1986 and continue for three years, will be devoted to work on faculty-designed school-improvement projects in 24 selected schools.

The school projects will allow teachers and administrators to experiment with the programs and procedures created during the initial research phase. Various approaches to teaching and learning might then be analyzed, Mr. McClure said, through group discussions, lectures, individual assignments, computer-assisted learning, and other methods.

Cross-Section of Schools

The 29 participating elementary, middle, and high schools will be chosen to reflect a cross-section of the nation's students and teachers, Mr. McClure said, "so that when we're finished, we can say with good statistical information that these schools are representative."

The program will also look for schools whose faculty and surrounding community are supportive of the project and in which there is administrative support for experimentation.

The nea is providing $200,000 for the first phase of the project, according to Mr. McClure. Ms. Futrell said the second phase is expected to cost the nea from $350,000 to $400,000 and that local districts and foundations will be asked to contribute additional funds. That three-year phase, according to Mr. McClure's estimates, will cost from $15,000 to $20,000 per year for each school involved.

Nine outside research-and-development organizations will provide consulting assistance for the nea project, Mr. McClure said.

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