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Rights Group Charges Reagan With Misleading Public on Education Needs

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President Reagan's criticisms of the nation's schools and his proposals for improving the quality of education are misleading the American public and threatening to reverse 20 years of progress made possible by federal support of education, according to a report by 19 education and civil-rights leaders.

The report, released July 15, was produced during a two-day "educational summit" convened by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp) during its 74th annual convention.

Beverly Cole, director of the naacp's education department, said now is a crucial time for education issues because of the national attention education has been receiving in recent weeks. "We wanted to make sure our voices were heard," she said.

Because of the limited amount of time they had to produce the report, Ms. Cole said, the summit participants have agreed to hold a conference this fall to develop strategies for translating their recommendations into action.

The report takes issue with several proposals of the Reagan Administration, calling them "at odds" with the recommendations of three major groups--the National Commission on Excellence in Education, the Twentieth Century Fund, and the Task Force on Education for Economic Growth of the Education Commission of the States--whose reports on the state of American education each received national attention this spring.

"The more the school issue is debated, the more the public is misled" and misinformed, the naacp group's report contends. "Led by the President, the debate has resulted from reports whose contents have been unfairly distorted and/or ignored," it says, citing documents produced by the education study groups.

In particular, the report notes that although the excellence commission recommends salary increases for teachers, improved evaluations, and better teacher-preparation programs, "the President unfairly reduces all recommendations to a simplistic call for merit pay that divides teachers and offers no concrete promise that improved instruction will [be the] result."

The report also contends that Mr. Reagan is leading "a debate that pits 'excellence' against equity" despite the warnings of the other panels against such a division.

"The President's sweeping and unfounded statements that federally financed programs and federal court decisions in the area of equal opportunity have led to a deterioration in the quality of education constitute a disservice to a nation that is struggling to meet the goal of translating the rhetoric of our Constitution into reality," the report asserts. "In the renewed public focus on improvement of the public-school system, it would be a tragedy if the goal of equal education opportunity were to be made the enemy of the goal of excellence."

In addition to recommending increased federal financial support for education, the naacp group also calls for the regulation of the testing industry.

"Testing, which should serve to improve the schools, now threatens to dominate them," the group's report contends. "The use of test results--to measure student achievement, to compare the educational achievement of nations, to license teachers, to label students, to compare districts--is viewed as acceptable and sensible, even though the practice itself is inadequately evaluated," according to the report.

Because of the potential for abuses in the use of tests, the report argues, regulation must be considered "for the public good" and to protect students and teachers.

Participants in the naacp educational summit included:

David Blackwell, University of California at Berkeley; Boyd Bosma, National Education Association; Arthur Flemming, former chairman, U.S. Civil Rights Commission; Carol Gibson, National Urban League Inc.; Willie Herenton, superintendent, Memphis public schools; Asa Hilliard, professor of urban education, Georgia State University; H. Kenneth Johnson, New Orleans public schools; Jerome Jones, superintendent, St. Louis public schools; Ruth Love, superintendent, Chicago public schools; Thomas K. Minter, dean of professional studies, Herbert H. Lehman College; Charles Moody, National Alliance of Black School Educators; Sharon L. Paul, New Orleans public schools; Diane Payton, New Orleans public schools; Thelma D. Perkins, Ciba-Geigy Inc.; Maxine Smith, Memphis board of education; Leonard Stevens, director, office of school monitoring and community relations, Cleveland; William Taylor, director, Center for Law and Policy Review, Catholic University; Ken Tollett, director, Institute for the Study of Educational Policy, Howard University; and Doris Hawkins, teacher, Germantown, Tenn.

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