Leaders of several state efforts to upgrade education, including Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb, said yesterday that further increases in aid to schools should be tied to improvements in school performance.
Robb, who held down other government spending to raise $300 million for education over the past two years, told a conference here that there must be a "nexus" or clear connection between "increased compensation for teachers , increased financial support for schools , and increased performance."
Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, who put through a major tax increase to benefit schools, said the new money and new state rules should produce changes in how schools operate and in what students achieve. "The taxpayers are smart," Alexander said. "They just don't want more of the same."
Robb and Alexander spoke at a seminar on the role of states in recent school reforms. The session, sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, was held at the Mayflower Hotel.
In a paper presented at the meeting, Denis Doyle and Terry Hartle, two AEI researchers, said state efforts to improve public schools over the past two years have amounted to "the greatest and most concentrated surge of educational reform in the nation's history." But they warned the widespread increases in state government requirements may not lead to an upsurge in quality because they limit the power of teachers and principals who play the key roles in creating good schools.
"Excellence in education is home-grown," Hartle said. "It relates to the character of individual institutions." "Homogenization" may improve some of the worst schools, he said, but it may also "eliminate the qualities that made some of the best schools the best. It's a delicate balancing act."
The researchers suggested that establishing rigorous statewide high school graduation examinations, comparable to diploma exams in Britain and France, would be the best way to set high academic standards while giving considerable autonomy and flexibility to local schools.
During a question period, Alten B. Davis, a political science professor at Weber State College in Utah, said focusing on tests will mean that teachers "stop teaching other things."
California state school Superintendent Bill Honig rejoined that if the tests are broad enough and well made they are a "good way of defining" what schools should do. "I think you should teach kids to pass" them, he said.
Florida state Sen. Jack Gordon, another panel member, said tight state regulation of schools, such as a law he proposed requiring written compositions in high schools once a week, were justified because educators "let the situation deteriorate."