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Seeking Common Ground, Task Force Issues Guidelines

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Washington

Saying that "public education is too important ... to be reduced to nothing more than a battlefield in the cultural wars," a task force of education and religious leaders issued a set of guidelines last week for debate over school reform.

The 13 organizations that make up the National Task Force on Seeking Common Ground for the Improvement of Public Education hope their efforts will foster more civil debate and agreement among traditionally antagonistic groups.

"Focused, forthright, but always respectful, debate on shaping public education will almost always lead to better schools," the group says in a five-page statement. "We are also confident that candid discussion will often reveal that there is more common ground than conventional wisdom acknowledges."

The group, which includes the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Citizens for Excellence in Education, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, was convened by the American Association of School Administrators, based in Arlington, Va.

More than a year ago, AASA officials began private meetings with conservative religious groups to promote a dialogue between those groups and public educators. (See Education Week, Nov. 23, 1994.)

Rules for Debate

In the statement released last week, the group urges:

  • "Generous exercise of ... discretion" by administrators in allowing students to opt out of certain instruction, such as sex education, if it conflicts with their parents' religious beliefs.
  • A recognition that some disputes, including many arising under the religious-freedom clauses of the U.S. Constitution, "have been settled by law."
  • Acknowledgment by parents that while they have "a special and immediate interest in what schools do ... other constituencies, including the community as a whole, also have a real and direct stake in public education."
  • Ensuring that debate over public education does not distract from learning in the classroom, and that it "is motivated by a concern for the interest of students and public education, not by personal or partisan advantage."

No widespread distribution of the guidelines is planned. But several member groups said they would publicize the statement among their constituencies.

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