'The Wax Is Warm,' Says National Endowment Chairman
As the drive to improve education continues, there are signs that influential figures in the political, foundation, and academic sectors are seeking ways to sustain, and in some cases expand or redirect, the reform agenda.
The ability of such figures to capture the attention of the nation was dramatically demonstrated, it is said, by the rapid spread of the recommendations of the National Commission on Excellence in Education and those included in other reform statements.
Leading educators have noted that the current wave of reform is the first in history to be so clearly tied to the power of the modern mass media to dramatize and project ideas and images. They say that to a great extent because of that power, 18 months after the release of the national commission's report, "A Nation At Risk" the nation is still attuned to the education issue.
"The wax is warm," said William Bennett, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. "Impressions can be made by good, articulate statements."
While it is not yet clear what their long-term imprint will be on education, the emerging activists represent a new mix of ideas and constituencies--many from outside the field--that they intend to sustain the national debate over the direction of Continued on Page 15
'The Wax Is Warm': Initiatives Seek To Shape
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school reform, even as educators at the local level struggle to sort out the mandates they have already received.
"If there is any message to be derived from the populist character of the excellence movement," wrote Chester E. Finn Jr., professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University and one of the new activists, in a recent article in The American Spectator, "it is that education is too important to be left to the educators. ... The 'public interest' in high quality schools for everyone had few spokesmen, leaders, or influential friends. That situation has dramatically altered in the past two years. But if we are not to look back on 1983 and 1984 as a temporary phenomenon, a short-lived ray of sun through a permanently overcast sky, we need organizational and institutional mechanisms that do not now exist."
Two governors who have taken an active interest in education, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Bruce E. Babbitt of Arizona, are developing two such "mechanisms."
In cooperation with Mr. Finn and Diane Ravitch, adjunct professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, the governors are working to establish a national research institute that would promote reform in education.
Last month, some 20 educators, scholars, and journalists were invited to become trustees of the proposed "Institute for Better Schools." A "sketch" of the organization that accompanied the letters of invitation says the nonprofit institute, which would be located in Washington, D.C., is to be created in a few months, with Mr. Finn as its president and Ms. Ravitch as chairman.
Its work, according to the outline of the institute, will be based on the assumptions that schools should emphasize basic skills, concentrate on a core curriculum, insist on the development of values and discipline in every child, promote students and pay teachers on the basis of their performance, search for better principals, and recognize differences in student ability but demand high standards of all.
The institute is expected to support a number of activities, including an information clearinghouse for journalists and educators, a "resource bank" of experts on various education issues, publications, conferences, fellowships, and the issuance of "report cards" on the performance of schools at the national, state, and local levels.
The sponsors said in their invitation to potential trustees that they will seek funding for the institute from a consortium of foundations.
'Committee of Correspondence'
Governor Alexander, a Republican, and Governor Babbitt, a Democrat, are also exploring the possibility of founding a nonpartisan national citizens' lobby that would work to keep education reform high on the political agenda and offer lay citizens a more direct role in the reform process. The lobby would attempt to organize several million people to support reform efforts at the state and local levels and to monitor their implementation. (See Education Week, Sept. 5, 1984.)
"What we need is a committee of correspondence, to get compelling ideas out to people," said Governor Alexander. "There are 800 organizations with education in their names, but only a handful of them are supporting the most important reforms that have been proposed."
The Governor said he plans to visit every school system in his state over the next 18 months, urging the establishment of citizens' advisory panels to set clear goals for schools and evaluate the schools' progress.
Forum on 'Cutting Edge'
Leading state officials, who have played an unprecedented role in crafting reform proposals, are also apparently seeking to expand their new-found influence.
Gov. Charles S. Robb of Virginia, recently elected chairman of the Education Commission of the States, for example, has signaled his intention to have the interstate organization play a more active role in shaping education policy across the 50 states. (See related story on page 1.)
"In the past few years, ecs has carried out a ministerial function; it has provided information and services to its members," the Governor said in a recent interview. "I want it to become a forum for the discussion of cutting-edge issues in education."
"There is an increased awareness of the policy implications of political action by state legislators and governors," John Casteen III, Gov. Robb's education advisor, said of the initiative.
Others note that the Reagan Administration's decision to not play a direct role in reform activities has also contributed to the expanded role of state leaders.
Said Ms. Ravitch, of Teachers College: "There has been a decisive, if not permanent, shift" in the locus of decision-making from the federal to the state levels.
Mr. Robb recently sought and received the resignation of the organization's executive director, Robert C. Andringa. The Governor said he is seeking a successor of "recognized national status, who can maintain national visibility and also provide leadership at the state level." Reflecting this change in role, the position may be given the title of president.
Added Thomas H. Kean, the Republican Governor of New Jersey and ecs's chairman-elect: "The organization has got to be a lot more visible and the executive director has got to be the focus of a national agenda for ecs We're looking for someone with a history of public involvement."
Governor Robb also noted the emergence of corporate leaders as proponents of school reform.
