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Shifts in Reform Movement Chronicled

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The focus of education reform in the states shifted during the 10 years after A Nation at Risk was released, according to a study by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

The report, "Ten Years of State Education Reform, 1983-1993: Overview With Four Case Studies,'' describes the major areas in which state policy changed in the wake of the landmark critique of American schools.

"In the early 1980's, in response to [the 1983 report], states and local districts stepped up their efforts to improve schooling, and relied on a familiar repertoire of policy strategies and tools,'' the new study says.

Despite the achievements that resulted, it continues, "To accomplish the more ambitious goals that underlay A Nation at Risk, deeper, more meaningful reforms will be required.''

"While substantial progress was made between 1983 and 1993, the existing measures of educational health show that many problems persist,'' the study says.

"For most students, the system has failed to provide the kinds of challenging curriculum that yields complex, higher-order thinking,'' it contends. "For many minority students, progress made early on is slipping, and is further endangered by encroaching poverty.''

Initially, the researchers at the Rutgers University-based consortium note, policymakers emphasized inputs to school systems, such as increasing the number of units students needed to graduate.

But although such measures yielded some improvements, they were insufficient to prepare most students for the rapidly changing world and workplace, according to the report.

Consequently, reform efforts have become results or outcome oriented, emphasizing student performance.

Changing the Players

A second notable shift has been in what the CPRE report calls the "players.''

Early on, state legislators and governors tended to lead the reform efforts. As the emphasis has shifted from inputs to results, however, educators, who have the necessary expertise, have become more central to the reform movement.

Foremost among the second wave of reformers, the report suggests, have been the state school chiefs.

The researchers also explore the rise in curriculum frameworks or similar documents specifying what students should know and be able to do, as well as the quest for authentic assessments.

Also included in the report are case studies of reform efforts in California, Florida, Georgia, and Minnesota.

In Florida, for example, there was a strong emphasis on state-controlled school-improvement efforts throughout the 1970's and 1980's. But a 1991 accountability law "reversed the entire policy trend of detailed, mandated, top-down reform,'' the report says.

"Florida deserves to be watched as it tries to reverse 15 years of mostly top-down state policy,'' it suggests. "It will tell us a great deal about the current fashionable concepts in public administration featuring bottom-up flexibility.''

Copies of the report are available for $15 each from CPRE, Carriage House at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University, 86 Clifton Ave., New Brunswick, N.J. 08901. Add $10 for delivery outside the United States.

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