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Wis. Governor Calls for Local High School Exit Exams

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Gov. Tommy G. Thompson last week challenged Wisconsin lawmakers to take on a novel school-reform agenda that would mandate local high school exit exams and forge new links between schools and the state's colleges.

The third-term Republican governor said in his annual State of the State Address that despite having already passed a host of controversial school reforms, legislators still have problems to face.

"We've accomplished proud achievements in our schools," Mr. Thompson said. "But we must ask ourselves: Is being good good enough?"

He said he has serious questions about the academic accomplishments of the 48,000 students who graduate each year from Wisconsin high schools.

"We put them in robes, hold grand graduation ceremonies, play 'Pomp and Circumstance,"' Mr. Thompson said. "Yet, the only thing we are guaranteeing is that they completed at least a minimum number of high school courses. We know how long they sat in their seats, but we don't know what went into their heads."

To address those doubts, he urged the gop-controlled legislature to mandate a high school exit examination and create a system by which local districts would adopt performance standards that their students must master. The tests, he said, would be based on those standards and would vary from district to district.

"If you can't read and write, if you can't calculate, if you don't know the difference between Elroy and Argentina, you're not going to get a diploma in the state of Wisconsin," Mr. Thompson said. "And if a school district is failing to teach those skills, the taxpayers and parents deserve to know about it."

An existing task force will be charged with proposing a way for communities to agree on what students should know and be able to do by the time they finish high school. The task force will also recommend how those skills would be tested.

Mr. Thompson said such a program is essential to ensure local confidence in schools and to underscore to students that they cannot graduate without a sound basic knowledge of key subjects. The governor said the tests, which would begin in 2000, should not wander beyond basic skills.

"I'm not talking about outcome-based education or some politically correct cultural standards, such as measuring some kid's cognitive diversity conflict-management skills. I am talking about solid, purely academic standards in core subject areas," Mr. Thompson told legislators. "Tonight, we begin making a high school diploma in Wisconsin a ticket to opportunity instead of just a keepsake."

More Work Links

Mr. Thompson also proposed a pilot program that would allow high school students who have earned enough basic academic credits to spend their junior and senior years at one of the state's technical colleges. The colleges, in turn, would grant the students high school diplomas.

Noting that the majority of new jobs projected for Wisconsin over the next decade will be in technical occupations, the governor said that the state must expand its already-substantial school-to-work assistance programs.

Mr. Thompson said he will name Herbert Grover, the former state schools chief, as his special assistant on school-to-work issues.

Expanding on the collaboration between the state's colleges and universities and its K-12 schools, the governor said he will ask the University of Wisconsin system to allow high school students to take courses through the Internet. He also urged the university system to make its libraries and the Library of Congress accessible on the global computer network.

"This will give students access to all the great libraries of the world," he said. "And never again will a student be able to say to a teacher, 'The book is not in the library."'

KENTUCKY

New Gov. Seeks Teacher Raises, Backs Reforms

Gov. Paul E. Patton, facing Kentucky lawmakers for the first time after his narrow victory in last November's election, said he will make raises for teachers a top priority and pledged to protect the state's 1990 school-reform law.

Mr. Patton told lawmakers he will not push for any major new programs during the upcoming biennium. Instead, the governor said he will focus on stabilizing the state budget.

Money should be found, however, to offer pay increases to state workers, including a 2.6 percent cost-of-living increase for teachers. Gov. Patton, a Democrat, said he wanted to make sure that progress on education-reform programs did not eclipse better teacher pay as a state goal.

"If we're going to continue to attract good people into the teaching profession," Mr. Patton said in his Jan. 25 remarks, "we must develop an effective and continuing program of assuring these professionals that they'll not lose the purchasing power of their wages."

The governor also pledged to be a champion for the state's sweeping school-reform initiatives throughout his four-year term.

"The Kentucky Education Reform Act, though not perfect, is still the most progressive legislation enacted in Kentucky during my lifetime," Mr. Patton told the Democrat-controlled legislature. "I'm committed to working with you to improve it, and stand by you to defend it."

--Lonnie Harp

SOUTH CAROLINA

Beasley Wants Funds For Technology, Prisons

Gov. David M. Beasley of South Carolina, embarking on his second year as governor, exhorted lawmakers to approve measures that would improve technology in the classroom, build more prisons for juvenile offenders, and boost overall funding for education.

In his Jan. 24 speech to legislators, the Republican governor asked for $20 million to build computer networks and improve distance-learning projects in elementary schools.

He also proposed a hike in teachers' salaries.

Mr. Beasley asked the legislature--whose control is split between Democrats and Republicans--to spend $29 million to build additional prisons for juvenile inmates.

--Jessica Portner

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