Federal File: 'Dumb' Bell?; Forgotten Battle; Commission Clampdown?

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Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell told a group of state education officials in Washington last week that it was probably not smart of him to make reference to the "dumbing down" of American textbooks in a recent speech.

But, he added during a question-and-answer session with members of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Association of State Boards of Education, the phrase was coined by "a wag on the National Commission on Excellence in Education" and not by him.

Mr. Bell first used the terminology, which apparently has irked some textbook publishers, in his Feb. 25 address before the American Association of School Administrators. During the speech, he noted that the excellence commission's recommendations regarding the upgrading of curriculum materials had gone largely unheeded.

"A lot of people in the press mistakenly attributed the 'dumbing down' comment to me," he explained. "With a name like Bell, I never liked the 'dumb Bell' label, but this time I guess I deserved it."

President Reagan, in an action that went largely unnoticed, signed a bill on Feb. 22 reauthorizing federal vocational-rehabilitation programs through fiscal 1986.

The lack of fanfare marking the final disposition of the bill stood in sharp contrast to the fierce battle over a proposed education-funding amendment to the bill that was waged in the halls of the Congress last fall.

In late August, House proponents of increased funding for education attempted to add an amendment to the bill, which had already been passed by the Senate, that would have lifted spending caps on Education Department programs that went into effect in fiscal 1982.

Several education organizations, which at one point characterized the vote on the amendment as the most important of its kind since the beginning of the Reagan Administration, called on their members on numerous occasions to press for its passage.

Although the bill won approval in the House, it was bottled up in the Senate when opponents of the controversial amendment refused to schedule a conference committee with members of the House. In early February, House leaders agreed to drop the amendment, thus clearing the way for the bill's passage.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted 4 to 3 last week to require its 50 state advisory panels to submit their reports to the commission for review before releasing them to the public.

In a memorandum to commission members, Linda Chavez, the commission's staff director, said the move was necessary because the quality of the advisory panels' work has been uneven.

However, Mary F. Berry, one of the two holdover commissioners, said the new requirement was intended to "keep the committees from doing studies that the commissioners don't want done."--tm

Vol. 03, Issue 28

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