Ad Hoc Group Drafting Manifesto on Agenda

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An ad hoc and bipartisan group of 40 prominent educators, scholars, and lawmakers is drafting a manifesto intended to "sustain the quest for educational excellence" and add "important new items to local and national educational agendas."

The group plans to release the statement by early November, "to coincide with that period of introspection, imagination, re-thinking, and analysis that characteristically follows a Presidential election," according to those crafting it. It will be distributed to education policymakers across the country at the federal, state, and local levels, participants said last week.

Those involved, some of whom were scheduled to discuss a draft of the statement this week in Chicago, were organized by Chester E. Finn Jr., professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University, and Herbert Walberg and Edward A. Wynne, professors of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago Circle.

Professors Finn, Walberg, and Wynne were the principal authors of the draft, which is titled "Transmitting Knowledge--Developing Character: Sustaining the Momentum for American Education Reform."

They were assisted by Denis P. Doyle, director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute; Diane Ravitch, adjunct professor of education and history at Teachers College, Columbia University; James S. Coleman, professor of sociology at the Universtiy of Chicago; and Gary Sykes, a doctoral candidate at Stanford University.

Unaffiliated Group

Funded in part by a $2,500 grant from the Johnson Wax Foundation, the self-described "ad hoc" and unaffiliated group says in an Aug. 20 draft, "Our chosen priorities simply reflect our judgment that certain important education concerns have been too long swept under the rug. We want to bring out limited resources to bring them back to public view."

"There remains a critical need to transform the public's (generally sound) impulses into effective policies and programs," the authors also write.

The draft includes discussion and recommendations on 11 issues, ranging from raising academic standards to improving teaching and balancing special interests and the public interest.

Focus on Character

The draft statement emphasizes that the current education-reform movement must include "efforts to foster sound pupil character and values."

"In recent years, the schools have focused on developing literacy skills and readying students for jobs at the expense of developing their characters," said M. Donald Thomas, su-perintendent of the Salt Lake City Public Schools and one of those developing the statement. "This group feels the schools should redress the balance."

The draft statement recommends, among other things, that students "be more frequently assigned group responsibilities for academic and school-related activities where both individual and group excellence are stressed and that students "should be maintained in relatively stable groups through their progress through school, the school term, and the school day."

In a section on "greater achievement by the academically talented," the authors write that "our simplistic and limited concern with improving the academic performance of poor and average pupils is an important cause of the decline [in the academic performance of talented students]."

They echo the criticisms leveled at "minor subjects and soft electives" by the National Commission on Excellence in Education and, like the commission, they urge experiments in longer school days and school years, more homework, and more effective use of class time.

As have others seeking to improve the schools, they recommend abolishing undergraduate teacher-education programs and replacing them with a two-year post-baccalaureate professional program featuring "solid coursework, clinical experiences, and a paid, part-time internship in the schools prior to the first year of teaching."

'Redefining Equity'

In a section titled "redefining equity," the authors assert that "it is inappropriate for government regulations to require schools to provide some children with 20 times or more as much as is spent on the education of healthy children. ... It is not wise to dedicate such disproportionate amounts of our education resources on the needs of limited groups of students (and their families)."

"Even if a pupil is doing reasonably well," the statement continues, "such competency does not necessarily justify depriving him of help so that a less-successful learner can be given extra help. The 'reassignment' in such a case deprives the able pupil of his opportunity to move from competence to excellence. In addition, the money and resources being thus reallocated do not belong to teachers, pupils, or parents. They are the money and resources of voters and taxpayers. There needs to be some connection between the welfare of these 'paying' groups and de-cisions on school expenditures."

The draft statement says that "the development of parent choice among schools, and among programs in a particular school, is desirable and a healthy stimulant to school experimentation."

It adds that with the emergence of the current reform movement, "We have again begun to appreciate the importance of an active and engaged 'general public' in forming education policy, and the related importance of effective spokesmen, leaders, and representatives of the public interest in education excellence for all. To paraphrase a familiar maxim, education is too important to be left entirely to the educators--or to special interests."

"National leadership," the statement says, "must address more is-sues than those associated with the federal role [in education]."

Mr. Finn said last week that "we don't know how many of the current sections will survive [in the final version of the statement] or how many people will sign off on the final statement."

Among those who were expected to attend the Chicago meeting or review the final statement and possibly endorse it are: James Q. Wilson, a professor of government at Harvard University; Nathan Glazer, professor of education at Harvard and co-editor of The Public Interest; Bill Honig, California's superintendent of public instruction; Michael Kirst, professor of education at Stanford University; and Annette Kirk, a former member of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

Vol. 04, Issue 01

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