Casey, Pa. Lawmakers Reach Accord on Outcomes Plan

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Gov. Robert P. Casey and key Pennsylvania lawmakers have agreed on a compromise aimed at resolving a deadlock over the state's controversial outcome-based-education reform plan.

The proposals, which the state board of education was expected to consider this week, de-emphasize the outcomes that critics have scorned as teaching values that may conflict with family beliefs.

Conversely, the proposals accentuate such traditional academic fare as mathematics, science, and communication arts.

But the revisions, which were drafted to mollify vociferous opposition to the plan, apparently have done little to win over adversaries.

"It's a partial effort, and we appreciate that, but there are still a lot of other concerns with O.B.E.,'' said William Sloane, the counsel to Rep. Ron Gamble, a major foe of the reform effort.

The lengthy process to institute the reform plan hit a major obstacle in February, when the House nullified the O.B.E. regulations via an amendment to a special-education appropriations bill. The action resulted in holding up funds urgently needed by school districts. (See Education Week, Feb. 24, 1993.)

At the same time, Governor Casey appealed to the state board to delay action on the outcomes until a compromise could be reached.

Academic Goals Retained

Mr. Casey and three of the four leading members of the legislature's education committees announced late last month that they had reached an accord.

"It is time now to close ranks and move forward in a spirit of mutual cooperation and understanding to build an educational system which concentrates on the primary goal of public education--superior academic achievement for all of our children,'' the Governor said.

He also dismissed concerns raised by Rep. Jess Stairs, the ranking Republican on the House education panel, and Representative Gamble that the modifications would lower academic standards.

"Let me be clear,'' Mr. Casey said. "I advocate a system of change designed to elevate the academic achievement of all students, rather than reduce student achievement to the lowest common denominator.''

Essentially, the revisions call for assessing students on what they know about academic subjects. Some of the more troublesome aspects, such as "appreciating and understanding others,'' would be removed, while such goals as "self worth'' would remain but not be subject to testing.

Rep. Ronald R. Cowell, the chairman of the House education committee, said the changes were reasonable and maintained the integrity of the state board's original initiative.

He also indicated that the reform package had a better chance of survival as a result of the changes.

"The critical difference will be the leadership by and support of the Governor,'' said Mr. Cowell, who previously was critical of Mr. Casey for his lack of involvement.

Although the legislature does not have to approve the regulations for them to take effect, it can kill them.

Critics contend that the revisions do not go far enough. Even though the Governor's proposal removes many of the affective learning outcomes, they argue, it merely shifts others around and retains the affective goals.

"I haven't found a single [legislator] has changed his mind as a result of the latest proposal,'' Mr. Sloane said.

Funding Bills as Leverage

The aide said both chambers would use special-education funding or other critical education bills as leverage to defeat the regulations.

As a result, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association may go back to court to try to force release of the overdue special-education money, according to Tom Gentzel, the group's assistant executive director.

"Frankly, I don't think any eduction bills will pass until O.B.E. is resolved,'' Mr. Gentzel said.

Vol. 12, Issue 29

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