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Feminist Group Asks Voters To Back 'Equity' Candidates

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Washington--In the coming year, the combination of increased legislative activity on education issues and a Presidential election will make it more important than ever for women's-rights advocates to back politicians who support sex equity in education, representatives of a feminist group agreed at a meeting here last month.

As part of 1983 national conference of the National Organization for Women (now), representatives from the Project on Equal Education Rights (peer) of the now Legal Defense and Education Fund presented an analysis of education issues of particular concern to women. The workshop was entitled "Education Issues and the '84 Elections: What Feminists Need to Know to Vote Effectively."

"There are many things that make up quality education," said Linda Martin-McCormick, a senior associate at peer. "Equity is an integral part."

"We have in Washington people who do not believe in federal intervention on the basis of equity," Ms. Martin-McCormick said, adding that women as a group cannot afford to let the public-education system fail.

"The next year will be even more important [than previous years] for those of us who care about equity," explained Theresa Cusick, a senior associate at peer who specializes in legislative issues. "We need to be very conscious of what happens at the federal level," she said.

Drawing on the recommendations of various recent reports on improving the quality of education, Ms. Martin-McCormick and Ms. Cusick advised the audience--made up mostly of women from local now chapters across the nation--to press Presidential contenders and state and local candidates to state their positions on increasing teachers' pay, paying higher salaries to mathematics and science teachers, extending the school year, improving the curriculum, preserving existing civil-rights programs, and expanding federal equity efforts.

They advised women to be especially aware of the following issues:

Merit pay. Ms. Martin-McCormick told now members to be wary of merit-pay initiatives. "Most teachers are women and most teachers aren't paid enough," she said. "Because it's women's work, the wages have been depressed. This is really a comparable-worth or pay-equity issue." She advised women to tell legislators to take care of the base level of salaries first, "and then we'll look at merit pay."

Mathematics and science education. Ms. Martin-McCormick criticized the idea of paying math and science teachers higher salaries because "most math and science teachers are men, and [if you pay them more] you'll be creating a dual salary structure [in which] the men get paid more than the women." She said that peer supports efforts to improve education in these subject areas but contends that those efforts--such as teacher training--must include a focus on equity.

Extension of the school calendar. peer officials said they do not favor an extension of the school day or year without assurances that the time will be put to better use. "If it is a sexist school environment in the first place," Ms. Martin-McCormick said, "why keep your kid there any longer than you have to?"

She advised members to look for a "humane, exciting, nonauthoritarian, worthwhile" educational experience for their children and to ask legislators and local school officials about day-care opportunities. "Because of the lack of support for day care, the kids have to share some of that burden, and their shoulders aren't that big," she said.

Women, she said, should ask their representatives to support the School Facilities Child Care Act, which would provide $15 million per year for three years for local schools to set up after-school programs for children whose parents work and cannot be home by 3 P.M. The bill is now working its way through education subcommittees in both the House and the Senate.

Curriculum improvement. Ms. Martin-McCormick told members that working to improve a school's curriculum is "very important" because it gives the individual the opportunity to remove negative influences and add challenging materials.

"It's entirely possible that we'll see [the] kind of ferment in the curriculum area" that occurred in the post-Sputnik period, said Ms. Martin-McCormick. "If they do that [revitalize the curriculum]," she cautioned, "they need to address the equity program ... so we don't continue to reproduce kids who see only a part of the world."

Preserving existing civil-rights programs and expanding federal equity efforts. "Title IX is the most important thing we can talk about in the next year in terms of educational equity," said Ms. Cusick, referring to the 1972 law that bars sex discrimination in schools and colleges that receive federal funds. Alluding to the lawsuits testing the Administration's contention that Title IX's provisions apply only to specific programs that receive such funds, she cautioned that a weakened Title IX might cause retrenchment at the local level and a return to "the good old days" of educational inequities.

Ms. Cusick advised now members to urge their senators and representatives to support a resolution, introduced by Representative Claudine Schneider, Republican of Rhode Island, that affirms that Congress intended Title IX to be applied comprehensively. The bill is expected to come up for a House vote this month.

"I sincerely believe that we can move the members of Congress," said Representative Schneider, who spoke briefly at the workshop. "I need your team effort." In view of what the peer speakers termed today's conservative political climate, Ms. Schneider urged participants to treat Title IX as an education issue, not a women's issue.

She also urged members to tell their representatives to support the reauthorization of the Women's Educational Equity Act and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pension reform, and day-care programs.

The seminar, which included a workshop on how to become more aware of education issues, ended with an informal debate over who is responsible for the declining quality of the public schools.

peer representatives and members of the audience, who included several teachers, said teachers were receiving too much of the blame. "We think that the blame should be shared" by administrators, school-board members, legislators, and parents, said Ms. Cusick. "I believe teachers are being made a scapegoat in this--and is it a coincidence that most teachers are women?"

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