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Texans not sure whether to fine tune or scrap education reforms

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These days it can seem as though nobody in Texas is happy with the state's 18-month-old education reform -- except maybe the governor. Democratic Gov. Mark White, who is expected to give top billing to improvements in the state's education system in next year's reelection campaign, uses every opportunity, from TV spots to weekly news conferences, to heap praise on the comprehensive reforms.

But others, from the state's coaches and principals to some Democratic legislative leaders, and, not surprisingly, Republican candidates for governor, are finding fault with portions of the reform or its implementation.

The Texas 1984 education-reform package includes, among other changes: equalization of state aid to school districts; secondary education competency tests that must be passed to advance and to gain a high school diploma; and the highly controversial ``no pass, no play'' rule, which bars students from extracurricular activities if they receive an ``F'' in even one class.

The state's coaches, unhappy about the no-pass, no-play rules have voted to test their muscles in the political arena by forming a political-action committee (PAC). The coaches hope to convince voters and state lawmakers that the rule, as currently written, acts as a disincentive to students with failing grades but a high interest in school athletics.

Republican gubernatorial candidates are criticizing the no-pass, no-play rule as too harsh, because it keeps failing students out of extra curriculars for a full six-week grading period. The rule has been in effect since January but faced its biggest public test this fall during the state's sacrosanct high school football season.

Also this month, the state's principals voted to form their own PAC, citing a failure of the state's politicians to address their concerns about a new teacher evaluation and compensation plan, and loss of local control over student discipline.

Most recently, the lieutenant governor and House speaker, both Democrats, criticized the reform's graduation exam as too easy. Their appraisal followed an 85-percent success rate among high school juniors who took a trial run of the test in October. State education leaders, who had predicted a 75-percent pass rate, admitted that results would not have been so glowing if certain questions deemed too difficult by the state education board had not been dropped from the test.

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