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Setting Clear Goals Said Next Step After 'Rising Tide of Reports'

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University Heights, Ohio--If any clear message has emerged from the ''rising tide of reports on education," as one wag called it, it is that the first task of schools is to establish clear goals, four leaders of the education-reform movement said at a symposium here last week.

"The need for a common core of learning is apparent in all the reports," asserted George H. Hanford, president of The College Board, which this year produced a report entitled "Academic Preparation for College." "The consensus is that high-school graduates should have studied English, science, math, social studies, and foreign language, and, in our case, the arts."

"Each report has its own focus, but together they address all the constituencies," Mr. Hanford added, listing among those constituencies federal and state lawmakers, governors, school-board members, students, and parents. "Without the support of all those groups, the teacher is handcuffed. We started turning the key on those handcuffs some months ago. The problem now is to see that we don't lose our momentum."

The symposium, entitled "Education 1983: A Report Card," brought together with Mr. Hanford, Paul Houts, project director of the Carnegie Foundation's report, "High School"; John I. Goodlad, author of the recently published book A Place Called School and former dean of the graduate education school at the University of California at Los Angeles; and Richard L. Wallace, principal of Lutheran East High School in nearby Cleveland Heights and a member of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

The gathering was sponsored by John Carroll University and the Center for Professional Development, an inservice-education consortium housed at the university and supported by Cleveland-area school systems and the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation.

Mr. Goodlad said his research, which involved more than 17,000 students, and their schools, faculties, and parents, bore out to a shocking degree the contention that schools lack succinctly stated goals. (Mr. Goodlad discusses his book in an article on Page 12.)

When his research team asked the chief state school officers what their state-established goals for schools were, the "somewhat dismal body of literature" it collected revealed that 37 states had "reasonably well thought-out goals," but that they were "hidden" in larger documents where practitioners would be hard put to find them, much less to refer to them frequently.

Furthermore, Mr. Goodlad found, there is no consensus among parents as to what schools should do. Presented with four goals--academic development, vocational preparation, citizenship training, and personal growth--90 percent of the parents surveyed rated all four as "very important."

When the researchers required parents to choose just one as the most important, they had expected at least 80 percent to select academics; to their surprise, only 57 percent of elementary-school parents and 46 percent of high-school parents did so.

"Parents want it all," Mr. Goodlad said. "Benign babysitting is their No. 1 goal for the system. It is the cheapest babysitting service there is. We have to do better than that."

Mr. Houts, too, said schools have had a hard time focusing because of the multiple demands placed on them.

"In philosophical terms, it's called pluralism and it's desirable, but when it is applied to running institutions, it's called confusion and it's paralyzing," he said. "The schools are not without their backers. It's just that all the backers want different returns on their investment."

Most of the speakers mentioned the social changes that have altered the role of schools and increased the demands placed on them. But, they said, the schools--and the society--must adjust to the new family patterns while maintaining as their primary goal the intellectual development of children.

"If the problem in education is that children are going home to empty houses because both parents work or they are from single-parent families, we would have been in big trouble years ago," asserted Mr. Wallace. "We had an identical situation during World War II." Pointing out that friends, neighbors, and relatives pitched in to look after the children's needs instead of "criticizing the parents for not being there," Mr. Wallace urged that communities once again assume joint responsibility for children.

Despite these social pressures and the diverse demands placed on schools, Mr. Hanford said, a consen-sus is emerging--in reports prepared by professionals and among employers and higher-education officials--on the knowledge and abilities students will need to succeed. Mr. Wallace of the excellence commission added that his panel's report, like some of the others that have appeared this year, was intended in part to "empower" citizens at the state and local levels by presenting concrete benchmarks against which schools can be judged.

Responding to charges that the curricular recommendations of the various organizations are aimed only at college-bound students, Mr. Wallace and Mr. Hanford asserted that the "core of common learning" they advocate is equally useful to students who will enter the job market immediately after high school.

"We found that businessmen and the military want the same things in kids as college admissions officers and faculties," Mr. Hanford said, "so our report does have applicability across the board."

Mr. Wallace acknowledged that "we've been accused of being elitist, of talking only about college-preparatory education." But, he said, ''A careful reading of the document will very much say to you that we are talking about special education, handicapped education, vocational education, all of the education that is necessary to make this country strong."

Remarking on the nomenclature adopted by his commission, Mr. Wallace added: "How they got to be called 'New Basics' I don't know. I don't know much new about English or social studies or math and science."

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