Bennett Maintains Higher Standards Benefit the Poor
Washington--Secretary of Education William J. Bennett said last week that raising academic standards may increase the nation's dropout rate, but he maintained that the excellence movement is "properly directed" since its main beneficiaries are intended to be the economically and educationally disadvantaged.
"Those who do not have the advantages of the wealthy ... are the people who need good teaching the most," Mr. Bennett said in an interview. "They are the people who need standards the most, not for purposes of punishment, but for purposes of aspiration, for internalizing those standards."
Transcript of interviewon page 35
Mr. Bennett said it is inevitable that some students will fail, "because if you have standards, and honest standards, that means you will have failure, but failure at one point in time in the system is not failure forever."
The new Secretary said he has not yet determined what the federal government might do to help stem the rising dropout rate, which averages nearly 30 percent, but he suggested that the department would examine schools that have instituted effec-Continued on Page X Continued from Page 1
tive dropout-prevention programs.
In the interview, Mr. Bennett said he had appointed Gary L. Bauer, the deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, to head the study ordered by President Reagan on the effectiveness of department programs; he repeated his support for the President's proposed budget cuts; he defended parents' rights to evaluate and react to instructional materials; and he argued that increasing the focus of attention on the problems of higher education would not dilute the school-reform movement.
Commenting on one of the problematic issues of the school-reform movement, Mr. Bennett said the tension between excellence and equity is "an American theme that runs throughout our history."
Push for Higher Standards
Asked whether the push for higher standards might force out students already on the edge, Mr. Bennett replied that it may, "if you have a sense that school is a futile enterprise--and in many places that might be the correct sense."
Still, Mr. Bennett argued, it is "better for a student to be held back for a couple of grades until gaining mastery or competency of material, rather than letting the person graduate and certifying that they have completed a course of study when they have not mastered it."
Mr. Bennett, who complained that press reports have inadequately characterized the President's budget, said he supported the proposals and indicated that he would continue to speak out on that and other issues.
Senator Robert T. Stafford, Republican of Vermont and chairman of the Senate education subcommittee, had reacted angrily last week to Mr. Bennett's comment that the college-student aid cuts would force some students to give up "three weeks at the beach," as well as their car or stereo.
"We're grownups," said Mr. Ben-nett of the repartee with Senatorel5lStafford. "We don't have to talk to each other like we're plants or something. This is a candid disagreement, this is American government, after all, not an encounter group."
On his relationship with the National Education Association, the politically powerful 1.7-million member union that has consistently criticized Reagan Administration policy, Mr. Bennett said, after meeting with nea leaders, that "there should not be cheap shots, there should not be gratuitous criticism across the bow. But fair criticism and open disagreement I expect will continue."
Mr. Bennett, who has expressed support for Education Department regulations interpreting the Hatch Amendment of 1978, which guarantees the right of parents to inspect federally financed instructional materials, said that in controversial situations, educators and parents must negotiate.
Must Talk with Parents
"A school administrator who does not talk to parents is on his way to professional suicide," the Secretary said. "You have got to talk to parents, they are the people to whom you are accountable. Teachers and principals need parents behind them every bit as much as parents need teachers and principals and their support. If we are all engaged ... in education of the young, we have to act like allies."