Bell Asks Boards For Increase In Leadership
Los Angeles--In a speech to Hispanic school-board members here this month, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell criticized the nation's school boards for paying too little attention to instructional issues and called on them to take a leadership role in upgrading educational standards.
Secretary Bell, citing surveys by the U.S. Education Department, asserted that "too many school boards spend a disproportionate amount of time on budgets, personnel issues, and salaries, when they need to emphasize their time on education matters."
"School boards have to be more results-oriented," Mr. Bell said. "They need to demand reports from their administrators and ask the tough questions."
' "We've had 19 years of declining sat [Scholastic Aptitude Test] scores. For America, that's inexcusable," the Secretary said, adding that school boards need to monitor their districts' sat scores and compare the results with those of other districts.
The Secretary urged school boards to lengthen the school year, demand tougher graduation 'requirements in mathematics, science, foreign languages, and English, and hold school officials, students, and parents accountable for the new standards.
"Thirty-five out of 50 states require only one year of math and one year of science to graduate from high school; we can't let that happen," Mr. Bell said. "Nowadays, students can substitute a lot of things for these classes. We have to challenge these young people and not let them take remedial math when they have the capacity for algebra, geometry, or trigonometry."
Mr. Bell also said local boards must set aside money to reward outstanding teachers and that teachers' salaries must be "equitable."
"When our society can honor teachers like it does our football players, then we're making progress," he said.
On the subject of bilingual education, the Secretary reiterated the Administration's view that students must be aided to develop proficiency in English. But he also urged that school systems strengthen their Spanish programs so that Hispanic students will also develop knowledge of their cultural heritage.
Mr. Bell's remarks were greeted with mixed reactions by the more than 100 members of the National Hispanic School Board Members Association, who had invited him to their Oct. 1 meeting at the University of Southern California.
Several participants described the address as "politics as usual." And one California school-board member complained that Mr. Bell "didn't mention anything about funding or what kind of leadership Washington was going to provide."
Many board members attending the conference represent school districts where Hispanic children make up 25 percent to 95 percent of the student body. Some districts have experienced federal, state, and local budget cuts that have left them with weakened bilingual programs, fewer teachers and aides, and teachers' salaries far below what they might earn in the private sector. They insisted that improvements will require more federal financial support.
"It's great to say we need changes," commented Diane Kruger, a board member of the Berryessa Union School District in San Jose, Calif. "In California, a lot of schools had to cut back this year because of Proposition 13. You've got to look at funding."
Some school-board officials wondered where their districts would find extra funds for teacher-recognition programs, not to mention money to bolster bilingual programs that were slashed after federal cuts last year.
"We have 15 fewer bilingual teachers' aides this year because of federal cuts," said Bene Figueroa of the Robstown Independent School District, located 15 miles east of Corpus Christi, Tex.
"Fifty percent of the kids in the elementary grades are Mexican-American, and about 15 to 20 percent of those kids can't speak a word of English.
"We're a small farming community with no industrial tax base--that makes the federal money even more important."
But Richard Amador, the president of the Hispanic group and a school-board member for the Alhambra School District in Los Angeles County, agreed with Mr. Bell's comments. "We've got to be more assertive," he said. "If we don't implement quality education in our public schools, four years from now some states may have a voucher system."