New-Schools Corporation Calls for Broad Academic Focus

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WASHINGTON--The New American Schools Development Corporation last week unveiled its final "request for proposals," after making changes emphasizing the need for bids to address a broad academic focus and the widest possible student population.

"One of the missing elements in the education debate has been a lack of national leadership and a shared vision," said W. Frank Blount, the corporation's president, at a press conference here last week. "I think we're beginning to get that leadership now... and I hope the N.A.S.D.C. provides the vision."

The new-schools corporation was created in July by business leaders at the request of President Bush, as part of his America 2000 education initiative. With planned funding of up to $200 million in private money, the corporation intends to launch perhaps the largest research-and-development project in education history to develop designs for radically reconfigured schools and school systems.

The final R.F.P. is only slightly different from the one released by the corporation in August. The changes that were made reflect concerns expressed by more than 2,000 potential bidders who attended three design conferences and a national teleconference over the past two months. (See Education Week, Sept. 4, 1991 .)

Comprehensive Focus Sought

The new document stresses that designs to reconfigure the schools must address virtually every element of American education, not particular aspects such as special education, governance, or at-risk student.

Regarding curriculum, the final R.F.P. underscores the requirement that proposals include performance objectives in the five core subjects of English, mathematics, science, history, and geography. The document also states, however, that other activities developing artistic expression, citizenship, values, school social climate, employability, and ability to pursue further learning should be included.

In all these areas, bidders are expected to design their own assessment systems based on "world-class standards," with periodic benchmarks included to measure progress.

The designs must be open to all students so as not to skew results, the R.F.P. stresses.

"Perhaps as many as 40 percent of American youngsters... can be considered 'at risk,'" the document says. "Design teams must be explicit about the student populations they intend to serve."

The R.F.P. also stipulates that bidders outline federal, state, and local laws that would impede their ability to "build" their new school designs and assure their replication. Proposals must say how these obstacles would be surmounted, although the corporation also said it would lend its weight to changing laws if necessary.

Political Distancing

Other changes in the final R.F.P. reaffirm assertions by the new-schools project's leaders that the corporation is distancing itself from its political parentage.

Many references to the Administration's America 2000 plan have been dropped, including one requesting that contract-award winners link up with communities identified as America 2000 communities. Instead, bidders must identify their own school-district partners with which to coordinate their experiments.

Even so, some parameters set by the corporation that many educators have charged are politically motivated remain or have been reinforced. The final R.F.P., for instance, states more explicitly than did the original draft that designs may be for public or private schools.

Stipulations that model schools cost roughly the same as existing schools were not removed, despite concerns among some educators that the condition was aimed at restricting the growth of education budgets.

"The reason is straightforward," says a new appendix. "The designs should be useful to a large number of schools; if the designs involve costs significantly higher than current levels, it is unlikely that most schools will seriously consider them."

On the other hand, some obvious concessions were made to educators. While the original R.F.P. stressed that the board of directors would direct the selection process, the final version says that proposals will be reviewed by a panel of education experts before going to the beard for final approval. A bidders conference will be held here Nov. 14 to discuss the R.F.P. The deadline for bid submissions has been moved back from Jan. 30 to Feb. 14, Mr. Blount said, to allow the corporation to develop a computer network to assist potential bidders in forming broad-based consortiums.

The awarding of contracts has been delayed by a month, to May 31. Up to 30 one-year design contracts of between $500,000 and $3 million will be awarded at that time.

The following year, the best designs will receive additional twoyear contracts of $2 million to $15 million for design implementation. In 1995, 7 to 10 final contracts of $2 million to $6 million will be awarded to help in dissemination.

Vol. 11, Issue 08, Page 25

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