NIE To Focus on Excellence and Freedom

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Research sponsored by the National Institute of Education (nie) should focus on "excellence" and "freedom" in fiscal years 1983 and 1984, according to an internal planning document prepared and circulated by the office of the institute's director, Edward Curran.

According to an accompanying list of possible research topics, nie should conduct or sponsor inquiries into such areas as the consequences of vouchers and tuition tax credits; differential pay for teachers based on merit or on subject area; the effects on school discipline of federal court decisions and civil-rights regulations; and "the direct and indirect effects on teaching and learning of numerical race/gender quotas."

The planning guidelines, which were written by Lawrence Uzzell, special assistant to Mr. Curran, have been circulated among members of the institute's professional staff. The document instructs department heads to "pay special attention to" the new "thematic priorities" and asserts that the suggested lines of inquiry "actually or potentially go beyond the institute's existing research portfolio." A copy of the document was obtained by Education Week.

"'Excellence' is the more important of the two [themes], both as an end in itself and as a means toward other ends, like equality of opportunity," Mr. Uzzell wrote for Mr. Curran in the memorandum.

"By 'excellence,"' the document continues, "I mean first and foremost higher achievement (not just minimum competence, and not only for some children but for all children) in the cognitive academic skills: reading, writing, mathematics, and the ability to think, reason, analyze, and understand."

"Under 'freedom' I include both consumer sovereignty for parents and the independence for professional educators from excessive mandates and prohibitions enforced by federal and state agencies," the memorandum continues. "I do not include the alleged 'freedom' of children to exercise all the rights of adults."

"'Free market' systems of education finance (e.g. vouchers and tax credits) and decentralized systems of education policymaking and governance involve both philosophical and practical questions," the memorandum states. "Our focus should be on the latter; would such strategies in fact be likely to advance the goal of 'equal opportunity to receive an education of high quality'? How?"

Among the other specific research topics suggested are:

"What would/could eric [the Educational Resources Information Center] do with a 25- or 50-percent budget increase? What could/would the nie library do with a 25- or 50-percent budget increase?"

"What are the educational advantages and disadvantages of "social studies" classes as compared with more traditional subject areas like history, geography, civics, especially in international education?"

"What are the academic advantages and disadvantages of ability-grouped classes as compared with heterogeneous classes?"

"Is Rudolf Flesch right about phonics?" [Mr. Flesch is a leading proponent of the use of phonics, rather than the "see-and-say" method, in the teaching of reading.]

"Who, in the long run, is richer, happier, wiser, and/or more virtuous: the graduate of (a) a highly structured traditional college program (e.g. St. John's, Annapolis), or (b) a free-wheeling, 'relevant' program (e.g. Antioch), or (c) a preprofessional program (e.g. business administration at a large state university?"

"What are the comparative effects on (a) English language proficiency and (b) general academic achievement of maintenance bilingual education, structured immersion, and English as a second language?"

"Which policy is more likely to turn public schools into a 'dumping ground' for low-income children: the voucher system or a continuation of existing structures?"

"What are the advantages and disadvantages of home instruction as opposed to formal schooling for elementary-school-age children?"

"What are the effects on learning of a schoolchild's mother's holding a full-time job?"

Vol. 01, Issue 20

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