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Trends in ongoing drive to reform US schools

THREE broad trends are discernible in most of the 45 states now revising their elementary and secondary academic requirements, says Chester Finn, professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University.

* State and local governments are driving the move to reform. Unlike the role played by the federal government in the post-Sputnik era, ''it is as close to a populist reform movement as you will find in America,'' says Dr. Finn.

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* Most states are preoccupied with results, not process or procedure. They want to be able to measure success, and this means some type of standardized testing. The public wants to see proof that reform was successful in higher test scores, not just in a restructuring of the schools and curriculum, although these efforts are seen as necessary.

* Non-educators are co-equal leaders in the reform movement. Parents, legislators, and the business community at first were the catalysts. It is clear they are staying on for the long haul, both directing and monitoring the changes that the education establishment must implement.

Two common problems loom on the horizon for most states, says Dr. Finn. Though there appears to be a strong consensus that schools are trying to do too much and that they should cut back on the ''cafeteria'' aspect of their course offerings, most are still a long way from any consensus on what particular programs and courses should be cut.

Also, there is no reliable indicator - or standardized test - to measure academic achievement over a number of years on a comparative basis, state by state.

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