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N.E.A. Head Says Public Must Pay For Excellence

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Washington--On her first day as president of the 1.6-million-member National Education Association, Mary H. Futrell warned that if the public wants excellence in education, it must be prepared to provide the necessary resources.

About 252,000 new teachers would be needed to reduce the maximum class size to 25 in all of the nation's elementary and secondary public schools, she predicted.

Ms. Futrell fielded a barrage of questions with ease at her first news conference here as the association's president and showed in at least one case that she had read the recent reports on education more thoroughly than her questioner. She also plunged into the thorny issue of teacher-competency tests, saying she did not oppose the use of these tests in selecting new teachers as long as they are not the sole criterion. The union originally took a firm stand against including the tests in the teacher-certification process.

'Bright Ray of Hope'

Predicting a fairly quiet year on the collective-bargaining front, Ms. Futrell said she thought that the number of strikes during 1983-84 would not exceed 125--about the same as last year.

One reason for her prediction, Ms. Futrell said, is that teachers are encouraged by the fact that some states are acting to raise beginning-teacher salary levels above the $13,500 national average. California's new $18,000 starting salary is "a bright ray of hope," she noted.

But, Ms. Futrell warned administrators: "You can also expect to hear from us very directly when you try to add four more students to a class that already has 32. Or when you send us 29 textbooks for 32 children."

The new nea president, 43, was a classroom teacher for 17 years in Virginia before she moved up in the association to serve as secretary-treasurer for three years. She was elected in July to a two-year term as president.

Defending the union's influential role in national politics, Ms. Futrell said she does not believe it has "hurt our credibility. Everything in education is political." On Sept. 30, the association's leaders will announce their support for a Presidential candidate, she noted, although formal endorsement of a candidate will not be made until next year. Asked about the share of blame unions should accept for the state of the nation's school system, Ms. Futrell retorted that the blame should fall on other shoulders. "We don't hire, fire, train, or certify" the teachers, she said.

But she said she supported higher standards at teacher-training colleges and backed the controversial step taken by Florida this summer to remove state approval for one or more of the programs at 18 teacher-training institutions, because of a high failure rate of their students on the state's basic-skills tests. "If they're not up to par, they should be shut down," she said of the education schools.

Ms. Futrell also said the nea's state affiliates have been alerted to assign more homework this year and to tighten discipline in the classrooms.

Supply and Demand

The union's estimate of the number of teachers needed to reduce class size was included in its latest in a series of annual reports on teacher supply and demand, which was released last week. "Teacher Supply and Demand in Public Schools, 1981-82" includes statistics and projections based on information from the 1981-82 school year. Among the other findings included in the report:

The steady decline since 1971 in the number of college graduates prepared to teach continued into the fall of 1981, when 140,639 students were graduated with the necessary credentials to teach in public schools.

The total supply of 206,750 qualified people seeking teaching positions in the fall of 1981 "was more than adequate" for the 109,550 jobs to be filled.

About 18 percent of the teachers working during the 1981-82 school year were 50 years of age or older, down from 19.4 percent in 1980-81, but up from 16.5 percent in 1975-76. In 1955-56, 30.2 percent of the teaching force was in this category, the report notes.

More than 51,000 teachers are teaching subjects in which they are not adequately trained.

The total number of teaching positions decreased by 27,000 for the period from the fall of 1980 to the fall of 1981.

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