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Changes in Policy, Conditions Said Reshaping High Schools

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ATLANTA--The waves of state and local education policies adopted over the past decade, along with changing social conditions, have had a profound effect on high schools, preliminary findings from a national survey suggest.

The federally funded study was based on surveys in 1992 of state and local education officials, as well as of principals and mathematics teachers from schools that took part in the High School and Beyond surveys of 1980 and 1984. It confirms that the vast majority of states and school districts adopted reforms in accountability, curriculum, school organization, and other areas over the past decade.

At the same time, it found, the roles of principals and teachers have shifted, perhaps in response to such changes.

In contrast to the early 1980's, the survey found, principals now are more likely to see themselves as educational leaders whose jobs depend on boosting student performance. Teachers, it found, have greater authority over curricula and instructional methods.

The data also offer evidence that high schools are more dangerous places than they were a decade ago. Violence and weapons have replaced vandalism and absenteeism as the primary concerns of principals, the study found.

Roger E. Levine, a research scientist at the American Institutes of Research who conducted the study, said he will analyze the data over the next few months to determine the extent to which state and local policies have affected schools.

"Our goals are to show how high schools have changed in the past 10 years and the relationships between policy activity and changes at the high school level,'' he said here at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

Changing Roles

While previous studies documented the plethora of education reforms during the 1980's, the A.I.R. study shows how widespread the changes were and what their impact was.

To gauge the impact, the researchers went back to 1,000 schools that were included in the massive High School and Beyond surveys. About a fourth of the principals remain from the earlier surveys, Mr. Levine estimated.

The study found that nearly all states adopted some measure holding schools accountable for student performance, although the states vary widely in the way they implemented such policies.

Similarly, two-thirds of the states said they were more likely than a decade ago to "encourage'' or "strongly encourage'' school-based management or involving teachers in decisionmaking, but those policies vary as well.

The preliminary data from the principal and teacher surveys suggest that such policies had an effect on schools.

Teachers in 1992 have more influence over curricular decisions than they did a decade ago, while parents have less, the survey found. And teachers are the "key actors'' in determining instructional practices, it found.

In fact, the survey found, although states have a strong influence over curricula--the state role was not examined in 1984--teachers have much more authority than states in determining what happens in the classroom.

"There were a lot of state policies, but when it comes to delivering actual services, the impact of state policies pales when compared with the role of teachers,'' Mr. Levine said.

The study also found that the role of the principal has shifted over the past decade. Whereas in 1980, principals were most likely to be evaluated on the efficiency of their administration, principals in 1992 were more likely to be judged according to student performance.

Perhaps as a result, principals in 1992 were more likely to see themselves as "educational leaders,'' rather than as administrators.

The accountability policies may also have contributed to changes in school programs, the study suggests.

For example, it found that fewer schools offered credit for travel and work in 1992 than in the 1980's, while during the same period the number of Advanced Placement courses and programs for gifted-and-talented students increased significantly.

Dangerous Places

The survey also examined how changing social conditions have affected schools. It found that, in general, high schools are more dangerous than they were a decade ago.

For example, in the past 12 years, there has been a huge increase in the number of schools that enforce dress codes, a change that Mr. Levine suggested could be related to the spread of gang activity.

At the same time, principals are more likely than before to consider physical conflict, possession of weapons, and verbal abuse of teachers problems in their schools.

In contrast, it found, principals considered absenteeism and cutting classes less serious problems in 1992 than in 1980.

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