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Tempest over a test

Last year, the New Jersey Education Association waged a fierce battle in the legislature against Gov. Thomas H. Kean's proposal to declare substandard school districts academically "bankrupt.''

The Governor won that round, but only after lawmakers included language in the measure addressing the powerful union's concerns about teachers' tenure rights under the plan.

This year, another bitter fight between the union and the Kean Administration is shaping up over a proposal by the Governor and the state school chief to replace a competency test administered to 9th graders with a new test that 11th graders would have to pass in order to graduate from high school.

Last week, the NJEA sent letters to all 80 members of the Assembly urging the defeat of the bill.

"We adamantly oppose this bill because the test is not diagnostic,'' said Jeannine Frisby-Larue, an NJEA lobbyist who also headed the union's efforts against the bankruptcy bill. "It's a gatekeeper. We don't believe that one instrument should determine whether a student graduates or not.''

The bill is now pending in the chamber's education committee. Ms. Frisby-Larue said she expects it to come up for a vote before the full Assembly later this month.

Over The Fence

In Iowa, meanwhile, the executive director of that state's National Education Association affiliate says the time has come for the union to end its decades-long position of neutrality on the sensitive issue of school consolidation.

At last month's annual meeting of the Iowa State Education Association's delegate assembly, the official, Fred Comer, said that "the issue, simply put, is 'Can an association as powerful and influential [as this] take a walk on the issue of school reorganization?'

"The answer, I believe, is no, we cannot,'' he continued.

Mr. Comer noted that, given the state's mix of urban and rural districts, consolidation is "an issue that potentially can divide us as we have never been divided before.''

But he added that it is important for the union to take a position because the matter will loom large in the 1990 gubernatorial race and subsequent legislative session.

"Our love affair with our small towns and villages is real,'' Mr. Comer said. "Yet there are data--cold, hard, impersonal data--that allow one to conclude that our school boundaries are obsolete; that we are not organized in a fashion that is as efficient as it might be; that young people in Iowa do not have equality of opportunity to realize their potential.''--TM

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