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Strengthening America's High Schools

(Page 2 of 3)



Mandel Washington, principal of Gravette High School, brags, ''On SRA (reading) scores, we're the highest in northwest Arkansas.''

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But local differences in expenditures, and the whole question of money, is only one aspect of the resources issue, albeit a big one. Other key resources include:

State initiatives. Within the past five years, all 50 states have taken initiatives to strengthen schools.

Some states have focused on better administration and teaching, curriculum guidelines, or more supervision and review of schools. Others set up technical assistance services, minimum competency testing, and better relationships with parents and taxpayers. Still others set about identifying their most effective schools, with the intention of sharing the ''how to'' with other schools.

For example, in 1981, the Ohio State Board of Education prepared its own plan for school improvement (''Mission for the 80s: A Blueprint for Excellence''). Its first recommendations, for competency-based education and stiffer graduation requirements, go into effect this year. To graduate, students must complete at least three year-long units of English, two of math, two of social studies, one of science, and one-half each of health and physical education.

Ohio will require minimum competency testing as a student progresses through school. For students who fail in English composition, mathematics, or reading, schools must intervene with remedial courses, tutoring, guidance, class placement, or other corrective strategies.

Although demographics suggests that an aging population might resist any increase of taxes for school purposes, the 1983 Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools found that 39 percent of those asked were still willing to vote an increase in school taxes. Among those familiar with the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, the figure went as high as 48 percent in favor of tax increases.

Time. Like money, this is a basic resource in improving education.

''Some (schools) seem almost unaware that time is virtually the most precious learning resource they have at their disposal,'' says John L. Goodlad, author of ''A Place Called School'' (to be published next year by McGraw-Hill). ''School-to-school differences in using time create inequalities in opportunity to learn.''

Author Paul B. Salmon blames disruptive student behavior, absenteeism, tardiness, announcements and recordkeeping, bad weather (snow days), and interruptions of the class period for time loss. His booklet, ''Time on Task,'' (American Association of School Administrators, Reston, Va.), spells out how principals, teachers, and students can better manage school time.

Colleges and universities. Another resource exists in the cooperative efforts of local colleges and universities. Those in the Boston area have recently reaffirmed their intention to continue pairing with public schools. This year school superintendent Robert Spillane has asked the participating colleges and universities for help in upgrading the curriculum.

The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute works because Yale University contributes more depth in subject matter, while the New Haven teachers share the practical aspects of working with students.

Recently the presidents of Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and the Universities of Chicago, Michigan, and Wisconsin pledged to take part in joint ventures designed ''to ensure excellence'' in US public schools. They expect to help develop training courses for administrators and principals, recognize outstanding teachers, and improve teacher training courses.