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Gingrich on Education, Part 2: Encourage Students To Graduate Early

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Washington

Schools should offer incentives for students to finish high school in two or three years, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., told a gathering of school board members last week.

Students who are able to finish high school in three years instead of four should receive a payment equal to 80 percent of the cost of the fourth year of school, which they could use for college or vocational training, the Speaker suggested.

He argued that the "Carnegie model" of education--in which students must amass a certain number of subject-area credits, or Carnegie units, to graduate--is wrong and needs to be changed. It is "crazy," he said, to continue "subsidizing dating" by keeping students in school longer than may be necessary academically.

Mr. Gingrich, in his keynote address to a National School Boards Association conference here, also urged schools to embrace technology more vigorously and imaginatively than they have so far. Schools should devote between 3 percent and 10 percent of their resources to technology, he recommended, instead of what he said was the current average of three-tenths of 1 percent.

"We're simply not engaging that revolution" in technology, Mr. Gingrich said, adding that schools must go beyond having computers in classrooms to fully exploiting so-called virtual-reality technology.

The Speaker's remarks represented his second speech in as many weeks devoted to education. In his earlier remarks, he suggested closing down the Education Department. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1995.)

Mr. Gingrich told the N.S.B.A. gathering that educators must exercise "professional rigor" and not cave in to parental pressure by awarding students higher grades than they deserve.

The Speaker earned applause and laughter from the crowd as he railed against the lack of classroom experience among education bureaucrats, the centralized nature of school administration, and a litigious climate that means "a teacher has to look at every student as a potential lawsuit."

The former history professor, whose talk ran a lecture-length 50 minutes, also assailed the current way of licensing teachers that he argued would prohibit both Gen. John J. Pershing and Gen. George C. Marshall from teaching school as they each did years ago while awaiting military assignments.

"There is something crazy," he said, "about how credentialing is restricting the flow of talent to the classroom."

Meanwhile, Mr. Gingrich is reportedly planning to hold hearings this year on the issue of public schools teaching about homosexuality.

Two newspapers, The Washington Times and the weekly Washington Blade, which serves the capital's gay community, reported last month that the Speaker told a Georgia town-meeting audience that "we can have a one-day hearing on whether or not taxpayer money is being spent to promote" homosexuality.

Tax dollars, Mr. Gingrich reportedly said, should not "go to have 1st graders being taught a set of values that, in fact, have no place in the 1st grade."

Mr. Gingrich's remarks at the town meeting were recorded by a representative of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a homosexual-rights organization.

People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, has asked the Speaker not to hold such a hearing, saying it would amount to "vilification."

An aide to the House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities said that no hearings on the topic have been scheduled.

A majority of Americans believe the government should maintain current funding levels for student financial aid, according to a survey released this month by a coalition of higher-education associations fighting proposals by Republican members of Congress to slash federal aid.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said it was "very important" and another 27 percent said it was "somewhat important" to continue the current spending on aid. Student aid ranked third in a list of six priorities, surpassed by health care and Social Security but outranking defense, foreign aid, and welfare.

K.R.C. Research and Consulting Inc. polled 1,000 adults for the Alliance to Save Student Aid, a newly formed coalition of more than 30 higher-education associations. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

--Millicent Lawton, Mark Pitsch, & Meg Sommerfeld

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