Repeating themes that he outlined in his State of the Union address, President Reagan told the National Association of Secondary School Principals that his administration had “put education at the top of the American agenda” and was responsible for a wave of reform initiatives in state education systems.
The President told the principals attending their annual meeting in Las Vegas last week that they bore an “enormous responsibility” for improving the country’s schools and that they did not need great infusions of new money to do the job.
Before the address, nassp officials presented Mr. Reagan with a birthday cake made in the shape of a little red schoolhouse. Mr. Reagan celebrated his 73rd birthday last Monday.
Other speakers at the convention included Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell; Theodore R. Sizer, author of a study about high schools that was sponsored in part by the nassp; Maynard Jackson, the former mayor of Atlanta; and Lou Holtz, the head football coach at the University of Minnesota.
After saying that “those who constantly call for more money [for education] are the same people who presided over two decades of unbroken educational decline,” President Reagan reminded the audience that his fiscal-year 1985 budget includes a $250-million increase in spending for the Chapter 2 block-grants program. President Reagan said block grants have increased the authority of state and local officials by helping them “dig ... from under mountains of red tape.”
The President also praised the education-improvement initiatives undertaken by state legislatures. Noting that all 50 states had formed some kind of commission to improve education, he said that “we’ve seen a grassroots revolution that promises to strengthen every school in the country.”
To underscore the importance of principals in education, the President cited the work of George McKenna, the principal of George Washington High School in Los Angeles. Mr. McKenna’s insistence on discipline and accountability, Mr. Reagan said, enabled the school to develop a good academic program after it had received one of the lowest academic ratings in the county.
President Reagan repeated his support for prayer in public schools, tuition tax credits for families who send children to private schools, the overturn of legal rulings that have hindered school officials’ ability to deal with disciplinary problems, and stiffer academic requirements in the basic subjects.
Speaking of the opponents of school prayer who say it violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Mr. Reagan said: “I’m absolutely determined to see [legalization of school prayer] through, even though it may be sneered at in some supposedly sophisticated circles."--ce
A version of this article appeared in the February 15, 1984 edition of Education Week as Reagan Says Education Tops Americans’ Agenda