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U.S. Panel Urges School Reforms For Miss. Delta

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Washington--A federal panel studying living conditions in the Mississippi Delta region last week presented the Congress with a 10-year plan for economic development that includes several education-reform recommendations.

Noting that the seven-state region ranks at or near the top nationally in terms of its teenage-pregnancy, dropout, and illiteracy rates, the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission urged increased federal and local spending on early-childhood education and programs for dropouts and young parents.

States in the region have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers, the commission found, and spend an average of 20 percent below the national per-pupil average on education.

The panel recommended that states implement alternative-certification programs and other incentives to increase the supply of teachers, especially in science and math. It also suggested that states consider lengthening the school year to make more efficient use of educational facilities.

The commission did not estimate the cost of any of its recommendations. A spokesman said estimating costs and finding funding sources was not part of the commission's charge when it was established by the Congress in 1988.

Recommendations were based on 18 months of research and testimony gathered at public hearings in the region. The Delta region comprises 219 counties in eastern Louisiana and Arkansas, southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and western Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Other recommendations related to education included the continuation of school-restructuring efforts and the creation of a regional, residential magnet high school for mathematics and science.

The Congress was urged to establish a demonstration magnet school in each Delta state and work with the President to fully fund the Head Start program by 1995, and to provide more funding for other early-childhood and day-care programs.

States should address high dropout rates, the commission said, by targeting welfare services toward school-aged parents, assessing the impact of tracking on minority students, and creating alternative schools.

Single copies of "The Delta Initiatives" are available at no cost from the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission, 7777 Walnut Grove Rd., Memphis, Tenn. 38119; telephone: (901) 753-1400 or, in the Delta region, 1-800-448-4189.--ps

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