Reagan Pledges Administration Focus on Choice
Washington--In his first address on education since he began his second term, President Reagan last week termed "choice"--the right of parents to "greater freedom to send their children to the schools they desire without interference by ... government"--the first of five "guideposts" in education to which his Administration would give full attention.
To encourage parental choice, the President said, he intends to continue his effort to enact tuition tax-credit and voucher legislation affecting both public and private education.
"Tuition tax credits and education vouchers would foster greater diversity and, hence, higher standards throughout our system of education," the President said in an address at the annual conference here of the National Association of Independent Schools. "These proposals have the support of the American people. Make no mistake. Secretary Bennett and I intend to see them through to their enactment."
In addition to choice, Mr. Reagan said, federal and local efforts to improve schools should focus on teachers, curriculum, setting, and parents. "If we concentrate on these five guideposts," he said, "then I know American education will enjoy a great renaissance of excellence--and enble us to achieve new strength, freedom, and prosperity in the century to come."
Pointing to such developments as the establishment of state task forces on education, the rise of students' college-entrance-test scores, and the growth of economic resources for schools, Mr. Reagan said that "education in America has taken its first steps on the long, hard road to excellence."
See Text of Speech, Page 30
Addressing the issue of curriculum, the President acknowledged that it is difficult to decide "what we want our children to learn," but he said that curricula should be based on the "intellectual, moral, and civic needs of our students" and should not be decided "by narrow interest groups."
He also argued for placing emphasis on certain basic subjects, saying, "Too many students today are allowed to abandon vocational and college-prep courses for courses of doubtful value that prepare them for neither work nor higher education. It's time to put an end to this learning gap by insisting that all American students become fully conversant with science and math, as well as history, reading, and writing."
The curriculum should also include instruction in values, Mr. Reagan said. "We must teach the importance of justice, equality, religion, liberty, and standards of right and wrong," he argued.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Reagan cited an example of such teaching in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a book in which, according to the President, the "hatred of bigotry and the love of their fellow man" is illustrated by Huck's relationship with the slave Jim.
The President noted that by the end of the decade the country will need more than one million new teachers and that, by 1990, almost two-thirds of the nation's teachers will have been hired since 1980. Based on these predictions, the President stressed the need to accord "greater respect and honor" to the teaching profession.
But he also noted that "in too many cases, teaching has become a resting-place for the unmotivated and unqualified." And he recommended that laws and regulations--such as "unduly restrictive certification requirements"--that prevent "good people" from entering the teaching profession be abolished.
He also said he supported the concept of paying and promoting teachers according to merit. "Hard-earned tax dollars have no business rewarding mediocrity," he said. "They must be used to encourage excellence."
Learning 'Crowded Out'
The President stressed the importance of educational "setting," asserting that in too many schools throughout the country, learning has been "crowded out" by alcohol, drugs, and crime. He called for a return to "common sense" in the handling of discipline problems without recourse to the courts, and asked that attention be paid to the rights of students who want to learn.
The President also praised the U.S. Supreme Court's recent clarification of school officials' authority to conduct reasonable searches. "There is no need to call in a grand jury every time a principal needs to check a student locker," he maintained. And he added that he would direct Attorney General Edwin Meese 3rd to work with Secretary Bennett to examine possible modifications of federal law to "avoid undercutting the authority of state and local school officials to maintain effective discipline."
The President noted that parental involvement in the schools is "perhaps the most important" key to excellence in education. And he called for the restoration of parents to "their rightful place in the educational process."
"Parents care about their children's education with an intensity central authorities do not share," Mr. Reagan said. "Parents know that they cannot educate their children on their own. We must recognize, in turn, that schools cannot educate students without the personal involvement of parents."
In a press conference after the President's speech, John C. Esty Jr., president of n.a.i.s., praised Mr. Reagan's support of teachers, educational diversity, and choice. But he said that the association does not support the President's stand on tuition tax credits or vouchers, supporting instead federal aid for education to low-income families.