Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell told a group of 250 education leaders last Tuesday that the importance of the home environment in achieving educational excellence has been “virtually ignored” in most of the discussion and debate about student achievement during the last year.
“We need to place at least some of the credit or blame for student achievement on the home and the family situation,” Mr. Bell told leaders of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers (pta), the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Leaders of the groups were in Washington last week to plan their legislative strategies for the coming year.
“When marriages and home life are disturbed and unstable, our youth come to school with frustration, bitterness, and resentment,” Mr. Bell said. “Broken homes, poverty, and unsuitable living conditions are not conducive to successful schools. A child must be teachable before he or she can be taught.”
Mr. Bell told the group that the problems of American education are partially attributable to changes in the family structure. “Families, marriage, and the home, as we all know, have gone through great change over the past few years,” he said. “The forces that split families apart are still there and the economic pressures that demand two incomes will remain for years to come.”
The Secretary challenged leaders of the pta to expand their efforts to encourage the involvement of parents in their children’s education, saying that “parents must recognize that the best heritage they can leave their children is a good education.”
The Secretary criticized school3boards for not demanding more rigorous standards in their districts and exhorted pta leaders to encourage parents to examine their children’s schools and to demand that they institute the recommendations made by the National Commission on Excellence in Education in its report, “A Nation at Risk.”
During a brief question-and-answer session following his speech, the Secretary was questioned about the federal government’s budgetary priorities. One member of the audience asked Mr. Bell if “one B-16bomber’’ couldn’t be traded for education programs.
“I hear you,” Secretary Bell responded, but he told the group that defense is “the number-one priority of the federal government, and education should be the number-one priority of the states.”
As a result of their meetings last week, the leaders of the principals’ groups decided to focus their attention on legislation in four areas, according to Lew Armistead, director of public information for the nassp
The groups will support legislation to improve mathematics and science instruction and are particularly interested in forgivable loans to prospective teachers in those areas, Mr. Armistead said.
“Another push is for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act,” he said, adding that the groups’ lobbying emphasis will be on adding a provision to the bill that would address professional development. The principals favor provisions for upgrading the skills of elementary- and secondary-school principals through various training programs, Mr. Armistead said.
The groups also will work to defeat any tuition tax-credit proposals introduced in the Congress. “We believe they undermine public education and are too expensive,” Mr. Armistead said.
In general, he added, the principals will work to “increase the federal investment in education--education must become a higher priority at the federal level.”
According to Arnold Fege, director of governmental relations for the National pta, education funding is also a priority of the parent-teacher group.
“We will take no less than $17.5 billion,” Mr. Fege said of the federal education budget.
That is about $2 billion more than President Reagan has proposed for fiscal 1985.
The additional $2 billion, Mr. Fege said, is necessary to accommodate increased costs and a $425-million mathematics and science bill sponsored by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah.
Mr. Fege added that “a major priority issue” is cleaning up asbestos in schools. And other priorities for the group, he said, include the reauthorization of school-lunch and nutrition programs, vocational-education programs, and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
The group also will lobby against tuition tax-credit or tax-deduction legislation, Mr. Fege said, and in favor of pending legislation that would require television networks to provide one hour of children’s programming every evening.
A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 1984 edition of Education Week as Bell Urges More Attention to Role of Home in Schools’ Success