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Boost Teachers' Authority, Mass. Panel Urges

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A commission appointed by the Massachusetts legislature has adopted a far-ranging proposal to provide funds and relax regulations for schools that experiment with new forms of organization to give more authority to teachers.

In a report issued this month, the commission said its proposals, modeled after the reforms recommended by the Carnegie Task Force on Education and the Economy in its 1986 report, A Nation Prepared, are based on the "principle that the essential resource for improved education is already inside the school: determined, intelligent, and capable teachers."

"By recognizing their experience and commitment," the report continues, "we will allow teachers, working together, the freedom to exercise their professional judgment to determine the best way to carry out their basic mission--educating students."

In addition to recommending the establishment of so-called "Carnegie schools," the panel, known as the special commission on the conditions of teaching, also proposed providing financial rewards to low-achieving schools that raise students' test scores and lower dropout rates. And it urged that extra funds be provided to districts to raise teacher salaries to $20,000, from the current minimum of $18,000.

In addition, it suggested that the state set aside funds for the establishment of "professional-development" schools to train teachers.

In a related development, a second commission, also appointed by the legislature, proposed additional funding for grants to local school-improvement councils. The councils, created in 1985, link parents, teachers, administrators, and students in an effort to plan improvements in individual schools.

Teacher Empowerment

Taken together, the reforms proposed by the two panels would help raise the level of professionalism among teachers and attract new recruits to the profession, said State Senator Richard A. Kraus, the co-chairman of the legislature's joint education committee and co-chairman of both study groups.

"We heard over and over again that teachers' professional status is not taken seriously," Senator Kraus said. "Rather than issue an order saying, 'Treat teachers as professionals,' we proposed removing a number of things that stand in the way of teachers' exercising their discretion."

"We keep hearing about teacher empowerment," added Nancy Finkelstein, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and a member of the commission on the conditions of teaching. "The Carnegie-schools proposal will do just that."

Ms. Finkelstein noted that the commission was originally formed in 1985 to examine teacher salaries. After the Carnegie task force issued its report last year, however, the panel successfully petitioned the legislature to broaden its mandate to include issues of teacher empowerment, she noted.

The union president added that the commission would have liked to address the issues of class sizes, materials, and teachers' retirement benefits, but did not because it recognized that funding to implement recommendations on those topics would be limited.

Senator Kraus and the panels' other co-chairman, State Representative Nicholas A. Paleologos, said last week that they would introduce legislation by the end of this month to implement the recommendations.

Gov. Michael S. Dukakis has endorsed the proposals, and the legislature has already agreed to set aside $15 million for implementation of the commissions' recommendations.

That amount is sufficient to fund the increases in minimum salaries and the school-improvement council grants, according to Robert B. Schwartz, an aide to Governor Dukakis. In addition, he said, the funds would enable the state to award planning grants for about 30 Carnegie schools and 10 professional-development schools.

The commission will seek "substantially more money" in fiscal 1989 to implement the proposals, Senator Kraus said.

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