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2-Year Study of Private Schools Planned

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WASHINGTON--Private-school leaders, concerned that reform efforts in the public schools have put them on the defensive, last week launched a project designed to get them "out in front on change.''

The Council for American Private Education, a coalition of 14 private-school organizations that met here last week, is planning a two-year study described as "action oriented'' to examine major issues facing private schools.

Among the efforts being considered is the development of a national private-school "report card'' similar to the Education Department's annual "wall chart'' of statistics on public education.

The project would also study ways for member schools to address such issues as tuition tax credits, early-childhood education, teacher training, and the overall image of private education.

'Reactive Role'

"We felt it was high time that we in nonpublic education were out in front on change and not in a reactive role,'' said Alvin Vanden Bosch, chairman of the Illinois Advisory Committee on Nonpublic Schools and the head of CAPE's task force on the future, which developed the proposals.

"In the last couple of years,'' he said, "we have allowed ourselves to say, 'Let's wait and see what happens.'''

The CAPE task force, which was formed last year, met for the first time last month to identify key areas of concern and formulate proposals to address them. At last week's meeting, the CAPE directors decided to seek a grant of about $90,000 to carry out the group's recommendations.

In the task force's view, the main problems facing private education include financial instability, an "elitist'' image, demographic shifts in the population, changing societal values, and the lack of lobbying efforts at the state level.

"There's no question that private education is not very well known and is widely misperceived,'' said Robert L. Smith, executive director of CAPE.

The five areas suggested for study over the next two years include, Mr. Bosch said, "very big, broad concepts'' at this point. They will be refined as the project progresses, he said.

Report Card

According to Mr. Bosch, the proposed annual "report card'' would feature data on the quality, programs, and activities of private education. In addition to statistical information on private-school enrollment, dropouts, and student achievement, he said, it might include data on the degree to which private schools reduce the need for education outlays by state and local governments and the number of jobs created by such schools.

But several CAPE directors expressed concerns at the March 17 meeting that the report card would be seen as "self-serving.'' They requested that the project be "mission-oriented,'' and not antagonistic toward public schools.

"Our purpose is not survival, it's serving,'' said H. James Boldt, director of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod schools.

"I don't think it's bad to put out a report card saying we're good if we are,'' added Sister Catherine T. McNamee, president of the National Catholic Educational Association. "But I think it would be very bad if we say the public schools are awful.''

Other goals of the project include:

  • The development of a statement on pre-kindergarten education in private schools. "There's a lot of interest in this, in what our responsibility is, but it's a somewhat murky area,'' said Mr. Smith.
  • Increasing links between public and private schools, perhaps with the aim of reducing the number of high-school dropouts. The issue of tuition vouchers and other means of fostering parental choice in education would also be studied.
  • The fostering of greater private-school involvement in the training of teachers for both the public and private sectors.

"We think that the private sector has been very successful in teacher training,'' Mr. Smith said. "How can we share what we know? That could be a real public service.''

  • The creation of a media campaign to counter the "elitist'' image of private education.

Mr. Smith said that the organization hopes to obtain funding by June, when the task force is scheduled to hold the first of six meetings on the project.

In addition to Mr. Bosch and Mr. Smith, task force members include Adrienne Bailey, vice president for academic affairs of the College Board; Brother Peter Clifford, head of the Christian Brothers of Long Island and New England; John Koons, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley; Denis Doyle, an education- and employment-policy analyst for the Hudson Institute; Dren Geer, former headmaster of the Francis Parker School in Chicago; and Melvin Kieschnik, director of the Metropolitan Schools Association of New York, a group representing Lutheran schools.

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