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By All Measures: 'Root Problem: Communication'

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I see three major obstacles, not in hierarchical order, but all potential roadblocks:

First, the impatience and isolation of some officials of the U.S. Education Department who, in at least one case, believe that the National Assessment of Educational Progress is a national examination, so what are we waiting for?

Second, the general ignorance about national standards and the proposed assessment system among educators--teachers, administrators, superintendents--outside the Beltway. If this state of ignorance persists, it will turn into active resistance to national standards and a national examination system, because they will be perceived as one more imposition from the top.

Third, the almost willful obstructionism of parents and members of the public, who can't see why school shouldn't be the way it was when they suffered through it: "I came out all right. What's the problem with multiple-choice, or tracking, or rote learning, or slogging through long division?''

What can be done about these obstacles? In the first case, encourage the Congress to leave îáåð as it is and not fund it for further expansion.

In the other two cases, the root problem is poor communication. Teachers must be told by every means possible--their administrators, their unions, their professional organizations--that they can have a voice in the standards-setting processes and the design of the examination system. If they choose not to, that's their privilege, but they shouldn't have the feeling of being left out of a process that affects them so seriously.

And the parents and public? Here's an opportunity for a foundation to do some creative funding. Pay top journalists--and I'm talking network news here--in both TV and print to participate in a week's retreat to understand what's important in education. When I read, hear, and see the inaccuracies spread abroad by the media, I worry about the information they give me about fields I know less about.

But although people form their opinions on sound-bites, media sensationalism isn't the whole story. The public will respond to leadership, to a clear message from the top that our educational system must change, not only for the economic welfare of the country, but for the welfare of its soul as a democracy. We need an education President.

Ruth Mitchell is associate director of the Council for Basic Education.

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