Bell's Forum To 'Showcase' State, Local Reforms
Washington--The Education Department is organizing its upcoming "national forum" in Indianapolis to "showcase" new state and local education-reform efforts that reflect the recommendations of the department-sponsored report, "A Nation at Risk," according to department officials.
"We've had a number of ideas outlined in the various reports and now it's time to provide an opportunity for people to hear from those who are working to put the reforms in place," Gary L. Jones, undersecretary of education, said last week. "The emphasis will be on action, what is being done."
The department is sending out 2,000 invitations and expects about 1,200 people to attend the three-day meeting that will be held Dec. 6-8. Mr. Jones said the department considers the meeting a "leadership conference" and has shaped the invitation list accordingly.
Every governor, chief state school officer, and chairman and ranking minority member of the education committees of the state legislatures will be invited. So will leaders of state boards of education, a number of members of Congress, and the national and state representatives of all the major education associations.
"We want to make it possible for those who are responsible for taking action to share such things as draft legislation, master plans, and financing proposals," Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell said at a news conference last Thursday, adding that there is a "good possibility" that President Reagan will address the forum.
At the press conference, the Secretary announced $2.5 million in grants to fund 33 state and local projects designed to implement various recommendations of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.
The grants range in size from $201,966 to the Consortium for Educational Excellence at Vanderbilt University, for school-improvement efforts in 30 school systems, to $28,679 to Weber State College in Ogden, Utah, for the development and testing of a "differentiated pay scale" for teachers. The competitive grants were allocated from the Secretary's Discretionary Grant Program.
Local school-board members, superintendents, teachers, parents, and community groups also will be represented at the meeting in Indianapolis, Mr. Jones said.
The department is expecting to spend between $200,000 and $250,000 on the meeting; participants will be expected to pay for their own transportation and lodging.
The goal of highlighting ongoing reform efforts seems to differ from that of the national summit conference on education proposed by members of the Congress and Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
"We want to bring 200 education leaders together to talk through the ideas presented in all of the recent reports and set some priorities," said Representative Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana. Mr. Williams is co-sponsor, with Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, of legislation pending in the Congress that calls for such a national summit conference to be held late next spring.
"It would be a shame to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a major national dialogue on education killed by a big-top sideshow in Indianapolis," the Representative said last week.
"I view a summit as an opportunity for education and political leaders to reach some sort of consensus over what the federal role in education should be," said Mr. Shanker, who, due to a scheduling conflict, will not attend the forum. "I don't see any attempt on the part of the Education Department to do that [at the Indianapolis meeting]."
Secretary Bell said last Thursday that, because most state legislatures resume their work in January, next spring would be too late to hold a national meeting on education. The department will publish a summary of the forum's proceedings, but no formal report or recommendations will be made, the Secretary said.
The agenda for the three-day event, according to Undersecretary Jones, was "hand-crafted" by Secretary Bell and will be organized around five major plenary sessions and three primary themes--the standards of teaching and teacher education, schools' standards and expectations, and the role of federal, state, and local governments in implementing reforms.
Major addresses are expected to be given at these sessions by, among others, Secretary Bell; William Honig, superintendent of public instruction in California; Robert Graham, governor of Florida; and David P. Gardner, chairman of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.
Each plenary session will be fol-lowed by up to 14 small discussion groups on related issues. These will be led, Mr. Jones said, by state and local officials who have already begun to implement reforms in their areas.
The sessions will focus on such questions as: "How can testing and evaluation be used to improve teacher quality and performance?" and "How can specialized schools such as 'magnets' contribute to excellence?"
The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association will each lead a discussion group, as will the leaders of several of the other recently released reports on schooling.
Some members of Congress and some educators are critical of the Reagan Administration's decision, made in September, to convene the Indianapolis meeting.
"I'd say their motives are highly suspect," said Representative Williams. "First, they opposed our bill calling for a national summit on the grounds that it wasn't needed. Then, they say it would be too political. Now, they are saying it is unnecessary because they are doing one."
"It's an orchestrated public-relations event," said Dennis Gray, deputy director of the Council for Basic Education.
When asked last week to respond to Representative Williams's statement, Secretary Bell said he thought that Congressional interest in a national meeting on education is "well-meaning, but what good would a summit do in June or July, when the state legislatures will meet in January and February?"
Mr. Jones said that, in light of the forum to be held in Indianapolis, the Congressionally sponsored "summit meeting" would not be necessary until 1985 or later.
Other education leaders offered mixed reactions to the forum. Theodore Sizer, author of a forthcoming book on the American high school, said "I see no particular harm in it, but it's drums and flourishes over not much new money." He said he plans to attend the forum.
Ernest Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and author of the foundation's highly publicized recent report on high schools, said he was not opposed to the idea of the forum, but he cautioned that it might draw too much attention to state-level reforms at a time "when the emphasis should be only implementing changes at the local level." Mr. Boyer said that, due to a scheduling conflict, he will not attend.
Chester E. Finn Jr., professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University, said, "It's nice that they're having it; it's symbolic, but I'm not sure it's something I want to spend 36 hours doing. I don't know if I'm going. I'll see."