States Launching Barrage of Initiatives, Survey Finds

By Anne Bridgman — February 06, 1985 8 min read
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An Education Week national survey of education reform suggests that in the last two years, the drive to improve schools has generated an unprecedented level of legislative and policymaking activity in the states.

Since the excellence movement began, almost all of the 50 states have acted to raise high-school graduation requirements and institute statewide student-assessment tests.

In many states, a main goal of the reform activity has been to improve teaching and attract high-quality teachers into the6field--largely by providing financial incentives and raising standards.

Career-ladder or merit-pay plans have been enacted in nearly a quarter of the states, and three-quarters of the remaining states are now considering putting such plans into place, according to the survey, which was conducted in January. In addition, more than one-third of the states have raised teachers’ salaries across the board or have increased minimum salary levels. And 37 states have adopted or are considering financial-aid plans, such as forgivable loans, to attract good students into teaching.

Twenty-eight states have acted to re-vise--usually to toughen--teacher-certification requirements and procedures, and an additional 15 states now have such proposals under consideration. And in 29 states, prospective teachers must now pass a minimum-competency test to earn a teaching license; 10 other states are now considering such a requirement.

The survey also found, however, that state leaders chose not to move on some of the key school-improvement ideas promoted in recent national reports on education.

State Response

Federal officials in recent years haveinued on Page 31

States Launching a Barrage of Reform

Initiatives, Survey Finds

Continued from Page 1

called on the states to assume increasing responsibility for education, and governors, state boards, and legislators have responded, the survey shows, with a virtual barrage of measures to upgrade and improve public elementary and secondary education.

Indeed, William J. Bennett, Secretary-designate of Education, said in opening remarks before the Congress last week that the last two years have seen a groundswell of concern transformed into a tidal wave of reform. “Education now ranks high on the national agenda,” he said.

Mr. Bennett added: “The question before us now is, how do we sustain and increase the momentum for quality in education? I believe we must first recognize who is responsible for the current wave of reform. ... Virtually all of the major education reforms currently planned or underway have been conceived and executed at the state and local level.’'

Financial Outlook

That view is confirmed and documented in the Education Week survey, which canvassed governors, education officials, and legislative leaders. All 50 states have increased education budgets during the past two years and virtually every governor has proposed a substantial, sometimes dramatic, increase in education spending for fiscal 1985-86. Georgia’s governor, for example, is seeking more than $1 billion in new dollars for education reform in the next three years.

The willingness of governors and legislators to increase education spending may stem partly from the fact that 37 states ended the 1984 fiscal year with surpluses and only three reported deficits. Moreover, 28 states report that they are anticipating a surplus in fiscal 1985.

Economists suggest that the improved financial picture at the state level is a reflection of a stronger national economy and, in part, the re-sult of tax increases in some states. More than one-third instituted or increased taxes between January 1983 and January 1985, and many partially or fully earmarked the increased revenues for education. In Texas, for example, the $2.8-billion Educational Opportunity Act of 1984 was underwitten by a 1-cent increase in the sales tax. Idaho’s legislature also instituted a 1-cent sales tax to fund education-reform measures.

Finally, a handful of states have modified or are considering changes in the state’s school-finance formula, in most cases to ensure more equitable distribution of state aid to education.

For more information on the states’ fiscal situation, see the table on page 30.

Among the highlights of the survey’s findings:

Graduation Requirements

In the last two years, 43 states have raised high-school graduation requirements--one of the major recommendations of “A Nation at Risk"--and 5 states are considering more stringent requirements this year.

In addition, 10 states have established “honors” or “merit” diplomas that require students to take additional and more rigorous courses. Five states have also set college-preparatory curricular requirements for college-bound graduates; 2 others are considering instituting such requirements.

In Missouri, for example, the state board last year set criteria for a state-level college-preparatory-study certificate. And in Texas, the board last year established an “advanced” diploma that requires students to take added courses in fine arts, foreign languages, and computer science.

Fifteen states now require an exit test for high-school graduation and 4 states are considering instituting such a test. Louisiana and Mississippi require that students take the test in 11th grade, and Virginia officials give students four6chances to pass a minimum-competency mathematics test required for graduation. Thirty-one states reported no action on exit tests.

