Bell Promotes His Own Alternative to America 2000
WASHINGTON--Terrel H. Bell thinks the Bush Administration's strategy for revitalizing American education focuses too narrowly on long-term planning, and the former Secretary of Education says he can help address that shortcoming through his own reform blueprint and consulting firm.
Creating 535 innovative model schools, as the President's America 2000 plan has proposed, is a worthy idea, Mr. Bell said in an interview here last month, but it "won't help the 110,000 schools we have today."
"We need an action plan, and we have to pursue it aggressively. We can't wait until the year 2000," said the former Secretary, who visited Washington to promote his new, self-published book, How To Shape Up Our Nation's Schools.
Mr. Bell, who headed the Education Department from 1981 to 1985 under President Reagan, offers a prescription emphasizing a greatly increased use of technology, parent involvement, and a change in attitudes toward academic achievement.
And Mr. Bell would like to put those ideas into practice. His book, co-written with Donna L. Elmquist, a curriculum specialist and former classroom teacher, is an advertisement for the authors' recently formed, nonprofit consulting firm as well as Mr. Bell's contribution to the national debate on education reform.
"Our idea is to have the concepts defined in the book implemented in schools," Mr. Bell said. 'We want to talk to [state and district officials] about their vision for education, where they see their school systems going, and help them build a master plan to get there."
So far, the firm, rounded last year and known as Terrel Bell & Associates, is working with thee school districts and a state education agency.
Mr. Bell and Ms. Elmquist estimate that it would cost $480,000 to transform a 525-student elementary school into the high-technology facility they envision, with an "electronic teaching center" in each classroom and at least one computer for every three students.
Although less expensive, their other ideas might prove even more difficult to implement.
"I concede that you can't change people's attitudes overnight," Mr. Bell said.
The book calls for increasing the value students and their communities place on academic achievement by instituting a national testing system and publishing school-by-school results, an idea that echoes the strategy devised for the Administration by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander. The authors also propose instituting academic competitions that would be scored and reported like athletic events.
The Granite school district in suburban Salt Lake City, one of the districts with which Mr. Bell's firm is consulting, plans to stage the first in a series of such competitions early next month.
"People will rally around the schools that do poorly," Mr. Bell predicted. "It's a great motivator."
Mr. Bell and Ms. Elmquist propose spurring increased parent involvement in education by asking parents to sign agreements to work with their children and providing mentors for children whose parents do not accept the challenge.
Like Mr. Alexander, Mr. Bell favors allowing parents to choose the schools their children attend. But the former Secretary said he would include private schools in such a plan only if they agreed to "level the playing field" by accepting any student who applied, including the handicapped.
Mr. Bell and Ms. Elmquist formed the consulting firm--based in Salt Lake City and McLean, Va.--with Elam Hertzler, who was Mr. Bell's chief of staff at the department.
In addition to its contract with the Granite district, the firm has contracts with districts in Pensacola, Fla., and Pueblo, Colo., as well as with the Idaho education department.
According to Mr. Hertzler, the firm charges a $1,000-a-month retainer and hourly rates high enough to give the partners "a reasonable salary, defined as less than that of a superintendent, who generally makes $60,000 to $150,000.
Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 39Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Bell Promotes His Own Alternative to America 2000