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S.C. Board Adopts Regulatory Relief for Top-Scoring Schools

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The South Carolina Board of Education has approved a sweeping deregulation plan that will give an unprecedented degree of regulatory relief to about one-tenth of the state's approximately 1,000 schools.

Under the measure, schools with a history of superior academic achievement will automatically be released from numerous state regulations governing staffing, class scheduling, and class structure.

Among other exemptions, principals in such schools will no longer have to be certified as a principal, and teachers, with the exception of special-education instructors, will not have to be certified in the subject areas in which they teach.

Program called one of the most ambitious state restructuring efforts yet.

The approximately 100 schools that will be exempted from the regulations in January will also be allowed, if they wish, to alternate large lecture classes with small seminars, or to devote an entire day to a single subject area.

"When you have the very set of people who wrote the regulations throwing them out, that's amazing," said Rick Ginsberg, an associate professor of educational leadership and policies at the University of South Carolina. "How many other bureaucracies do that?"

Experts said last week that the program represents one of the most ambitious state restructuring efforts yet attempted, both in terms of the number of schools affected and the variety of rules to be relaxed.

It is also unique, they said, because schools will be granted the special status automatically, and will not have to apply for any waivers.

"It's a real attempt to think through all the regulations that might impact staffing and scheduling," said Susan Furhman, director of the Center for Policy Research in Education at Rutgers University. "Potentially, it could be very exciting."

Eligibility Requirements

Gov. Carroll A. Campbell proposed the program last January, and the legislature adopted it this spring. (See Education Week, June 14, 1989.)

The law required the department of education, after seeking the advice of the Business-Education Subcommittee, an influential group of business leaders, educators, and lawmakers, to draft the regulations. The state board approved "emergency" regulations earlier this month, and final regulations should be adopted in January.

Under the regulations, schools will be eligible for the special status if, during two of the previous three years, their students' gains on two sets of standardized tests placed them in approximately the top quarter of schools with similar socioeconomic characteristics; if students in their remedial programs met minimum testing requirements; if they exhibited no recurring accreditation deficiencies; and if their test scores improved annually at above-average rates.

For schools to maintain the special status, their students' test-score gains must continue to rise above the state average, and they must continue to meet baseline testing requirements for remedial education.

Schools granted the special status will still be required to offer instruction in all mandatory subject areas.

They will, however, be allowed to determine the length of class periods and will not be required to teach any subject for any minimum amount of time. This change, observers said, will give much-needed flexibility to elementary schools, which are required to offer instruction in eight areas for a specified number of minutes per week.

Schools could also offer classes that combine various subjects into integrated blocks of instruction. For example, educators said, schools could offer joint classes in English and social studies.

Schools granted the special status will not receive any additional state money, and they will still be required to participate in the state's testing program.

In addition, if schools needed new textbooks that were not on the state list, they would have to purchase them with local funds.

Observers said there is broad support for the new regulations in both the education and business communities. The legislature, which is required to approve the regulations, is not expected to make significant changes in them.

However, some educators have voiced opposition to, or concerns about, parts of the plan.

At hearings on the regulations, school librarians and guidance counselors said they opposed provisions that would allow schools to hire members of their profession who lack certification in their specialty areas.

Joseph M. Grant, executive director of the South Carolina Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said his organization is "supporting the deregulation effort with some reservations."

By eliminating the subject-area certification requirement, he said, "We think that [the program] reduces the the value of credentials of teachers who have gone through traditional educational routes."

He also said the state education association is concerned that the regulations do not require teachers to have a say in deciding how a school would implement the deregulation program.

Although schools will be allowed to hire uncertified principals, most observers said they believed it was highly unlikely that any district would pursue this option.

"I haven't rubbed shoulders with any superintendent who would put in a principal who was not fully certified as a principal," said J. Chester Floyd, superintendent of Lexington County School District 1 and chairman of the legislative committee of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators.

Mr. Floyd added that many schools will see the new program as a tremendous opportunity to enact changes.

"We can't fall back on the crutch of saying, 'We have to do this for so many minutes' anymore," Mr. Floyd said. "The state board is saying, 'Show us a better way of doing this."'

For example, at Campus R. Irmo Middle School, where administrators expect their test scores to qualify them for the special status, officials are already making plans to shave 10 minutes off each period to create an additional class period.

Observers caution, however, that it is unlikely that many schools will want to implement far-reaching changes.

They note that, although an existing provision allows schools to apply for waivers to implement experimental programs, none has enacted programs that are similar to those allowed under the flexibility status.

"There's much to do about nothing here," said Richard Insler, dean of the college of education at the University of South Carolina. "The schools that have been successful have done it within the regulations."

Others argue that, by deregulating schools, the state has decided to lift the psychological barriers, as well as the administrative obstacles, that prevent educators from taking risks.

"This is in essence an experiment in creativity and innovation for high-achieving schools," said Michael Turner, the director of the state office of school-district accreditation and assessment. "We're hoping that this is the case, but we don't know."

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