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Former Federal Research Chief Backing 'National Curriculum'

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New York City--Chester E. Finn Jr., former head of the Education Department's research branch, told business leaders here last week that he favored the development of a "national curriculum."

Speaking before a group convened by The Conference Board to discuss school-business partnerships, Mr. Finn said he was a "relatively recent convert to the idea" of a national curriculum, but thought that one was needed to "develop a nationwide sense of minimum acceptable standards."

That view marks a sharp departure from the stance taken by Mr. Finn and other top education officials in the Reagan Administration, including former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who scorned discussion of the idea as an infringement on the prerogatives of local school officials.

Mr. Finn, who has returned to the education faculty at Vanderbilt University, had first hinted his change of position in recent editorial comment. (See Education Week, Jan. 25, 1989.)

"It is the nation, after all, that we were told is at risk," Mr. Finn said last week. But he was quick to distinguish between "national'' and "federal," saying he did not "cotton to the idea of the Congress as a national school board and the Secretary of Education as a national superintendent."

He said he envisions instead a set of national goals or norms "developed by a consensus-seeking process." Students would have to meet the goals to graduate.

Mr. Finn suggested that the process start with the governors and President Bush.

'De Facto' Curriculum

In fact, he said, the nation is already "careening into a de facto national curriculum" that is being set by forces in the textbook, testing, television, music, and fast-food industries.

He said that the national curriculum should not take up all of students' time, but rather be the fraction that is common to all.

Such a curriculum should include reading, writing, mathematics, science, geography, history, literature, and foreign languages, he said, suggesting that about 25 percent of the curriculum be available for electives.--rrw

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