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Bush's Advisory Panel Offers Suggestions for National Goals

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Washington--Every student in grades 4, 8, and 12 should be tested in five key subject areas to gauge progress toward meeting national goals for performance, President Bush's advisory committee on education proposed last week.

The panel also recommended that employers establish "skills centers'' to monitor employees' educational needs, and that state and federal officials ensure that high-quality early-education programs are available to all young children.

Panel members said they broke up into three groups to consider questions relating to assessment, school readiness, and graduation rates and adult literacy. Each subgroup presented recommendations to the full panel and then to Mr. Bush, who met with the committee for about 40 minutes.

Participants said the Jan. 11 meeting was part of the preparations for the scheduled announcement next month of national education goals.

The goal-setting initiative on behalf of the Administration and the nation's governors was launched at an "education summit" called by the President last September in Charlottesville, Va. (See Education Week, Oct. 4, 1989.)

The goals are to be unveiled next month at a meeting of the National4p8Governors' Association. The President is expected to offer a preview of them in his State of the Union Message late this month.

In its recommendation on assessing progress toward performance goals, the panel agreed that the President and governors should set goals for intervals throughout students' school careers, rather than simply for the end of schooling.

The members also proposed that the executives set goals for at least five key subject areas--reading, writing, mathematics, science, and history and geography, according to Chester E. Finn Jr., professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University.

In addition, the group adopted a proposal by Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, calling for all students to take a test in the key areas. Currently, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only national assay of student performance in various subjects, tests a national sample of about 100,000 students every two years.

In its recommendations on raising graduation rates and boosting adult literacy, the panel agreed that "virtually all students should have a 12th-grade education," according to Lamar Alexander, president of the University of Tennessee and a former Governor of that state.

The goals should emphasize raising the graduation rate, rather than lowering the dropout rate, he said. "We should catch people doing something right," he said.

The group also agreed that standards must be raised at the same time, added H. Dean Evans, superintendent of public instruction in Indiana.

"A high-school diploma that represents a skill level less than an ability to handle the rigors of adult life is meaningless," Mr. Evans said.

In addition, the panel agreed on the need to raise the skills of adults already in the workforce, since 85 percent of those who will be in the labor force in the next century are already there.

To that end, the panel agreed to ask businesses to create "skills centers," similar to "wellness centers," that would assess workers' abilities and recommend areas in which they need additional training.

The group agreed that performance goals for school readiness should be stated not in terms of students' performance, but in terms of the performance of the educational system, said Joe Nathan, a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

In addition to ensuring the availability of high-quality early-childhood education, he said, panelists agreed that government should focus on children's access to health care, and that education programs for young children should include efforts to "make parents understand how their children learn."

William E. Brock, a former Secretary of Labor, said the next stage is to be more specific about which levels of government will play which roles.

Finally, the group recommended that goals include combating violence and drug use and improving discipline in schools, and that a good way to accomplish the goals is to provide students with opportunities for community service.

Noting that many schools "hide" statistics on drug- and violence-related incidents, Mr. Brock said panel members recommended that such statistics be reported.

"We felt that not only is a violence-free, drug-free, and disciplined environment an essential national goal," he said, "but it is also quantifiable."

"We moved very quickly to fairly large conclusions," Mr. Alexander said. "There was more consensus there about what ought to be done and agreement on how to do it than I thought."

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