Bell Calls on Legislators To Use Funding Power To 'Move' Schools
Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell said last week that state legislatures should require schools to adopt certain reforms as a prerequisite for state funds--and he indicated he would make that recommendation in his keynote address at the national forum on education in Indianapolis this week.
The Secretary, in an interview, also said he expected President Reagan to address the conference on Thursday afternoon and possibly to announce new federal education initiatives, including the use of the student-aid program to encourage able college students to enter teaching, a concept Mr. Bell has promoted for several months.
"We've had too much legislation that rewards the worst [performance in education] at the same level as the best," the Secretary said in discussing his legislative proposal. "Legislatures haven't used effectively the power of the appropriations act and the power of incentives to cause American education to move in the direction that it ought to go."
"If increases in funding are not accompanied by reform, we're just going to make the current level of education more costly," he said. "I'm going to urge that legislatures use the carrot and the stick--the carrot quite generously and the stick very sparingly.
"They ought to offer school systems rewards for doing a good job," he added. "But legislatures also ought to say to school systems that if you don't provide certain things--such as a career-ladder program for teachers, or a statute prohibiting everything under the sun from cutting into the 180-day school year--you are not going to qualify for state aid."
Some 1,700 participants were expected to attend the Dec. 6-8 meeting, which the department has billed as an opportunity for policymakers to share information about various school reforms.
"We've had a great response from both the participants and the panelists," a department official said. The department initially anticipated that about 1,200 people would attend.
The Education Department is planning to make several reports available at the Indianapolis meeting, including a comparative study by the Congressional Research Service of the recent reports on American education and a survey of reforms in progress by the staff of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.
Secretary Bell, however, decided late last week not to release at the forum an internal study, conducted at his request, that ranks the educational performance of the states according to a number of criteria, including scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and American College Test and percentages of students graduating from high school, according to senior department officials.
Stress on Accountability
Last week, the Secretary said he would emphasize in his keynote address the need for increased accountability and measurement. "When performance is measured," he said, "performance improves."
But he decided not to release the study, a department official said, because it "shows that students are not achieving as well as some states think they do, and we didn't want to hand out something that in some cases would be embarrassing to state leaders. The timing is just not right."
Secretary Bell said last week that in his keynote address he would also say that there is "an unprecedented opportunity now to make some quite dramatic progress in education," but that the next six or eight months will largely determine what the extent of that progress will be.
His address also outlines, he said, what various leaders should do to promote school reform, "if I could have my way."
He said governors, like state legislators, should "constantly use the power of their offices to provide incentives for education." They should also, the Secretary said, work to dispel recent criticisms that the current push for excellence in education constitutes elitism. "Excellence is not elitism," he said.
The Secretary said he would address in his speech what he considers to be the weak leadership in much of American education. "We have many of the problems that we have because school boards spend too much time on budgets, buses, and boundaries ... and not enough on establishing a system that concentrates on carefully prioritized learning goals," he said.
He added that "the first responsibility of school boards is that they have a very able leader. And if they don't feel they have that, then their next responsibility is to make a change so they have one." He also said that "there needs to be more rigorous weeding-out of principals that may not measure up."
"I make an appeal to the teachers," he added. "I'm talking to the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. I'm saying that things [involving the teaching profession] can't stay as they have been in the past, and rally around us. We need more support and less negative response in that regard."
"I emphasize," he continued, "that the faculty members on the elementary- and secondary-education level are entitled to have the kind of voice that faculty members have on the college campus, in a peer-review system that determines who gets advanced." He also said that "we must assure teachers a vital voice in this [reform] movement."
The Secretary noted that many critics are saying the Administration's contribution to the current reform movement "has been all rhetoric.''
"My response to those critics is that 'it's been all rhetoric, so far,"' he said, declining to elaborate.