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A.S.C.D. Fails To Back Choice, Assessment Proposals

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NEW ORLEANS--Members of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development attending the group's national conference here last week shied away from endorsing two items prominent on the national school-reform agenda--school choice and national standards and assessments.

"It means our membership is just not willing to make a statement on this yet,'' said Mary O. Harrison, public-information officer for the 157,000-member organization. Approximately 6,500 members attended the April 4-7 meeting.

Both proposals are central to President Bush's America 2000 plan for improving education.

The President's plan recommends allowing parents to send their children to private schools at public expense.

It also calls for high national standards for what children should know and be able to do in school, and for a national testing system to gauge schools' progress in meeting those goals.

The latter idea was endorsed earlier this year by the National Council on Education Standards and Testing, a panel of educators, business leaders, and public officials. Both proposals are now before the Congress.

Boarding the Train

The two issues were the subject of occasionally turbulent discussions at the meeting last week.

In order to give the A.S.C.D. some influence in the national debate on those issues, some members had proposed that the group give them a qualified endorsement.

"People want to know what we think about this,'' said Stephanie Marshall, president of the A.S.C.D. "Either we tell them we don't know or we articulate this as clearly as possible.''

Another member of the group likened the effort to adopt national standards and assessments to a "train leaving the station without us.''

Many other members, however, suggested that the train was not worth boarding.

"We've had a nation of independent schools and local control,'' said John V. Gallagher, an associate professor of education at Glassboro State College in New Jersey. "To allow national assessment means I am giving up my ability to have local control to influence my children's education.''

Qualified Suport

Under the proposed resolution, the organization would have supported a standards and testing system provided that it went beyond standardized, multiple-choice tests.

In addition, the results of the assessment would have to take equity issues into account and could not be used simply to rank students, schools, districts, or states.

Finally, the new system would have to be linked to a strong commitment in funding for schools and to dramatic changes in curriculum, teacher-training, and educational practices.

The resolution was overwhelmingly defeated by members voting by a show of hands.

Resolution on Choice

The resolution on choice would have endorsed only public-school programs that promote integration and equity. In the 1980's the organization approved resolutions opposing private-school choice.

The public-school choice resolution was withdrawn before it came up for a vote.

That decision was based in part on a straw poll taken a day before the scheduled vote of members who attended a debate on the issue. To the question, "Do you think choice is good for public schools?'' twice as many participants had answered "no'' as "yes.''

In another session, members conveyed their concerns to Governor Roy Romer of Colorado, who headed the national standards and testing panel.

Gary S. Stager, an educational-computing consultant from Wayne, N.J., noted that the panel's recommendations seemed to be "contradictory.''

While encouraging interdisciplinary studies, for example, he said, the panel also divided learning into "artificial boundaries.''

Other members criticized the standards-and-testing panel for ignoring social problems that impede learning and for failing to urge increased funding for schools.

'Credibility Gap'

Mr. Romer said educators risked maintaining the "credibility gap'' in the school-reform debate by raising such concerns.

"We've got to close the gap,'' he said. "Business is unrealistic because they say schools can solve society's problems without the family and schools are unrealistic when they say, 'We're perfect. Just give us more money.'''

The organization also announced the appointment of Gene R. Carter as its executive director.

The Norfolk, Va., school superintendent, who takes over in July, will succeed Gordon Cawelti, who has been the organization's executive director for nearly two decades.

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