Panel Witnesses Discuss Reform 'Roadblocks'

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Washington--Education reform has had measured success but obstacles to new ideas still persist at every turn, according to local, state, and national leaders who testified before the Joint Economic Committee last week.

Witnesses such as Gov. Robert Orr of Indiana and John Murphy, superintendent of the Prince Georges County Public Schools in Maryland, described successful education programs that have been implemented in their systems.

Governor Orr told Congressional panelists about Indiana's "A+" program, under which officials have reduced class size in the early grades and launched a statewide testing system.

Mr. Murphy described his district's guaranteed-diploma program, which will ensure employers that students have basic skills. If an employer hires a student who does not meet minimum skills criteria, the school district will fund and provide remedial training through 4adult-education programs. The first guaranteed diplomas will be awarded in 1989.

Roadblocks to Reform

After hearing about the successful efforts, Representative Hamiliton Fish, Republican of New York, questioned witnesses about the "roadblocks" they encountered in implementing new programs.

Vera Katz, Speaker of the House in Oregon's State Assembly, outlined opposition to reform efforts in her state from school management, labor, the business community, and parents.

School officials, Ms. Katz said, have been slow to respond to reform. "School districts, administrators, and schools of education have been concerned about what the changes mean for them," she explained.

"Anytime there is external pressure to change, the level of paranoia increases." Mr. Murphy disagreed with Ms. Katz, however, saying administrators are "well aware" of the need for change and it is "time to stop passing the buck."

Governor Orr came to the defense of principals, saying they are willing to implement changes but need additional training and technical assistance to carry out reform mandates.

Labor leadership has also lagged in its support for change, although teachers at the local level want reforms, Ms. Katz said.

"You have to get to the rank-and-file teachers and hope they will bring the labor leadership along," she said.

In subsequent testimony, Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, outlined efforts by nea affiliates at the local, state, and national levels to bring about changes. Ms. Futrell said the nea has taken the lead in establishing models for educational leadership at the school-building level through its "Mastery in Learning" project. The project, now in 27 schools in 19 states, is designed to demonstrate to policymakers that a faculty-led, school-based approach holds the key to improving public schools, Ms. Futrell said.

Ms. Katz said the business community has focused on the university level because of its research capabilities and, until recently, has not understood the importance of focusing on K-12 education.

Other witnesses testifying during the fifth of a series of eight jec hearings on the subject of education and the economy were Richard Riley, former governor of South Carolina; Barbara Hatton, dean of the school of education at Tuskegee University; and Sonia Hernandez, a teacher at the Emma Frey Elementary School in San Antonio, Tex.

In an earlier jec hearing, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas warnedt reducing the Guaranteed Student Loan Program, which stands to be cut if mandated Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget reductions are enacted.

Support for Student Loans

Reducing student aid while college tuitions are rising would result in fewer college graduates at a time when the need for a more educated workforce is acute, he said.

Governor Clinton, who spoke on behalf of the National Governors' Association, advanced an idea he said the governors were "passing around'': the enlistment of college students in tutoring programs for adult illiterates and young, at-risk children in exchange for increased financial aid.

Vol. 07, Issue 09

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