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Summit Speakers Back Standards, Federal Role

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Washington

With standards-based school reform and the federal role in education coming under increasing criticism, more than 100 educators, business leaders, politicians, and community organizers convened here last week to present a different viewpoint.

The one-day meeting, billed as a "bipartisan national education summit," was organized by Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, and former Secretary Terrel H. Bell.

Their intent was to offer a counterpoint to Congressional Republicans who question the need for a federal Education Department and are seeking cuts in federal education spending, as well as to opponents of standards-based reform here and across the country.

Of particular importance, Mr. Jeffords said, was the presence of business leaders who might appeal effectively to education critics within his party.

Public Opinion

While there were differences of degree and emphasis, summit participants generally voiced support for high academic standards, parent and community involvement in schools, strong national leadership coupled with local control, and continued federal spending on education.

"We have to make education a top national priority. There's no question about it, and I think that came clear," Senator Jeffords said.

The meeting also served as a launching pad for discussions at a dozen sites across the country that were connected to Washington by satellite.

While many political, business, and education leaders have been discussing ways to improve schools for years--and have reached a consensus on many issues--the public is often left out, some participants said.

"This consensus, while it may be self-evident, is a consensus of elites," Mr. Jeffords said. "It is wide, but it is not deep."

"I think there is a significant discontinuity in the views of the education community, the business community, and the leadership of this country and the public," added Deborah Wadsworth, the executive director of the Public Agenda Foundation, a New York City-based research organization. (See Education Week, 10/12/94.)

"The gap is people believe that their concerns--the need for safety and order and respect in the classroom and the teaching of the basics--are not being taken into consideration by the leadership," Ms. Wadsworth said, while adding that support exists among the public for rigorous standards, accountability, and high expectations for students.

Meanwhile, noting the partisan rancor that education issues have engendered recently on the national level, Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado called for calmer discussion.

"The first thing we need to do is take the emotion out of the debate, and the way to do that is to say we don't want to federalize this process," Mr. Romer said.

Slamming NESIC

Mr. Romer, a Democrat, and Gov. John Engler of Michigan, a Republican, agreed that the Clinton Administration's Goals 2000: Educate America Act strikes the proper balance between national leadership and local control--with one exception.

Both Governors support removing from the law a provision allowing establishment of a national body to review state academic standards. Legislation has already been introduced in Congress to eliminate the National Education Standards and Improvement Council before it is appointed, and observers agree that it is virtually certain to pass. (See Education Week, 2/8/95.)

Secretary Riley spoke in favor of local control, but with a federal presence in the form of the Education Department.

"The payoff is to local schools," he said, "but the entire nation benefits."

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