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Bell To Convene National ForumOn Education

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Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell announced last week that he will sponsor a major two-day conference of the nation's educational leaders "to share ideas about how we can best work together to strengthen American education."

Mr. Bell, speaking before a group of journalists attending a National Press Club luncheon, said the participants will include governors, state legislators, university and business officials, parents, and teachers. The conference, which has not been scheduled yet, will focus on findings culled from the regional meetings now being held by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, he continued. The final meeting in that series of 12 is scheduled for Seattle on Oct. 3.

"The recommendations of a report are useless unless studied and implemented," Mr. Bell said. "We have a consensus that American education must undergo dramatic change."

Mr. Bell's announcement follows calls this summer by leaders of the American Federation of Teachers (aft) and members of both houses of the Congress for a "national summit conference on education." Bills authorizing such a meeting have been sponsored in the Senate by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and in the House by Representative Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana.

According to Gary L. Bauer, the Education Department's deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, the meeting pro-posed by Mr. Bell is not intended to mimic the one proposed by the aft and the lawmakers.

"We still remain opposed to the proposals now before Congress," Mr. Bauer said. "They seem to be another waste of money for a new program. We think we have the resources right here in the department now to do this sort of thing without new legislation."

'Nothing Nailed Down'

Mr. Bauer offered no details regarding Mr. Bell's proposed gathering. "Nothing has been nailed down yet," he said. "The Secretary was just giving his general thoughts on the direction that we're moving in.''

During his speech last week, Mr. Bell focused on the condition of the nation's educational system.

"As we look to the opening of academic year 1983-84, I can report, without equivocation, there is currently in process the greatest, most far-reaching, and I believe most promising reform and renewal of American education we have seen since the turn of the century," Mr. Bell said.

As evidence, he cited the recent decisions of the Florida and California legislatures to enact master-teacher and merit-pay plans for teachers and action in other states to upgrade high-school graduation requirements.

"In a quick survey of states not mentioned above, we couldn't find a single state not setting in motion some action aimed at establishing a tougher, more rigorous curriculum," Mr. Bell said.

The Secretary also referred to a survey conducted by his department to determine the extent of school-improvement efforts in the nation's 50 largest school systems. According to Mr. Bell:

Thirty-one of the districts are increasing course-work requirements in mathematics, science, and English;

Forty-four have competency-testing programs in place;

Twenty will be implementing tougher high-school graduation requirements beginning this fall.

"I conclude we have the most massive movement we have had in many years to make changes that upgrade and strengthen American education," he said. "If all this interest, concern, and momentum can be translated into effective action to implement the reforms recommended by [the excellence commission], the so-called 'rising tide of mediocrity' will be stopped and a renewed and rigorous education system will emerge."

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