State News Roundup

April 11, 1984 9 min read

A six-member “investigative committee” of top National Education Association officials has concluded that a new Arkansas teacher-testing law is a “political gesture” intended to sidestep serious problems within the teaching profession in the state.

The testing law, which calls for all Arkansas teachers to take a basic-skills test during the 1984-85 school system, “is clearly an error that should be abandoned,” the committee wrote in its report. “Teacher morale has plummeted [since the testing law was passed], while emotional and hostile challenges to teachers’ authority and credentials have dramatically increased.”

Governor William Clinton, who had pushed for the passage of the controversial measure, should redirect the resources going into the development of tests into other areas, the committee said.

“The state currently lacks an administered classroom evaluation program, there is no state program to evaluate teacher training institutions, and no evidence of statewide inservice training programs,” the committee said.

Joan S. Roberts, Mr. Clinton’s press secretary, said in response to the nea report that the testing of teachers is “a necessary first step” to improving the accountability of the state’s teaching profession and was a key to securing legislative support for a recent tax increase that will raise teacher salaries an average of $3,100 over 18 months.

“The Governor agrees that there is a need to do more than simply test the teachers,” Ms. Roberts said. “That is why he supported a law that set up a new committee on teacher certification, education, and evaluation. It’s already at work and will make recommendations to the governor and the legislature by January of 1985.”

“If anything, the Arkansas Education Association and the nea are damaging the morale of the teachers in the state, " she added, “by refusing to accept that there has to be more accountability in teaching.”

California has 58 “low-performing” high schools that enroll huge proportions of students who enter with very limited reading ability and remain “functionally illiterate and chronically truant,” a new legislative study has found.

In contrast, the Assembly Office of Research found 21 “effective” schools that also enroll low-ability students--though not always in the same proportions--yet teach them to read well enough to enter college or the workforce by the time they graduate.

Both types of schools were selected on the basis of student scores on state achievement tests and reading, written expression, spelling, and mathematics during the past three years. In the low-performing schools, average scores stayed in the bottom 25th percentile in all subjects.

The researchers said the low-achieving schools tended to be large, with more than 1,500 students, and located in inner cities--half of them in Los Angeles county. Many of the students were from poor families, with 36 percent receiving welfare assistance. About 52 percent of the students were Hispanic and 32 percent were black. Between 80 and 90 percent were reading at levels as low as the 4th or 5th grade.

But the study also found schools that “succeed with poor and minority children. Such schools demonstrate that all children can learn and that schools do make a difference.”

The research report was used to bolster support for a bill by Assemblyman Teresa Hughes, a Los Angeles Democrat, that would target $6 million in special state funds to low-performing high schools. The funds would be used to train administrators, to prepare teachers to help students who cannot read, and to develop better ways to assess students’ skills.

The study found these major differences between low-performing and effective high schools:

Faculty and administrators at effective schools “shared a common sense of purpose” that guided curriculum development and influenced classroom and administrative procedures. At low-performing schools, there often were strong disagreements.

Teachers at effective schools had designed tests to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses of incoming students, assign the students to appropriate courses, and, after mastery of the targeted skills, permit them to enter the next course in the curriculum sequence. These were not common practices at the low-performance schools.

At effective schools, faculty reviewed the curriculum regularly and tried to expand it to assure that students received experiences in such subjects asvocational training, art, drama, music, and foreign languages.

At low-achieving schools, these course offerings were shrinking, and there was little evidence of regular curric-ulum review.

Although principals at low-performing schools had largely succeeded in making their campuses safe, more improvement was needed in “academic discipline” and the instructional program.

The West Virginia Department of Education and Gov. John D. Rockefeller 4th have purchased 25 full-page newspaper advertisements to invite students and parents to make “promises” for education.

Using $10,000 from the Governor’s contingency fund--characteristically reserved for emergencies--the department last month ran ads in all of the state’s daily newspapers asking students and parents to do their part to improve education in the state, according to Beverly Midkiff, a spokesman in the Governor’s office.

An additional $2,000--also from the contingency fund--will be spent to send wallet-sized “pledge cards” to those West Virginians who respond to the ads.

