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Bennett Considering Major Study Of Nation's Elementary Schools

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Washington--The Education Department is actively considering whether to conduct a major study of elementary education similar to an influential 1983 study that helped ignite the national debate on the quality of America's high schools, high-ranking department officials have indicated.

In two recent addresses, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett has said his department "is taking a serious look" at producing a report on the nation's elementary schools similar to "A Nation at Risk," the report on the state of high schools produced by the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

"The focus of the debate on education has been on the secondary school," Mr. Bennett said at a meeting of the National Association of Elementary School Principals here in late July. "That's fine, but the conversation should be extended to other levels of schooling.

"We know that what occurs in elementary schools is critical," he continued. "Attitudes of heart and mind are shaped there. ... The only educational setting more important than yours is the home and family.''

Mr. Bennett also said that a final decision on the study idea had not been made yet, adding: "I would hate to see us produce a 'Rocky II' that was not as good as 'Rocky I."'

The Secretary made similar comments at the meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Seattle early this month.

"We're actively considering whether [such a study] would serve the interests of the excellence movement," said Gary L. Bauer, the department's undersecretary, in a recent interview. "It's high on our list of priorities. If we make a decision to conduct a study, I'd expect that to happen relatively soon."

Edward Keller, deputy executive director of the naesp, said that to the best of his knowledge the department has not held discussions with his organization or any others about the possibility of conducting such a study.

"We would strongly encourage Mr. Bennett to begin bringing us and other groups together to start a conversation about it," Mr. Keller said. "We, for one, would like to hear some sermons from the national pulpit on the importance of elementary education."--tm

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