President Hits Road To Spread Message On School Agenda

By Blake Rodman — April 01, 1987 5 min read
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In his first speech outside of Washington in three months, President Reagan chose last week to address the topic of education, saying that the secret to high-quality education is “not in the pocketbook.’'

Speaking to a group of educators and policymakers in Columbia, Mo., the President said the key to good schools is “in the simple dedication of teachers, administrators, parents, and students to the same basic, fundamental values that have always been the wellspring of success both in education and life in our country.’'

The March 26 speech by the President was his first in two years before a major gathering of precollegiate educators, officials, and policymakers. His last such address was in February 1985, at the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Following the release of A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which broadly criticized the state of American education, Mr. Reagan spoke widely on the need to improve the nation’s schools.

But in recent years, some observers have noted, the attention Mr. Reagan has given to education has waned. In a March 18 interview in The Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, former Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell said he was “disappointed’’ that the President “didn’t stay with’’ the early emphasis on education.

Last week, however, a White House spokesman and officials from the U.S. Education Department said the Missouri address was the first in a planned series of speeches that will tie education into the President’s new emphasis on strengthening U.S. competitiveness.

In last week’s speech, Mr. Reagan announced no new programs or initiatives, but returned instead to a number of familiar themes of his Administration, including the teaching of values.

“I’ve dwelt on values for a reason,’' he said. “Part of it is that standards of right and wrong are essential to any life that is lived well and should be part of education.’'

“It’s just this simple,’' he continued. “Students with strong values do well in school.’'

Mr. Reagan said that too often in recent decades school officials have said that “teaching right and wrong was none of their business.’'

He added that “getting back to values is part of getting back to basics.’'

“It’s part of preparing our country for the 21st century,’' he said. “And it’s basic to what every school should do for every child in every classroom.’'

For guidance in teaching values, Mr. Reagan suggested that educators turn to the Judeo-Christian ethic, specifically the Ten Commandments.

The Judeo-Christian ethic, he said, “is a prescription for a happy and productive community, city, state, or nation.’'

The President also returned to the theme of preparing the nation to be competitive in the 21st century.

That challenge, he said, includes making the best use of our science and technology; improving the climate for entrepreneurship and growth; lowering the tax rates and the number of “needless’’ regulations; and working to build a “fair, open, and expanding world economy.’'

“And, finally,’' he said, “it includes making sure our young people are ready for the jobs of the 21st century, making sure they’re ready to lead a strong America in a strong and growing economy.’'

“In short,’' the President added, “making sure that American education is the best in the world.’'

Spoke at Conference

The President spoke at David H. Hickman Senior High School in Columbia at the invitation of Gov. John Ashcroft of Missouri. The school was the site of a one-day conference, sponsored by the U.S. Education Department, to discuss progress on its initiative with 16 school districts to carry out some of the reform recommendations put forward last summer by the National Governors’ Association. (See Education Week, Jan. 14, 1987.)

The conference was attended by roughly 1,500 educators from across the state, school officials from the 16 districts, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, and Govs. Ashcroft, Norman H. Bangerter of Utah, Carroll Campbell of South Carolina, and John H. Sununu of New Hampshire.

The President praised recent state and local efforts to improve the quality of the nation’s schools. A Nation at Risk, he said, has “galvanized a citizens’ movement for educational reform.’'

The movement has produced a “broad consensus on what needs to be done,’' he noted, adding that part of the consensus has been that “more money is not the key to higher quality.’'

The “secret’’ to educational quality, the President said, “is not in the pocketbook, but in the heart.’'

“You don’t need schools filled with high technology to give children a good education,’' he said. “Basic skills, standards, discipline, work, family support, ethical principles--this is the new American consensus on the secret to quality education.’'

Federal Role

Turning to the topic of the federal government’s role in education, Mr. Reagan said his Administration has proposed restructuring some programs “to give the states and schools more flexibility and to make the programs more effective.’'

Because the federal government provides less than 7 percent of the costs for education nationally, Mr. Reagan said, the most important thing it can do is help teachers and administrators through such efforts as producing publications like “What Works’’ and “Schools Without Drugs.’'

“Education suffered when the federal government tried to give too much direction to local schools,’' the President said. “Some seem to think education is best directed by administrators in Washington. I say the American people know better than anyone in Washington how to fix their own schools.’'

The Reagan Administration has proposed deep cuts in federal education programs for the coming fiscal year. The Administration’s plan would reduce the Education Department’s budget by $5.5 billion, or nearly 28 percent.

Democratic leaders, joined by some moderate Republicans, have vowed to oppose the proposed cuts, citing a recent wave of concern about the ability of American workers to compete in an increasingly high-technology economy.

In concluding, the President outlined several national goals.

By 1990, he said, the nation should reduce by one-quarter the 40 percent of 13-year-old students reading below grade level, and by the year 2000, all students should be reading at grade level.

In addition, he said, by 1990 Scholastic Aptitude Test scores should have regained half the ground they have lost since their 1963 record high, and by the year 2000 they should exceed that level.

And, the President said, by the turn of the century, all Americans should be able to speak, read, and write in English.

A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 1987 edition of Education Week as President Hits Road To Spread Message On School Agenda


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