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Wilson Unveils Proposals To Reform Boston Schools

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Laval S. Wilson, superintendent of schools in Boston, last week released the major portion of a long-awaited reform plan that calls for significant changes in the city's school system.

Mr. Wilson recommended scrapping the district's student-assignment system and replacing it with a process that would give parents a voice in choosing their children's schools. It would represent the most substantial alteration of Boston's school-desegregation plan since it was imposed by a court order in 1975.

The superintendent also urged, among other recommendations, that the district provide additional instruction for students at risk of failure, adopt higher promotion and graduation standards, and create special "crisis-intervention teams'' for schools with safety problems.

"The mission of the Boston public schools is to provide all students with an excellent basic education and the chance to expand their abilities and talents to the fullest,'' Mr. Wilson wrote in the introduction to the report outlining his proposals. "Whether we fulfill this mission depends on the quality of each school.''

"I see no easy way to do this,'' Mr. Wilson added at a press conference, "but, clearly, for young people to be successful, they have to be literate.''

16-Point Plan

The recommendations cover the major part of a comprehensive, 16-point plan for improving Boston's schools. In March, Mr. Wilson released the first parts of that plan: proposals for two pilot early-learning centers and a school-based health clinic that would prescribe, but not dispense, contraceptives.

Three remaining pieces of his plan--proposals dealing with parent and community support; counseling and guidance; and special, bilingual, and vocational education--are expected to be released later this month.

The total package must be approved by the Boston School Committee, which has not yet scheduled a vote. Because the school department is required to submit its budget to the mayor by June 10, some observers have suggested that the proposals have come too late to be implemented this fall. The proposed reforms would cost $6.4 million to implement this fall, according to Mr. Wilson.

In addition, Mr. Wilson has proposed $48 million in spending for building repairs, which he said could be financed through a bond issue.

Reaction Mixed

Mr. Wilson's proposals come at a time when a growing number of Boston officials are advocating fundamental changes in the city's schools, which have been plagued by low test scores and high dropout rates.

Last month, for example, a coalition of civic and political leaders, including Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, urged an overhaul in the school-governance structure to improve management and accountability. (See Education Week, April 22, 1987.)

Reaction last week to Mr. Wilson's plan was mixed. "It seems to have substance, but it's a lot of fluff,'' said Richard Stutman, a spokesman for the Boston Teachers Union.

Mr. Stutman said the proposals to raise academic standards may not improve student performance, and could result in a higher dropout rate.

Ellen Guiney, director of the Citywide Education Coalition, a citizens' watchdog group, said her group planned to study the proposals to determine whether they would result in greater decisionmaking for teachers.

"Boston has had lots of reforms over the past few years,'' she said, adding that the experience "has taught us that the best-laid plans will not work if the centrality of the role of teachers is not recognized.''

Ms. Guiney added that the coalition strongly favors the student-assignment plan, which closely follows a recommendation made by a task force Mr. Wilson appointed.

Under the plan, parents of students would be able to rank their preferences from among several schools, although they would not be guaranteed their first choice. Each school's assignments would have to remain within 10 percentage points of current racial proportions.

"That proposal will indeed increase choice for parents,'' Ms. Guiney said. "It will indeed, if properly implemented, create competition for schools. That is the ultimate accountability.''

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