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N.Y. Task Force Urges New Focus on Teachers, Learners

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A New York State panel last week called for a broad range of new programs to restructure the state's schools and improve the training, recruitment, and retention of teachers.

The centerpiece of the panel's report is a plan for reshaping schools to increase their focus on learners and allow teachers a greater say in day-to-day decisionmaking.

In addition, the panel recommended that the state require a master's degree and a one-year internship for all prospective teachers and create a professional-standards board with a teacher majority to license them.

The proposals by the 37-member task force on the teaching profession--appointed by Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol and including teachers and administrators--could cost up to $150 million a year to implement, the panel's estimates suggest.

Among the big-ticket items is a proposal to reduce the teaching load in low-performing schools in economically depressed areas to 80 to 120 students per teacher at the secondary-school level, and by an equivalent amount at the elementary level.

To do so would cost between $60 million and $100 million in the first year, according to Linda Rosenblatt, a spokesman for the task force.

The panel also called for a "Marshall Plan'' for repairing and renovating school facilities but did not estimate a specific dollar amount for that effort, which could substantially increase the price of the total package.

In addition, it recommended that the state provide $18.2 million in loans, scholarships, and other incentives to attract high-school students, minorities, and mid-career adults into teaching.

And it called for $20 million in funding to help subsidize the proposed one-year internships for prospective teachers.

A New Structure

Such changes are needed, the panel's report contends, because the state's schools are not serving either students or teachers well.

"Although New York State's top high-school scholars are among the brightest in the country,'' it notes, "its lowest achievers similarly rank near the bottom of the nation's students.''

"What we are proposing is not an effort to mend, repair, or polish up the structure now in place,'' it continues. "Rather, we are sounding a call for a basic restructuring of our schools.''

That call comes as key political leaders and other critics are urging changes in the way teachers are recruited, hired, and supported both in New York City and the state as a whole. A similar report on the city's school system is expected to be released in the near future.

What makes the current task force unusual is its composition. A majority of its members are teachers, and it is co-chaired by the president of New York State United Teachers--an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers--and the chancellor of Pace University.

Joint Decisionmaking

The panel's report proposes that within five years, each New York school district be required to operate under a system of joint decisionmaking at the district and building levels.

Under the plan, teachers would be involved in such matters as budgeting, hiring, textbook selection, curriculum development, scheduling, and student and teacher assignments.

In addition, the report calls for the development of plans that would enable teachers to participate in peer coaching and "peer intervention'' efforts.

It also proposes that the state create two $3-million grant programs to encourage districts and schools to engage in restructuring, and to promote joint decisionmaking by teachers and administrators.

But it cautions that such changes would "need to be subject to collective negotiations in the spirit of collaboration that is beginning to be practiced in forward-looking industries.''

Some of the innovations envisioned by the task force include the assignment of teams of teachers to work with particular groups of students, perhaps for more than one year; adoption of school-based budgeting; changes in the school day and year; and the use of instructional techniques other than lecturing.

The report notes that contract provisions and state and district regulations may need to be waived for some of the changes to occur. But it asserts that state accountability standards, including requirements for student testing, should not be weakened.

The document adds, however, that the definition of student performance should be broadened to include a wider range of skills than current standardized tests measure. And it advocates better accountability mechanisms at the school and district levels, including examining the proportion of school budgets spent directly on instruction.

'Defensible' System

But the best way to ensure accountability, the report concludes, is to create a more stringent system for training and licensing teachers.

The task force proposes replacing the state's Teacher Education, Certification, and Practice Board with a professional-standards board, a majority of whose members would be practicing teachers. Members would be appointed by the state's Board of Regents.

Under the proposal, the standards board would develop and administer new tests for teachers, review all cases involving teacher ethics and discipline, and establish and monitor standards for the proposed internship programs.

To qualify for state licensure, prospective teachers would be required to complete a bachelor's degree, a test of liberal learning, a master's degree, an assessment of teaching skills, a one-year internship, and an additional year of classroom teaching.

In addition, the report recommends that beginning Sept. 1, 1992, only licensed teachers be employed in the state, and that those who are licensed teach only subjects in which they receive the credential.

Flexibility Preserved

The report is less specific on issues of content and structure in teacher preparation.

It does not advocate eliminating undergraduate teacher-education programs, as proposed by the Holmes Group. Students could complete a dual major in the liberal arts and education, the New York panel suggests, or earn an undergraduate degree in a liberal-arts subject.

But they should complete some education coursework and a student-teaching experience while still undergraduates, it says.

The master's degree, the report asserts, "should be characterized by a high degree of flexibility in order to accommodate the varying backgrounds of its candidates.''

It recommends that the state provide 2,000 stipends for master's-degree candidates with the greatest financial need, at a cost of approximately $6 million. It also proposes an additional $2 million in funding to provide grants to schools of education interested in redesigning their programs.

The report will now go to Commissioner Sobol, who will make recommendations to the Board of Regents. Three public hearings on the proposals are scheduled for next month, in Albany, New York City, and Syracuse.

Legislative action would be needed for many of the recommended changes. The task force's report does not propose a mechanism for financing the reforms.

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