Southern States Plan To Monitor Effects of Education Reforms

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Nashville--The Southern Regional Education Board has created a Commission on Educational Quality to prepare, by next summer, methods of measuring the effectiveness of the recent wave of education reforms in the South.

The governors of Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee, meeting here last week, said the taxpayers need a "report card" on educational reforms to assure them that their money is being spent wisely. The new commission will be headed by retiring Gov. William Winter of Mississippi and will include educators and legislators from several Southern states. Its report is to be ready by the summer meeting of the board.

"Southern states are in the midst of making more stringent reforms and spending more new money than any section of the country to try to improve schools," said Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the 14-state consortium.

"It is important for us to go as rapidly as we can to measure what we're doing to see if it works, to see if it makes any difference or not."

James R. Mingle, an sreb research associate, told educators and politicians attending the board's meeting that the proposed evaluation must measure the effect of reforms on student achievement and learning, the adequacy of public funding for the programs, and the level of access and participation afforded students in these programs.

Mr. Mingle said mechanisms such as standardized tests already exist for measuring student achievement, but other tests may have to be added or substituted to make cross-state comparisons valid.

The so-called report card will not be limited to primary and secondary education. Postsecondary education should also be scrutinized to determine the effectiveness of instruction at that level, Mr. Mingle said.

While leaders in postsecondary education have resisted attempts to measure their students' performance, taxpayers are demanding "consumer-report information" on colleges and universities, according to Chester E. Finn Jr., professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University.

Governors Winter, Alexander, and Robert Graham of Florida emphasized that the evaluation will be a tool for comparing schools and school systems not only within each participating state but across state lines.

The governors said "a little competition" between schools, school districts, and states will improve educational programs on a local and statewide level. Governor Alexander said the same kind of competition that inspires schools to have the best football team could also improve educational opportunities.

Governor Winter added that the Southern states' progress in enacting education reforms will make the region more attractive to new industries and businesses. "We must maintain the present commitment to do what's necessary to raise the educational standards of our region so that it is competitive with any other area of the country," he said.

Mr. Mingle warned, however, that if education reforms are sold to the public as the cure-all for unemployment and economic recession, "we are likely to see youth reject schooling in this country in numbers which may startle us."

Vol. 03, Issue 13

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