Two years after a presidential commission decried the erosion of the nation's schools and launched a small revolution in education, a 50-state survey has found that the movement has taken firm root.
The nationwide call for tougher high school requirements, incentive pay for teachers and stricter standards for teacher training has echoed in state capitals from Albany to Austin to Olympia. According to the survey by the newspaper Education Week, 43 states have stiffened their high school requirements, with 15 states now requiring seniors to pass exit tests before they can graduate.
In addition, 14 states have adopted "merit pay" plans to reward teachers on the basis of how well their students perform. Twenty-four states are said to be considering such plans.
Also, 37 states have adopted or are considering financial aid plans, like scholarships, to attract bright students into the teaching profession, usually in fields with teacher shortages.
For example, the Maryland General Assembly approved scholarships in 1983 for students wishing to become mathematics, science or foreign-language instructors. And Louisiana lawmakers -- concerned with the shortage as well as the caliber of teachers -- established a scholarship program to attract high school students into teaching and approved a minimum-competency exam for applicants to education schools.
The survey found that 29 states have updated education requirements for teachers, and 28 states have toughened the process of certifying teachers. These plans range from a new one in Virginia that puts teachers on a year's probation before they are permanently certified, to one in Maine that requires competency testing for new teachers.
Although the changes were initiated by the presidential commission, the movement quickly shifted to state capitals, which became the principal arenas for new education proposals. In almost every instance, governors have taken the lead on what has emerged as one of the nation's most popular political causes.
They have seized the initiative in the education debate, proposing spending increases in every state, forming task forces and commissions and responding to the national dissatisfaction with public schools with programs and proposals.
"If you look at the last few years, people were generally struggling to make a connection to the federal government on this issue," said Susan B. Adler, director of the Washington office of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, which has spearheaded some of the proposals for change.
"Now it's clear that the locus of education policies is based in the states," she said. "It's because of a whole combination of factors, not just the attitude of this administration and the budgetary concerns. The governors have really taken the lead."