Turlington Reasserts Goals for Florida In 10-Point Plan
Attempting to maintain the momentum of one of the nation's most ambitious education-reform efforts, Commissioner of Education Ralph D. Turlington of Florida has set forth 10 goals to be accomplished by 1989.
Mr. Turlington's announcement comes three-fifths of the way through the state's five-year plan to make Florida a "state of educational distinction" with educational achievement equal to that of the upper quartile of states by 1986.
His new plan, "Getting Ready for 1989," includes several of the first plan's recommendations and some of the elements passed by the legislature this year, and sets 1989 as the checkpoint for meeting the goals, a fact that has prompted the state's largest teachers' organization to label the new plan a regression.
Although a price tag has not yet been attached to the plan, it is estimated it will cost $100 million over five years, according to Tim Callahan, an aide to Mr. Turlington. A full budget report will be submitted to the Governor's Cabinet next week.
Upward Progress Seen
Speaking at a press conference this month, Mr. Turlington said the state had made significant progress toward the goal of moving into the top quartile nationally. "This top-level commitment has resulted in many new programs, a significant increase in funding, and sweeping legislation designed to give educators the tools they need to bring about improved student performance at all levels," he said.
"We now need to focus our sights on the year 1989, when today's 8th-grade class will be graduating from high school. ... It is up to the leadership of the state to ... sustain the momentum for progress."
Mr. Turlington also pointed out that there would be only two biennial legislative budgets between now and 1989 "for ensuring that the support programs will be in place to follow through on the state's commitment."
"We've made some commitments in the legislation [passed in 1984]," explained Mr. Callahan. "If we're going to follow through on these commitments, we need to put these things into place and be looking ahead and getting the funding for them."
The commissioner's proposed goals for 1989 are:
- To maintain the statewide average salaries of instructional personnel at a level that is at least equal to that of the upper quartile of states.
- To build on the state's enhancement program for students in grades K through 3 and to better prepare students in grades 4 through 8 for the increased academic requirements of high school.
- To establish a research-based program to identify and prevent dropouts in the middle grades, to be implemented by districts working independently or jointly.
- To establish in each of the state's school districts planned relationships among curriculum, instructional materials, intended course outcomes, and assessments of student performance in basic courses of study at the middle and secondary levels.
- To provide schools, districts, the state board of education, the legislature, and the general public with comparative data on the performance of Florida's public schools.
- To set up a statewide system of rapid electronic transfer of information between school districts, postsecondary institutions, and the state department of education, so that college performance data can be sent to students' high schools during their first term of college.
- To allow college sophomores to attain the mastery level of the College-Level Academic Skills Test as established for 1989 by the state board in March.
- To provide more financial assistance to qualified graduates of Florida public schools who wish to attend state institutions of higher education.
Florida has been considered a leader in the education-reform movement since it began enacting school-improvement measures as early as 1979.
It was the first state to put into place a merit-pay program for teachers and now has two performance-based programs, one a state program connected to certification, and the other a merit-school concept that recognizes teachers in individual schools. And last year, the Task Force on Education for Economic Growth of the Education Commission of the States recognized Florida for significant initiatives in education reform.
Although Gov. Robert Graham has been credited with easing the legislative path to major reforms and higher education budgets, educators in the state recognize the influence of Commissioner Turlington, who has long championed the state's push toward the upper quartile in terms of achievement, teachers' salaries, and other measures.
'Plans and Promises'
But the commissioner's plan has come under fire from some teachers' union leaders, who charge that it represents a retreat from the original goal of reaching, by 1986, the upper quartile in achievement and teachers' salaries.
"I think it's very important to set goals," said Ruth Holmes, president of the Florida Teaching Profession, a National Education Association affiliate.
"But I want the commissioner to know that the students and the teachers of Florida, and the education workers, can't live on plans and promises. We need some effective action."
Ms. Holmes pointed out that teachers in Florida have honored their commitment to improve academic performance, and she called on the the Governor and his Cabinet to keep their commitment to raise teachers' salaries to the upper quartile of the nation by 1986.
The average teacher salary in Florida for the 1983-84 school year, according to Mr. Callahan, was $19,497, excluding fringe benefits and supplements.
"Especially in the area of salaries, I think that the teachers of Florida are going to be reminding them that they made a commitment," Ms. Holmes said. "We want them to remember, and we're sure that they do, that you have to reach a goal before you can maintain a goal."
Mr. Callahan, reacting to the criticism, stressed that the intent of the plan is not to postpone attainment of goals set earlier. "It's no retreat whatsoever from the goals that were set in 1981," he said. ''We look upon 1981 as a checkpoint year; we need to keep moving beyond that."
Along with his five-year plan to sustain the state's reform efforts, Mr. Turlington has presented the Governor and the state board of education with a report reviewing the effects of demographic projections on state resources and summarizing the state's performance-based accountability program.
"Since growth in the student population in Florida is already beginning to increase significantly at the primary and elementary levels, it is more timely to focus on the impact of increased enrollments on the public schools over the next five years," Mr. Turlington writes in his demographic projections.
Estimating that the student population in Florida will increase by more than 160,000 students, the commissioner points out that as many as 10,000 additional teachers may be needed at the elementary-school level alone.
Vol. 04, Issue 12, Page 1, 16