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State Reforms Not Seen Prompting Systemic Changes in School Policy

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By Robert Rothman

Washington--Despite "signs of progress" toward school restructuring, states have not made the kinds of comprehensive changes needed to improve the education system, a report by the National Governors' Association contends.

The report, issued here this month, notes that several states have moved from mandating procedures to judging schools on the basis of outcomes. Many also are revising curricula, changing the functions of their education departments, and creating a host of pilot reform programs, it indicates.

But such efforts tend to focus on only one part of the education system, the report argues, adding that few of the initiatives represent "radical departures from the status quo."

Moreover, the lack of boldness reflects a lack of public desire for fundamental changes, the document warns.

"Everybody sees the need to improve education," Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. of South Carolina said at a press conference here. "But the idea is, 'My kid's school is all right; my kid is doing okay."'

Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado expressed hope that the current situation could change after the National Education Goals Panel, which he chairs, begins this fall to issue annual reports on the state of educational progress. A "combination of forces" will work to redesign the education structure to produce better results, he suggested.

"I see more possibility of rapid change in the next five or 10 years than I have seen in the last 30 years," Governor Romer said. "I am optimistic."

The report, "From Rhetoric to Action," is part of an effort by the nga to help states achieve the six education goals adopted by President Bush and the nation's governors.

It was aimed, officials said, at providing a progress report on the methods outlined in a 1990 report, "Educating America: State Strategies for Achieving the National Education Goals."

The new report notes that every state can point to some action aimed at revamping its public-education system, including promoting school-level restructuring, defining learning goals, coordinating services to children, and revamping assessment systems.

But while some states have linked pieces of their restructuring puzzle, "most are working on them as separate parts of the system," the report states. And, it points out, the prospect for restructuring is further clouded by the budget problems most states are facing, which restrict their ability to provide the retraining and support services needed in a restructured system.

But the study also maintains that even budget deficits, if managed wisely, can be a boon to the restructuring effort.

Copies of the report are available for $15 each, prepaid, from nga Publications, 444 North Capitol St., Suite 250, Washington, D.C. 20001-1572.

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