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Strong Interest Reported in Texas Waiver Program

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By Daniel Gursky

A Texas initiative aimed at freeing schools from state rules and regulations has generated a flood of interest, according to state officials.

Almost one-third of the state's 6,000 schools have asked the Texas Education Agency to be considered for a pilot deregulation program granting waivers to some 80 schools that can show how state mandates stand in the way of improved student performance.

Under the Partnership Schools Initiative, announced by Commissioner of Education Lionel R. Meno in September, state education officials have the authority to grant schools almost "blanket waivers," said Julian Shaddix, assistant commissioner for school administration. "But the campus has to come forward with a plan about what they want to do and how they're going to do it."

"It's wide open," he added. "We're talking about an opportunity for innovation, for the ingenuity of teachers and principals to really come forward."

One part of the initiative allows schools to submit proposals calling for up to 15 school days for staff training. Mr. Meno had to get authority from the legislature to grant such waivers from state school-year requirements.

Although such proposals would shorten the amount of time students spend in class, "if you really want to change what is going on in schools, you have to change the behavior of the entire staff," Mr. Shaddix noted. "And to do that you need quality staff development."

Schools Want More

The strong response to Texas's offer of rules waivers appears to contrast with the experience of some other states. More than 20 states have adopted waiver provisions in recent years, but schools in many areas have submitted far fewer requests than officials anticipated. (See Education Week, April 11, 1990.)

Texas educators voiced strong support for the plan.

Joe Austin, superintendent of the Beaumont Independent School District, where 10 of 31 schools completed the initial one-page application for the program, said he likes the idea of deregulation because it could "give teachers a little more time and flexibility to deal with problems."

Mr. Austin added, however, that he would like to see the concept expanded "quite a bit." Because only 80 schools will be picked, he noted, it is doubtful more than one Beaumont school will receive a waiver.

Indeed, some schools have decided not to settle for the slim chance of being selected for the pilot program in a competition against hundreds of schools, but have gone straight to Mr. Meno to request rules waivers.

Teachers in Wichita Falls, for example, have been given permission not to use the state-approved 7th-grade mathematics textbooks because the books do not fit a district program that emphasizes algebra.

"Based on our experience," said Superintendent Leslie Carnine of Wichita Falls, "if you have good, sound research behind your request, [Mr. Meno] will grant the request."

Schools must submit detailed proposals by mid- December, although Mr. Shaddix said he does not expect all 2,000 schools that returned the initial form to complete that next step.

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