For Maryland schoolchildren, it could mean more standardized tests--and, for many, mandatory summer school or weekend classes.
For teachers, it could mean more training opportunities, but also more course requirements and more scrutiny of their classroom performance.
And for taxpayers, it could mean $22 million a year--at least.
The massive package of mandates and grants that Maryland education officials proposed today is designed to prepare public schools and students for rigorous new statewide graduation exams that all children, starting with the class of 2005, will have to pass to receive a diploma.
State Board of Education members acknowledged that they may have trouble getting so much money from the General Assembly and from Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), who has been cool to other recent requests from the board. But board members said Maryland must pay to help students meet the higher graduation standards demanded by so many parents, politicians and business leaders.
"If we're going to say to kids, 'you do this or you fail,' we've got to help them through," board member Edward Andrews said.
Andrews said he would move to abolish the graduation tests if the state does not come through with the new supports for schools and students.
Amid concerns that too many children are graduating from public schools without basic reading and math skills, a growing number of states--including Maryland and Virginia--have started creating tough new exit exams to jolt schools and students into working harder.
But as the start of these tests draws closer, officials in many states are confronting the prospect of having to deny diplomas to thousands of high school seniors.
In Maryland, only 44 percent of elementary and middle school students now pass their state standardized exam, after nearly a decade of testing.
Although most states have placed the onus on local school systems to make the grade, Maryland education officials pledged in December 1997 to support the push for higher standards with such measures as teacher training and tutoring for struggling students.
But not until today did Department of Education officials indicate exactly how significant an "intervention" plan they envisioned. A draft proposal of their self-described "safety net for students" requires the following:
* Local school systems must develop their own standardized tests to monitor the progress of children, starting in the early elementary school years.
* Schools must develop "individualized learning plans" for students who are falling behind, starting in third grade, and require them to attend weekend or after-school tutoring.
* Students who are not at grade level in reading and math by the end of eighth grade must attend summer school; students who don't pass summer school would be sent to alternative programs--which school systems would be required to create--instead of regular high school.
"This is to make it real for students . . . that there are consequences, and students have to take it seriously," said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy and one of the proposal authors. Jennings estimated that nearly 50 percent of eighth-graders may be eligible for summer school.
* School systems would have to provide mentors for beginning teachers.
* All future teachers would have to complete a major in the subject they plan to teach.
* By 2002, teachers with only "provisional" certificates must earn their full certification within two years.
The proposal also suggests that teachers' evaluations take into account their students' performances on standardized tests.
It also recommends that the state put new emphasis on early childhood education--as early as birth. School systems are urged to reach out to new parents with programs promoting literacy and healthy child development. And the state should offer financial incentives to day-care and preschool programs that try to prepare children for school with intellectually stimulating activities.
The state board will vote on a final version of the package in October, before State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick submits her budget request to the governor.
Although board members applauded the plan in theory, some winced at the estimated minimum price tag--nearly $22 million a year.
Karl Pence, the head of the state teachers union, praised the proposal for its efforts to help prepare students for the rigorous new exams. Still, he criticized the emphasis on required majors for teachers, saying the quality of the program a teacher has graduated from is more important.
The state provides about $2 billion a year in assistance to all public schools in Maryland. State Department of Education officials said Maryland schools may be able to redirect some of the $328 million in federal and state money they already receive to help low-income and struggling students.
But board members still will have to seek a substantial funding increase in Annapolis this winter. And they acknowledged that they may face an uphill battle with legislators who are skeptical about funneling more money to schools.
Glendening aides said the governor has not yet seen the proposal and could not comment. State board members--who are appointed by the governor--were troubled last winter when Glendening did not grant their request for $11 million to start preparing for the high school tests.
But with thousands of diplomas at stake, board members said they have a compelling argument to take to Annapolis. "Now we're at the point of hurting individual children," Andrews said.
CAPTION: Nancy S. Grasmick will submit budget after vote on proposal.