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Bell Says Panel's Work Confirms Academic Decline

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Washington--The National Commission on Excellence in Education is uncovering evidence that corroborates widely held beliefs regarding declines in achievement among the nation's students, according to Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell.

An interim report delivered to him by the panel's executive director, Milton Goldberg, in large part repeats a litany of complaints offered by educators over the past decade about the American educational system, the Secretary said last week.

Mr. Bell summarized the commission's preliminary findings in a speech here before a legislative conference sponsored by the American Association of School Administrators.

President Reagan established the 18-member blue-ribbon panel in September 1981 and ordered it to find out how effective the nation's schools are and to recommend ways that they can better their performance.

The commission is now holding a series of hearings across the nation and will issue its final report to Mr. Bell next March.

The commission, Mr. Bell told the administrators' group, has compared levels of educational achievement over the past decade among students in several nations and found that American students are, indeed, lagging behind their counterparts in other countries.

Not only are they falling behind in mathematics and science achievement, but in international studies and in the ability to speak a second language as well, he said.

On the other hand, Mr. Bell added, the commission found that the United States is not "the only country in the world where such declines are taking place."

Sources Identified

The commission, he said, has identified several sources of the highly publicized decline in the technical skills of students.

First, Mr. Bell said, fewer students are choosing to take instruction in mathematics beyond the few courses that their schools now require of them.

That problem, the commission found, has been compounded by at least two factors: the large number of colleges that have reduced admissions requirements in mathematics, and an acute shortage of mathematics, chemistry, and physics teachers "in all states of the nation," Mr. Bell said.

The commission, he said, has also found the nation's students lacking in reading and writing proficiency. "They have found a need for the schools to emphasize language skills of a higher order," he said.

Schools, according to the panel, need to emphasize composition and editing "all the way down to the elementary grades."

The commission, Mr. Bell said, also fears the creation of "a new generation of 'haves and have-nots"' based upon students' access to microcomputers.

Computer literacy, the commission has found, is fast becoming essential, Mr. Bell said. Students not well versed in the operation of computers, he said, "will soon be labeled educationally disadvantaged, and that time is approaching fast."

Mr. Bell said that the commission has also found fault with the textbook-publishing industry. The publishers, he said, "underestimate the capabilities of our young people." Many textbooks and workbooks now on the market, he said, "are much too easy."

The commission, according to Mr. Bell, has also examined the state of the teaching profession, "and there is much differing opinion on this topic among the commission's members."

The panel, he said, agrees that new teachers should start off with some type of trial period. It also sees a need to "tear a page out of higher education's book when it comes to the creation of career ladders and promotion schedules for teachers." He specifically mentioned endowed chairs and the progressive ranks that college professors are able to attain.

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