More schooling changes in this decade than in any other

Lattie Coor is sure of it: "We will see more change in schooling between 1980 and 1990 than in any other decade in history." And while Dr. Coor is president of the University of Vermont, he was speaking not only of Vermont, but of all New England, and not just of changes in colleges and universities, but of all education from preschool through graduate school.

David Sweet, president of Rhode Island College, agrees with Dr. Coor, and he's sure that one great change will be the rise -- particularly in respect -- for New England's public institutions.

As he explained, "There are still those who think that any private school is better than any public." And then he went on to extol the virtues of his own state-supported institution.

It is estimated that more people are employed in education in New England than in any other enterprise and that also, per capita, there are more schools and colleges than in any other region of the United States. All of which means that education costs are high.

Education officials in the six states, who were queried by phone by the Monitor, said each state is restudying the way public school districts are financed and what the state effort should be. New Hampshire appears to provide the least state support -- something under 10 percent -- and Rhode Island the most, with more than 40 percent.

Dr. Sweet feels that part of the problem in lack of financial support for public schools and colleges is perception and not fact. And that public school educators need to express a more positive attitude, and furthermore need to convince state legislators and local taxpayers that public schools deserve their praise as well as their dollars.

The accompanying map shows what percent of the region's children attend local public schools, with nearly 100 percent in rural and suburban areas and as few as 60 percent in some inner cities. The majority of pupils not in public schools attend parochial schools; a very small percent attend independent or private schools, although New England is famous for its many schools of this type.

During the 1979 school year, Maine estimated 240,000 elementary and secondary school students. New Hampshire registered just under 190,000; Vermont some 110, 000; Rhode Island nearly 184,000; Massachusetts one million two hundred thousand; and Connecticut some 667,000.

Vermont is the only state in the region involved with competency testing prior to high school graduation. Such examinations will be mandatory by 1981. Yet, each of the five others responded to questions of quality by saying that they were sure "they were above the national average."

A recent conference sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education dealt with the question of "effective schools." Speaker after speaker, regardless of what school area or level involved, got the message across that they (i.e., the educators) know all they need to teach the children and that the task today is to do just that: to use what they know to have effective schools.

But where will the dramatic changes come from; why is it that New England educators agree with UVM's Lattie Coor that the next 10 years will be fraught with change?

There's talk, of course, of new financing schedules which will finally provide the children of the poor with resources equal to those of the children of the well-to-do.

There's talk of insisting that not only pupils but teachers (Connecticut already has a law in effect requiring the testing of teachers) prove their competency.

There's talk of opening college classes to every adult -- not limiting undergraduates to the 18-to-22-year-olds.

There's talk of the need to concentrate on the bottom third of the learning group, which would be a turnaround for an area of the country devoted to "the cream of the crop."

And of course there's talk of school and college closings. Demographic changes will force many cities and towns to close public schools. And while someone starts a new private school in New England at an estimated rate of one a day, talk persists of the demise of both private schools and colleges, particularly those without large endowments.

But the "bottom line" would appear to be "effectiveness" and quality, and changes in what is taught, by whom, and to whom.

Recent studies, in the US as well as in England, show dramatically that the "climate" or "feeling" of a school is what matters most.

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