"The most important new players are the business leaders," he said. "They need to be more actively involved in the process."
The Governor is establishing a business-education advisory group at ecs in an effort to formalize the business community's relationship with the organization.
In a forthcoming issue of The Public Interest, Mr. Finn and Denis P. Doyle, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, suggest, Mr. Finn said in an interview, that "two long-term structural changes are underway" in the governance of education.
They suggest that precollegiate education is rapidly ceasing to be a local issue. "We are developing 50 state education systems, rather that 15,800 local systems," Mr. Finn said. "If schools are bad, they will probably get better [under this new arrangement]. If they are good there will likely be a leveling effect; there will be less diversity."
They also assert, according to Mr. Finn, that the traditional governance structure in education, with independent boards at the state and local levels setting policy, is being eclipsed by the activities of state legislatures and governors. "Local boards are growing weaker and the chief state school officers are losing in importance at a rapid rate," Mr. Finn said.
Foundation Plans Role
Several leading foundations over the years have taken steps to support promising national initiatives in education, promoting the process of reform as much as recommending a specific agenda.
The Carnegie Corporation of New York is discussing the support of such an activity, one that would help to"sustain reform in education and ensure that it is seen as a long-term proposition," according to Avery Russell, the foundation's director of publications.
If created, the activity would likely have as its focus the relationship of education to the economy, Ms. Russell said. The possible relationship of the new venture to the foundation's board of directors and its potential activities are under discussion, she added.
'Guidance' for Movement
Similarly, John W. Gardner, a former Cabinet officer and founder of Independent Sector, met recently with Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and agreed "that the need exists to focus attention on issues that have not been introduced into the reform debate yet," according to Mr. Boyer.
"We asked," he added, "to what extent informal forums can be created to discuss basic issues, to help direct, shape, and give guidance to the reform effort." To date, Mr. Boyer said, no meeting has been scheduled, nor have the participants been identified.
Mr. Boyer cited the "human dimension" of teaching as an example of an issue deserving greater attention from advocates of reform.
As president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York in the early 1960's, Mr. Gardner played a key role in the founding of the Education Commission of the States.
The Congress and the U.S. Education Department have also taken steps to promote a continued national discussion of reform issues.
The Education Department has begun to develop a new publication that will regularly compile a range of educational "indicators" in an attempt to "keep [reform] issues before the public."
The Congress recently authorized $500 million for a national summit conference in education, but it did not include funds for the project in a recently approved Education Department budget.
There are also efforts under way to shape the tone of the debate on education reform. Several policy statements likely to receive considerable attention are expected to be released in the coming months.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative public-policy organization, is scheduled to release shortly after the national elections a new edition of Mandate for Leadership. The chapter on education in the influential 1980 edition of the wide-ranging policy document made many recommendations that were endorsed by the Reagan Administration, including a call for a national commission to promote excellence in education.
The forthcoming volume will propose short- and long-term changes in the operation of the Education Department, according to its author, Eileen M. Gardner, the foundation's education expert.
Another initiative involves a manifesto to be released next month by an ad hoc and bipartisan group of educators, scholars, and lawmakers. Written by Edward A. Wynne and Herbert J. Walberg, professors of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the statement is intended to focus national attention on new priorities, according to the authors.
The statement has undergone redrafting in recent weeks to incorporate a much stronger expression of the need to address the issue of youth character. And a chapter on "redefining equity" that questioned the propriety of spending substantially more money to educate handicapped students was dropped from the final version.
The statement endorses the notion of "parental choice" in the selection of schools, urges the abolition of undergraduate teacher-education programs and the establishment of differentiated diplomas to spur bright students, and criticizes "minor subjects and soft electives," among other proposals. (See Education Week, Sept. 5, 1984.)
Mr. Finn, one of the organizers of the project and a co-author of the original draft, disassociated himself from the final version of the manifesto following a disagreement with Mr. Wynne over a recent draft of the statement written by Mr. Finn, according to a letter sent recently by Mr. Finn to several participants in the project. Both would say only that there was "a difference of opinion" over the statement's contents.
According to Mr. Wynne, 50 people, among them James Q. Wilson, professor of government at Harvard University, and Nathan Glazer, professor of education at Harvard and co-editor of The Public Interest, will be invited to sign the statement. It is not clear how many will do so.
Some 5,000 copies will be distributed to the public, the media, and policymakers, the drafters say.
In addition, committees of the College Board, the independent association of schools and colleges, have been working for several months under the aegis of Project EQuality to develop model curricula in several core subjects. The board plans to publish the curricula early next year, officials say.
Given the prestige of the College Board, the curricula may have a major impact on the increasingly controversial question of what material students should be studying in the name of "excellence."
"In the end," said Mr. Boyer, "whether the reform movement is sustained has to do with where the significant voices in the culture come down on the issue. If governors stay on it, we will hear about it. The same is true for corporate leaders and those in higher education. The issues of the goals of education and the content of the curriculum will have to be joined by colleges and universities if the debate is going to be sustained."