DISTRICT SCHOOL officials have made their annual teacher reassignments in order to comply with the 6-year-old Wright school-equalization decree, and for the first time this was done with a minimum of fuss. This year there were not the complaints of parents and school officials that everyone has come to expect. The principal reason was that for fewer teachers were transferred. Last year 137 elementary teachers were moved to different schools late in the fall. This year only 31 teachers have been moved since September. (Thirty more were also shifted under two other programs.) Obviously, the fewer teachers shifted, the more coherent and stable the instruction both in individual schools and throughout the system as a whole.
The sharp drop in the number of teachers - and thus, the number of students - affected by the demands of equalization is due to a significant revision of the original court order, which sought to ensure that all elementary schools received equal resources. The original Wright decree stated that teachers' salaries in every elementary school must come within 5 percent of the citywide average. To meet that requirement school officials were forced to shift large numbers of teachers; these transfers in most instances had little to do with the teaching needs of the schools involved. The revised order, sought by School Superintendent Vincent Reed and the school board and signed by Judge J. Skelly Wright in September, substitutes equality in class size as the test of whether the schools are meeting the Wright decree. So now, the class size at every elementary school must be within 5 percent of the citywide average. The new order has also produced a better distribution of teachers of reading, art, music and other special subjects. In short, there is a clear connection between equalization and school's basic function: to teach.
In one sense, there's a so-what quality to the school's improved equalization process because no one has proved definitely that equalized class size leads to improved student performance. Whether that occurs in Washington's public school, we think, will largely depend on the soundness of the comprehensive curriculum plan school officials began putting into effect in the fall. But the new equalization effort, by causing less disruption and by better distributing basic services, should allow school officials and parents to concentrate more on the school's overriding objective: helping students learn.