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Chiefs Propose Guidelines To Assist in Restructuring

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Washington--The nation's chief state school officers have formulated a set of broad principles designed to guide state policymakers' efforts in what has come to be known as school restructuring.

The Council of Chief State School Officers was expected to endorse the 10-page policy document at its annual meeting in Oklahoma City late last week.

The policy statement represents one of the first efforts by a national organization to try to bring some definition to the concept of school restructuring.

"Schools and school systems can make cosmetic changes and call it 'restructuring,"' said Christopher M. Harris, a project associate at the ccsso and the primary author of a companion report on the same topic. "But, if all the students are not being prepared to live effectively as citizens, family members, and workers, then those changes are not adequate in our eyes."

True restructuring, the policy statement argues, should include a vision of what students should know and be able to do. And it must be grounded in the belief that all students can meet high academic standards.

"Too often," the policy document states, "disadvantaged students are burdened by an underestimation of their capacity to learn."

In addition, restructuring should integrate several changes and strategies, such as efforts to institute school-based management and proposals to enhance the professional role of the teacher.

The statement also calls for improved training for administrators, parents, teachers, and board members--all of whom may be asked to assume new roles as a result of restructuring efforts.

It maintains that collaboration among schools and social-service agencies should be central to any school-restructuring project.

And it calls for strengthened relationships between the home and the school.

Finally, the chiefs caution that any push for academic excellence should not come at the expense of efforts to ensure equity.

"Choice plans, for example, might result in deployment of scarce resources from those who need them most to those who require them the least," the document states.

And "accountability measures, while deemed necessary to raise expectations for performance and monitor progress, can drive attention to high performers and neglect of middle or low performers," the statement argues.

The statement, which was one of several items on the chiefs' meeting agenda last week, endorses no specific strategies for implementing restructuring projects.

To help state policymakers make such decisions, the chiefs also drafted a companion report, entitled Success for All in a New Century: A Report by the Council of Chief State School Officers on Restructuring Education.

The 172-page study identifies four issues that have characterized school-restructuring efforts to date, and it describes and analyzes examples of state, local, and national projects that address those issues.

The four issues identified in the report are school governance, or the question of who makes which decisions; the nature and structure of curriculum and instruction; the professional role of the teacher; and accountability, the measures and methods that assess the effectiveness of an educational program.

In the area of governance, for example, the report describes a state-level effort in Colorado to create up to 20 "creativity schools." The schools have been freed from state regulations to experiment with new arrangements of time, instructional staff, and administration.

Other efforts highlighted in the report include state-level career ladder programs for teachers; the development of a multicultural curriculum for schools in Portland, Ore.; various forms of state and local efforts to foster parental choice in educational programs; and efforts in Virginia to restructure education in the middle grades.

Both documents emphasize the goal of ensuring that school restructuring improves learning for all students--particularly those who are most in need of help.

Many restructuring efforts, the report maintains, fail to identify the population most likely to benefit as a result of such efforts.

The report asks, rhetorically, "Are schools restructured primarily for students who would otherwise succeed or are programs and projects truly changing the educational circumstances for students at risk?"

Mr. Harris said the common thread between the two documents is a logical outgrowth of a proposal endorsed by the chiefs in 1987 on the education of children "at risk" of academic failure. (See Education Week, Nov. 18, 1987.)

That plan exhorted states to "guarantee" a high-quality precollegiate education for academically disadvantaged children.

The report also notes that, while many school-restructuring efforts appear to be successful, some are misdirected. Instead of focusing on the "end"--improvement in student learning--they focus on the "means"--such strategies as shared decisionmaking, site-based management, or teacher career ladders.

Copies of the report will be available later this year from the Council of Chief State School Officers, 400 North Capitol St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001. Its cost has not yet been determined.

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