Students were asked to make eight promises for education, including to “learn everything I can and be well informed so I can enjoy more of the good things in life,” to “become a ‘pro’ in basic skills,” and to “read a lot of books and articles on my own,” Ms. Midkiff said.

Parents were invited to make five pledges, including assuring that their child attends school regularly, providing support for their child’s teachers, and showing “high expectations” for their child, Ms. Midkiff said.

The first “promise drive” was held in December, according to Elenora Pepper, a spokesman for the state education department. In that drive, the West Virginia Education Fund, a private, statewide foundation for public education, invited Charleston residents to make promises for education. “Several hundred people responded,” Ms. Pepper said.

The Oregon State Board of Education has unanimously approved higher high-school graduation requirements in mathematics and science.

Under a measure approved late last month, students who enter as freshmen in the fall of 1984 must take two years of study in both subjects; a single year is now required in each subject.

The change will raise the total number of required units for high-school graduation from 21 to 22.

At the meeting, the board heard preliminary reports from four of eight task forces that are developing recommendations to improve elementary and secondary education in the state. The task forces were appointed by State Superintendent Verne A. Duncan in January and are to make final reports to the board on May 4.

The group studying ways to improve the teaching of mathematics and science said that it supports the higher graduation standards in those subjects. But panelists noted that they were more concerned about “quality of instruction” than about the number of units required.

They recommended that the state establish better preservice and inservice programs for teachers; that representatives of government and industry explore ways to reward excellence in teaching; and that schools make special efforts to make math and science attractive to all students, not just those who plan to go to college.

The committee also urged that the state require a full year of mathematics and science in grades 7 and 8 and that schools provide at least 40 minutes of instruction in each subject daily in the elementary grades.

Panelists also said the state should encourage and support opportunities for mathematics and science study outside the school setting, especially in cooperation with museums and science centers.

Other task forces called for increasing the English/language-arts requirement for high-school graduation from three to four years; establishing a check-point testing program; creating a consortium representing all the state’s education agencies to develop a “core” curriculum for kindergarten through college; requiring written staff-development and evaluation plans and the evaluation of teachers and administrators every two years; and reviewing the merits of a state law requiring that temporary teachers receive permanent status after three years.

Saying that Florida has “forged into law the nation’s most far-reaching educational reforms” as a result of the legislature’s support for a master-teacher program, upgraded high-school graduation standards, and other efforts, Gov. Robert Graham urged state lawmakers to approve more educational reforms in its new legislative session, which got underway last week.

Governor Graham said that “excellence is not a bill we can pass and sign into law in a single session. Excellence requires years of continuous, concerted effort.”

In his state-of-the-state address, the Governor made education his top priority, urging legislators to raise salaries for all teachers by an average of $2,820 this year; to provide funds to purchase 3,000 microcomputers for classroom use; and to provide an additional $68 million to high schools to extend the school day.

He cited the results of a recent Miami Herald poll that indicated that 67 percent of Floridians believe schools are getting better and that they would be willing to pay higher taxes to improve them even more.

According to the Governor, if the legislature continues to support his education programs, by 1995 “Florida will have created the intellectual and economic environment to attract and keep the best teachers in America for the best schools in America.”

An annual report by the Michigan Department of Education indicates that expenditures per pupil rose about 4.5 percent last year, the smallest increase in more than a decade.

The limited increase was attributable to the decline in “durable goods” produced in the state, particularly steel and automobiles, according to Ralph J. Meyer, school-finance auditor for the department.

Teacher salaries rose about 6 percent, from an average of $24,304 in 1981-82 to $25,712 in 1982-83, according to the report.

It indicated that the state and federal share of support for local districts declined by 8 and 13 percent, respectively, from the previous year, while “local sources of support for schools made up the difference,” Mr. Meyer said.

In 1982-83, local sources provided 71 percent of schools’ budgets, while the state provided 24.7 percent and the federal sources provided 4.23 percent of funds.

The year before, local sources provided 68.3 percent of budgets, while about 27 percent came from the state and 4.8 percent came from the federal government.

A version of this article appeared in the April 11, 1984 edition of Education Week as State News Roundup