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Reagan Continues To Court Leading Education Groups

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Washington--Representatives of major public-education associations met with President Reagan and several of his top advisers at the White House last week to discuss ways of improving the quality of instruction in the nation's schools.

The meeting--the second of its kind to take place in just over a month--was the most recent highlight of the President's campaign to seize control of an issue that has assumed a prominent position on the national agenda since the release of the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education. (See Education Week, April 27, 1983.)

During the past six weeks, Mr. Reagan has been involved in more than 10 major events in which education has been the major theme. In addition to the two White House meetings with educators, he has: addressed the national conventions of both the National pta and the American Federation of Teachers; devoted one of his weekly radio broadcasts to the topic of educational reform; attended two regional forums conducted by the excellence commission; and held question-and-answer sessions with students in Louisville, Ky., Knoxville, Tenn., Shawnee Mission, Kan., and Whittier, Calif.

This week, Mr. Reagan will be the featured speaker at a meeting here of state presidents of elementary- and secondary-school principals' associations.

Left Out

Like the earlier meeting of education leaders at the White House, the most notable aspect of the July 19th gathering there was the absence of the National Education Association (nea).

Last month, the President did not invite a representative of the nation's largest teachers' organization to the discussion. This month, he did, but the nea turned him down. In apparent retaliation, White House aides then informed Willard McGuire, president of the teachers' group, that the President had cancelled his plans to meet privately with its leaders. They had been seeking that meeting for more than two months.

At the aft convention earlier this month, the President accused the nea of "frightening and brainwashing American schoolchildren" by distributing controversial curriculum guides on nuclear war and the Ku Klux Klan.

"The White House asked us today to participate not in a serious discussion, but in another staged media event on education--the third in the last five weeks to include the President's newest ally, [the American Federation of Teachers president, Albert] Shanker," Mr. McGuire said, explaining the group's reason for not participating. "We are not interested in helping the President and the aft play political games with the vital national issue of education."

Making Education 'Visible'

Patrick Daily, vice president of the rival teachers' union, responded that although "there's not a lot that the aft agrees with Mr. Reagan on, any attempts by the chief execu-tive to make education a visible, national issue were welcome."

Mr. Daily said that during the meeting Mr. Reagan "unfortunately did not say anything about raising the budget or increasing taxes for education."

"All of the changes he's talking about, we cannot make without federal money. That's the bottom line," he continued. "We did not discuss tuition tax credits because, obviously, we are in sharp disagreement with the Administration on that issue. I think there's been an attempt both in this meeting and the first one to talk about the things that we can agree on."

According to Scott D. Thomson, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals and another meeting participant, those topics included ways in which educators can implement the recommendations of the excellence commission.

"Specifically, we discussed things such as all forms of incentive pay for teachers, homework, course requirements, student behavior, single-parent families, and all the auxiliary services that schools have to provide today," Mr. Thomson said.

He added that he believes the meetings have been useful because, as a result of them, the President "is beginning to develop a genuine interest in education."

"During the past three months, he has become well informed about the constraints that we operate under," Mr. Thomson said. "I believe we have helped stimulate his interest in and respect for educators." He added that he believed similar meetings would be held in the future.

Democratic Counteroffensive

Critics of the President's policies have attempted to capitalize on the nation's preoccupation with education issues during the past several weeks as well.

For example, three of the Democratic contenders for that party's Presidential nomination--Walter Mondale, John Glenn, and Ernest Hollings--have unveiled major education-reform packages that range in cost from $4 billion to $14 billion.

The House Education and Labor Committee has formed a task force to examine the issue of merit pay for teachers. And two Democrats in the Congress--Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Representative Pat Williams of Montana--have introduced legislation calling for a national summit conference on education.

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