Archive for Wednesday, December 20, 1989

LATEST SCHOOL PLAN GETS MIXED REVIEW

December 20, 1989

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Lawrence's school superintendent and a local legislator said they support the proposal made Tuesday by five Republican state senators to restructure Kansas schools.

However, Supt. Dan Neuenswander and Rep. Jessie Branson, D-Lawrence, tempered their praise of the plan with caution.

Neuenswander said he supports the senators' proposal, announced Tuesday at a statehouse press conference, to hold schools more responsible for producing results with "community-oriented, outcomes-based" education.

The senators announcing the proposal, none of whom are from the Lawrence area, said it is time to involve parents and the local business community more in educating the state's youth.

However, Neuenswander said he was concerned that the proposal was separate from a study a state task force is conducting into the possibility of adding outcomes criteria to the state accreditation formula.

OUTCOMES-BASED education is the direction in which Lawrence School District 497 has been moving over the past several years, Neuenswander said.

For example, each school in the district has a School Improvement Team made up of administrators, teachers and parents. The teams write goals for the school and follow up to see whether those goals were met.

Outcomes, he said, can be measured by standardized tests, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or by "criterion reference" tests, which test students on material they've had that year. In the past four years, said Neuenswander, teachers and administrators have been working to develop criterion reference tests for math and reading, and will soon be tackling other subject areas as well.

Outcomes, he said, also could be measured by looking at attendance, by surveying parents to determine how satisfied they are with their children's education, or by surveying business people on how well prepared graduates are for the workforce.

Businesses then could make suggestions on how the schools could better equip students for life after school, he said.

ANOTHER outcomes measure would be the dropout rate, Neuenswander said. In recent years, the local school board members and administrators have put programs in place to intervene early with children who may be at risk of dropping out of school when they are older.

For example, the district is trying a full-day kindergarten program and now has developmental first grade for children who aren't quite as mature and ready to learn as their peers.

"These types of programs ensure that kids are ready to learn so you can insist that there be achievement at each level," he said.

Neuenswander said he was somewhat cautious about endorsing the proposal by the legislators, though, because they are apparently working independently from a task force that was recently appointed by the State Board of Education. That group, he said, will study the possibility of accrediting the state's schools on the basis of outcome. The group is expected to have a proposal ready within a year.

MRS. BRANSON said an impetus for the senators' proposal may have been Senate Bill 13, which was passed during the 1989 session. The bill called for providing grants to develop innovative approaches for statewide "at-risk" programs.

"This might include a day-care program for teen-age mothers," she said. "Or the kinds of programs that might help with the dropout rate."

She said that during the session, the Senate had wanted $5 million to fund the at-risk programs, but Gov. Hayden proposed $1.5 million. The compromise was $2.5 million.

"That's a drop in the bucket, really, and that isn't enough funding to include preschool-aged children," she said.

Because money is difficult to come by, Mrs. Branson said, she is taking a cautious approach to the proposal because she isn't sure how the senators' proposal will work.

"No state has a pat formula for any of these innovations," she said. "It's going to take funding and staffing to organize and implement these programs. And it's going to take research."

The senators who announced the proposal Tuesday, she said, aren't "envisioning very much in the way of funding."

NEUENSWANDER said an outcomes-based approach to education need not cost a great deal of money, unless a proposal calls for changes like lowering the student/teacher ratio or providing services to at-risk children before they enter school.

"But if we're talking about outcomes, and having more accountability in the schools, then I don't think we're talking big money," he said.

Neuenswander said the concept may not be an easy one to sell. There will be school districts and school boards that won't want to be more accountable, he said.

Mrs. Branson said the only surprising aspect of the senators' proposal was that it didn't mention parental choice.

"I guess I am surprised that they didn't throw in parental choice," she said. "That is such a hot issue now."

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