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Selected Comments From Speakers at the Forum in Indianapolis

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The following are excerpts from some of the addresses made at the National Forum on Excellence in Education. The forum was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and held in Indianapolis earlier this month:


Terrel H. Bell, secretary of education: "Schools have tried to do too much and, as a result, they have not been doing well that which is their prime responsibility. ... I suggest that the first priority--taking precedence over all else that we do--is to concentrate on the attainment by every student of the highest possible level of literacy, so that each student will have reached the outer limits of his or her ability to read with comprehension, write and think systematically and logically, and to speak with clarity in a manner that is articulate, precise, and reflective of an intelligent, well-educated individual. This priority should be number one, and the schools of this nation must make a fully unambiguous commitment to its attainment."


Cecil Mackey, president, Michigan State University: "Universities should not, to any significant degree, be in the business of furnishing remedial education to admitted students. It is an invidious distortion of the concept of fairness to lower the academic expectations of the university. Instead, colleges and universities, in conjunction with the public schools, should develop admission schemes that admit students to begin study on a part-time basis in those subjects where they have the necessary prior achievement. Then, that same student could continue to progress toward other necessary prior-achievement levels in adult-education classes in a contiguous public high school."


Robert Graham, governor of Florida: "Education is not a federal responsibility. Education is now and always has been a state responsibility. But if the federal government would assume its own true duty--by paying the whole bill for income-maintenance programs--it would free the states to do a better job financing their primary responsibility--education. Today, the federal government does not bear the full burden of Aid to the Families of Dependent Children and Medicaid; it picks the pockets of the states as they struggle to pay the bill for schools."


David P. Gardner, chairman of the National Commission on Excellence in Education and president, University of California: "Education has much to learn from endeavors such as women's gymnastics and dance and other fields where explicit judgments as to the quality of performance must be made with skill, toughness, and knowledge if the performance is to have meaning for the athletes and artists involved and for the endeavor itself. ... Failure to distinguish clearly and forthrightly between performance that is excellent as contrasted with performance that is not diminishes the regard in which a discipline or profession is held."


Richard G. Lugar, Republican senator, Indiana: "If there are dangers of elitism in the encouragement of excellence [in education], there is surely a far greater elitism in pretending that standards make no difference--when we all know that they do. Is it fair to a poor, unemployed youth to pretend that his inability to command the English language is of no hindrance to him? This pretense is really the province of those who have already 'made it,' and it is as far from the hungry desire for learning that characterizes people who are striving to better themselves as anything could be."


Benjamin H. Alexander, former president, University of the District of Columbia: "America owes no person the right to attend a four-year public university. ... We are keeping too many students in universities who are not university material and at a great cost to the nation."


Fred C. Davison, president, University of Georgia: "We have diluted our [teacher-training] resources by spreading them too thinly among too many institutions of higher education and too great a variety of teacher-training programs. We should decrease the number of teacher-training institutions and concentrate budget and personnel resources in centers of excellence. Where there are 50 institutions [in Georgia] training teachers, perhaps there should be only 10."


Senator Lugar, Republican of Indiana: "We are able to appreciate the need for endless calisthenics, weight training, wind sprints, and any other preparation needed to outrun or outplay an opponent at a Friday night high-school game, the nfl, or the Olympic Games. But as a nation we have not grasped the significance of the sheer drudgery, the repetition, and the discipline [needed] to read, to speak, and to write in clear sentences, to master foreign languages, to analyze economic and social relationships, and to master higher mathematical skills."


Mary Hatwood Futrell, president, National Education Association: "Today, we are deeply concerned about that partnership of government that is necessary to help our locally controlled schools and colleges achieve excellence. Today, we witness a key partner--the federal government--moving away from the partnership. Away from taking sound ... actions to help our states and local communities achieve the excellence we all seek. A few years of neglect threaten to undermine decades of progress."


Governor Graham of Florida: "The number-one priority of every principal, every superintendent, every school-board member should be to support good teachers. To make that support meaningful, I propose the following short agenda:

1. Pay teachers more. We can't afford teachers who work cheap, because we can't afford to entrust our children to the care of teachers exhausted from working two or even three jobs to supplement a salary of $11,400 a year.

2. Show teachers we care about them in indirect ways. Today, if there's a piece of art in a school, it's probably in the principal's office. Our schools require more than a coat of paint, but bright colors and pleasant surrounding would represent change in too many of America's schools.

3. Give teachers upward mobility within their profession without abandoning what they do best. I submit that the highest-paid individual in a school system ought to be the best and most experienced teacher in that system.

4. Free principals from quelling fights, scheduling buses and ordering floor wax and get them back in the business of educational leadership. Every school needs an educational leader--not a reluctant bureaucrat who couldn't get a decent raise and stay in the classroom. Teachers need inspiration and the principal is the person to provide it.

5. Make the teaching profession more professionally varied. A lawyer can move from private practice to government service to business and back--and still be a lawyer. In education, we hang a label around someone's neck, called 'primary teacher,' or 'professor of education,' and never change labels for 35 years. Our retirement and certification systems punish the adventurous and reward the timid.

6. Finally, give teachers a sense of fellowship within their discipline. A chemistry teacher at Leon High School in Tallahassee should feel a sense of academic brotherhood or sisterhood with a chemistry professor at Florida State University across town and with a research chemist at nasa headquarters."

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