High-Wage Jobs Need Better Preparation, Clinton Tells N.E.A.
SAN FRANCISCO--En route to Tokyo for his economic summit meeting with the leaders of the G-7 industrial nations, President Clinton made a stopover here last week to address one of the voting blocs that helped insure that he, and not George Bush, would be making the trip to Japan.
The N.E.A.'s Representative Assembly, which endorsed Mr. Clinton during its annual meeting last year, received the President's speech on global competition and its relation to education and job training with cheers and applause.
"We must face the hard fact that many of the people with whom we compete for the high-wage, high-growth jobs are uniformly more thoroughly prepared to begin their work than our people are,'' the President said.
"That means that your job and my job,'' he added, "are fundamentally intertwined.''
The President went on to plug school-to-work initiatives being cooked up by the Education and Labor departments and the national education standards that would be set under his "goals 2000'' bill.
He promised to resist efforts by Congress to water down the education package or "divert it from its essential mission: partnerships with people at the state and local level.''
"We cannot run the schools of this country from Washington, D.C.,'' the President said. "We need to empower you to run them.''
The day before the President argued that students need to be trained for a global, technological revolution, the union released statistics that gave a dismal view of the use of technology in classrooms.
While most of the 1,200 teachers surveyed said they have access to computers in their school, just over half use them for instructional purposes in the classroom. In many schools, and especially those in low-income areas, teachers' access to modems to receive or transmit information is limited.
Furthermore, the report found, just a quarter of the teachers said they are experimenting with newer technologies, such as CD-ROM, laser disks, and other interactive media.
In a press briefing on the report, Bob Chase, the vice president of the N.E.A., said the report indicates that "as businesses become more technologically advanced, schools, in many ways, will become more marginalized.''
He also said that computers and similar devices appear to be more common in affluent, suburban school districts than in rural or urban areas.
"This is driving a further wedge between the haves and the have-nots in this society,'' Mr. Chase added, "because the power to improve is based on knowledge and information.''
The vice president also said that many teachers do not have access to equipment that most businesses consider basic. Fewer than a third of teachers, he said, have access to fax machines and only 12 percent have telephones in their classrooms.
Playing catch-up with groups that fund reform projects, the N.E.A. asked the Representative Assembly this year to approve a dues assessment earmarked for the National Foundation for the Improvement of Education, the union's tax-exempt, grant-giving arm.
Though the assembly rejected a plan to give the N.F.I.E. a shot in the arm by increasing dues more sharply in the short term, nearly 80 percent of the delegates voted to increase annual dues by $1 for the next 10 years.
Keith Geiger, the union's president, characterized the vote as a coup for the union, which appears to be trying harder to convey the image of a reform-minded group.
"This was just an incredible vote on raising dues,'' said Mr. Geiger, who speculated that the increase will pump up the N.F.I.E.'s budget by at least $12 million over the next decade.
The foundation, established about five years ago with a budget of $13 million, was reassessed by union leaders last year. They concluded it needed more money to compete with large private donors, Mr. Geiger explained.
To much applause from the host delegates, union leaders announced they will donate $1 million to the California Teachers Association to fight against a private-school voucher initiative scheduled to appear on the state ballot this fall.
The announcement typified the anti-voucher fervor that swept the assembly this year. T-shirts and buttons blasting private-school choice were sold in the convention hall, Mr. Geiger's speech was laced with anti-voucher rhetoric, and the California delegation railed against the "right-wing zealots'' backing the ballot measure.
The C.T.A.'s campaign, expected to cost between $6 million and $10
million, is being closely watched by the union, which "realized that
California is a critical battleground,'' said Ralph J. Flynn, the
executive director of the state affiliate.--J.R.