Thirty-seven states have acted to institute statewide assessments of students. The measures are spread across both elementary and secondary levels and include achievement and proficiency tests in English, writing, mathematics, science, history, basic skills, and other areas.

Only 8 states, however, acted to make such tests “promotional gates,” and 3 others are considering such measures.

Teacher Training

More than half of the states--29--have upgraded teacher-education requirements in the last two years to include a mandated teacher-competency test; another 10 states are considering the idea. At least half of the states that have enacted such measures have done so in the last year.

The teacher-certification tests being used by states include the National Teacher Examinations and the California Achievement Test.

Twenty eight states have made additional changes in teacher-certification procedures, and another 16 are considering such changes. Among those are Iowa’s establishment of a board of examiners to approve teacher-education programs and award certification and Utah’s requirement that certified teachers be computer-literate.

Half of the states have passed legislation that provides aid for prospective teachers in the form of scholarships and forgivable loans. Many of those programs are designed to encourage able high-school and college mathematics and science students to enter teaching, but some states have broadened their program’s focus to encompass other teaching fields as well.

Teacher Compensation

Although “A Nation at Risk” and numerous national and state education reports have called for inel5lcreased salaries for teachers, only 18 states have moved to institute across-the-board or minimum-level teacher-salary increases since 1983.

Among those states, Alabama has increased teachers’ base salaries by 15 percent to $20,000; Kansas increased salaries 9.75 percent; and North Carolina raised teachers’ pay 14.8 percent. And Florida, Maine, and West Virginia added $2,000 to teachers’ salaries.

However, the survey found that another 24 states have proposed salary increases for the current legislative session. This year, Maryland’s state superintendent is seeking a 25-percent across-the-board pay increase for teachers, Georgia’s governor has requested an average teachers’ salary of $24,000, and both Arizona and Connecticut are considering minimum salaries of $18,000.

In several states, lawmakers defeated pay-increase measures last year. Idaho legislators turned down the governor’s plan to provide $44.8 million to increase salaries over two years. The Maine legislature did not approve a gubernatorial commission’s minimum-salary recommendation of $15,000. And New Mexico legislators defeated the governor’s proposal to raise starting salaries to 25,000 by 1989.

Merit-Pay Plans

While the majority of states--38--have either enacted, endorsed, or are considering merit-pay or career-ladder programs, most are in very preliminary stages.

Only two states, Florida and Tennessee, have taken performance-based pay plans past the stage of pilot projects. Florida intends to have its dual-phase program established statewide by September; Tennessee plans a 1987 date.

Arizona, Nebraska, New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina have pilot career-ladder/merit-pay programs in place. And such programs are currently being developed in Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Legislators in Kentucky, Louisi-ana, South Dakota, and Washington last year either defeated or passed over performance-pay programs. And in Iowa, the governor vetoed a bill that would have implemented a career ladder.

Little Action Taken

Although such reports as “A Nation at Risk” called for more effective use of the school day, minimizing interruptions, and, if necessary, expanding the school year or day, just a handful of states have taken such actions.

For the most part, according to the survey, states have chosen not to increase instructional time by signficantly lengthening the school day or school year, but instead have simply urged local districts to find ways to use time more effectively or have added days for teacher preparation and development.

Further, only a handful of states have sought to add to instructional time by proposing or enacting measures to develop preschool initiatives or by limiting extracurricular activities.

Only 13 states have moved to lengthen the school day or year, and another 7 now have such measures under consideration. In addition, only 6 states have enacted and 4 have considered bills to limit extracurricular activities in an attempt to make more effective use of the school day. Two states have turned down such measures.

Thirteen states have acted to limit student-teacher ratios, mostly in the early-elementary grades, but also at higher levels. Other states have enacted measures that mandate districts to develop policies on homework, attendance, and discipline; revise the compulsory-attendance law to set home-schooling requirements; and require that students who want to drop out have written parental permission.

Only 7 states report that they have established some form of preschool program, and 8 say they are considering such a step. Thirty-three states did not report any action in this area.

A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 1985 edition of Education Week as States Launching Barrage of Initiatives, Survey Finds


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