By Phil Kabler
Monday, May 7

Legislative interim committee members Sunday urged the state Board of Education to reject a proposed policy change, warning that it would force every small, rural high school in the state to close.

At issue is a proposed policy change to create pilot high-quality education standards, including "broad-based elective curriculum."

That curriculum would include offering four grade levels of one foreign language, and two levels of a second foreign language; an English language arts curriculum including drama, theater, journalism, television and film, and speech classes, among others; as well as a number of advanced math, music, science and social studies classes.

"If the board adopts these, you'll close down every small school in the state," Senate Education Chairman Lloyd Jackson, D-Lincoln, warned.

House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta, D-Hampshire, said the policy would not only hurt small schools, which would be hard-pressed to provide all the elective courses, but schools in growth counties in the Eastern Panhandle that are facing teacher shortages.

"We're asking schools to incorporate more and more curriculum with less and less people," he said.

Kenna Seal, director of the Office of Education Performance Audits, said the policy would implement part of the settlement reached last August in the Recht school equity case.

Seal said the policy merely sets a pilot standard for expanded curricula, but does not mandate that the state Board of Education require the courses.

Several legislators said they were concerned that if the board adopted the policy, the litigants in the Recht case would go back to court to demand it be implemented.

"At some point, we have to say, 'No, we're not going any further,'" said Jackson. He said the policy change would reverse 20 years of effort by the state to measure school equity by student performance, not purely by the amount of money put into each school.

"If these provisions are implemented, I think we're back to the multi-billion dollar master plan we had in the '80s," he said.

Mezzatesta was more succinct: "Why are we doing this when we don't need it, and it's stupid."

Asked if schools could be forced to consolidate if the policy is adopted, Seal said, "That could be one of the unintended consequences."

Jackson said businesses want a work force that has mastered the basics of education. He said there was no need, for instance, to teach journalism in high school.

"That's something that can be learned after people master basic English," he said.

The state board is scheduled to act on the policy at its June meeting.

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