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State Chiefs Want the Administration To Clarify Education Policies, Goals

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Portland,Ore.--State school chiefs, viewed as major beneficiaries of Reagan Administration actions to date, are increasingly troubled by the President's failure to define his position on public schooling.

"We must strive to help clarify what the federal role in education is and what it is not," said California State Superintendent Wilson Riles last week in his inaugural address as president of the Council of Chief State School Officers (ccsso).

Dismantling Premature

Mr. Riles disclosed that he had met privately with President Reagan in August. He said he urged the President to help develop a national consensus about the federal role in education, and he told Mr. Reagan that until that has been clarified it would be premature to dismantle the beleaguered U.S. Department of Education.

"We know what this Administration doesn't like--rules and regulations and a federal department--but we don't know what they do like," said the ccsso's executive director, William S. Pierce, at the group's annual meeting here. "We don't know if they like education," Mr. Pierce said.

The President's success in getting Congress to transfer administrative responsibility for scores of federal aid programs to the states through block grants has made state school chiefs "the most influential group in the new arrangement in education," said Paul D. Salmon, ex
ecutive director of the American Association of School Administrators. In a luncheon address, Mr. Salmon challenged the chiefs to take the initiative to put human development back on the public agenda and to "finally decide who is responsible for what." While uneasiness about the Administration's stance on education pervaded the four-day ccsso meeting, the chiefs also:

Adopted a comprehensive policy statement on youth employment that calls for more direct linkages between schools and jobs, including "customized, company-specific training programs;"

Heard about two "festering social sores" that have or will influence the quality of education: teenage pregnancy and right-wing extremists.

Were warned that federal expenditures on education would be sharply reduced over the next two years unless substantial grass-roots opposition to further budget cuts can be developed.

In an effort to head off pending Administration plans to revamp vocational education by shifting the focus away from public schooling, the chiefs endorsed a policy calling for intensified school efforts including "individualized employability development" for youths seeking jobs immediately after graduation. The proposal, prepared by a committee headed by Commissioner of Education Gordon Ambach of New York, also calls for increased tax incentives for employers who hire youths, improved labor-market information, more specific occupational-skill training, and renewed emphasis on job-placement services.

'Social Hurricane'

In a separate issue, the state school chiefs heard from Edith Green, the former U.S. Representative from Oregon, who warned of a "social hurricane" that could sweep through urban centers of America in the 1990's because of the current dramatic increases in teenage pregnancies. Society, she said, is neglecting the consequences of "children having children," of mothers who are themselves children with no parenting skills--they are undisciplined parents producing undisciplined children.

Ms. Green also told the chiefs she believed that schools should teach moral conduct. "Too often we have equated instruction in moral behavior with instruction in religion," she said. "But, surely, to place more classroom emphasis on the golden rule is not a violation of the First Amendment."

A more immediate threat to the quality of schooling was described by Judith Krug, executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation in Chicago. Education is under siege, she said, because the tools of education are under attack by a new breed of "right-wing extremists."

Many single-issue groups from the 1970's have united under religious banners and are attempting to impose their version of morality on everyone, Ms. Krug charged. Their favorite targets are books, both textbooks and library books, that do not reflect their group's moral views. Disdaining established authorities, they appeal directly to the public through adroit use of the mass media, inciting emotional outbursts that result in books being banned outright or restricted in use, Ms. Krug said.

"They don't compromise," she noted. "They are closing the marketplace of ideas," and "moving us a step closer to authoritarianism."

But threatened cutbacks in government support for education appeared to be of greater concern to the chiefs. The current skirmishing in Washington over the new block-grant program is only a prelude to budget battles ahead, warned Charles Cooke, legislative specialist for the California Department of Education. The chiefs were urged to contact their senators in an effort to head off proposed reductions in block-grant funding.

The ccsso legislation committee, headed by Colorado's commissioner, Calvin M. Frazier, expects President Reagan to propose a budget for fiscal year 1983 calling for education expenditures of about one half the fiscal 1981 level. Deep cuts are anticipated, he said, in both vocational education and education of the handicapped.

"Unless we win the block-grant funding battle, we will have been fiddling while Rome burns," Mr. Cooke said.

New ccsso officers, in addition to Mr. Riles, are Mr. Frazier, president-elect, and Mr. Ambach and Superintendent Ted Sanders of Nevada, members of the board of directors. Mr. Pierce received a new three-year contract as executive director.

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