Concern Expressed About Impact Of Measure on Standards Projects

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WASHINGTON--To many of the educators keeping a careful eye on national efforts to set curriculum standards for students, the proposals in the Clinton Administration's education-reform bill present a mixed bag.

In interviews last week, educators for the most part gave the proposed "goals 2000: educate America act'' high marks for continuing the focus on national standards begun at the 1989 education summit between President Bush and the nation's governors.

They praised, also, the inclusion of national "opportunity to learn'' standards to describe the conditions that must occur in schools before students could be held accountable to rigorous new standards.

These educators questioned, however, whether the legislation--which would set up a national council to approve curriculum standards--would help or hinder national standards-setting efforts that are already under way. The federal government and private groups have sponsored projects to develop national standards in 10 subject areas, and most of those standards will be complete by 1994.

"Once [the new council has] set up what they think the content standards should be, even though the process has already begun, can they intervene?'' asked Richard Long, who is lobbying on behalf of the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, which are jointly developing English standards.

But Michael Cohen, an aide to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, responded that the purpose of the Administration proposal is to introduce some consistency into the standards.

"You've got these standards that are under way, and there's never been agreement among anyone on what ought to be there,'' he said.

'Bogged Down'

Officially unveiled late last month, the Administration's proposal essentially builds on some of the education-reform initiatives begun by the Bush Administration.

It would write into law the six national education goals set three years ago following the education summit between Mr. Bush and the governors, and it would expand them to add the arts and foreign languages to the list of core academic subjects in which students would be expected to meet "world class'' academic standards.

Those disciplines were omitted from the national goals, to the dismay of those subject-matter groups.

Among its other proposals, President Clinton's bill would also create a National Education Standards and Improvement Council to develop criteria for certifying the new content standards and to eventually approve them, subject to final approval by the National Education Goals Panel.

Besides questioning whether the council would be applying rules to the standards-setting process late in the game, some educators expressed concerns about the panel's mandate.

In addition to certifying national content standards, the proposed council would certify state subject-matter standards, state assessment systems designed to match those standards, and the new national "opportunity to learn'' standards.

"Those are two different discussions,'' Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said of the content and opportunity-to-learn standards. "A single council that has to deal with all that will get bogged down and not get its work done.''

Diane S. Ravitch, who served as the assistant secretary of education for educational research and improvement during the Bush Administration, also raised fears that the proposed council could become politicized.

Although the goals panel, which is politically balanced, would choose at least 60 names for possible appointment to the standards panel, Ms. Ravitch noted, the 20 council members would be selected from among the goals panel's list by the President.

"For something as sensitive an issue as standards, politics ought to be kept a million miles away from it,'' Ms. Ravitch said.

Mr. Cohen responded, however, that President Clinton had no intention of "stacking'' the council with political appointees.

And, he argued, placing both subject-matter and opportunity-to-learn standards under the purview of the council is appropriate.

Some had feared that earlier versions of the proposal, which called for one body to certify assessment and content standards and another council for school-delivery standards, would have relegated the opportunity standards to second-class status, Mr. Cohen said.

'Truth With a Capital T'?

In addition to the concerns about the process, some educators also worried about the product that might emerge from the legislation.

While subject-matter groups representing the arts and foreign languages praised the bill's inclusion of those areas in the national goals, other educators pointed out that civics, health and physical education, social studies, and other commonly taught subjects were still missing.

"It doesn't provide a balanced curriculum,'' said Charles Quigley, the executive director of the Center for Civic Education, which is developing standards in that subject.

Linda Darling-Hammond, the co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University, also said the proposal may be pegging too much to the national standards.

"It presumes those national content and performance standards will somehow result in truth with a capital T,'' she said. "You shouldn't assume by virtue of having national standards that they will all be of uniformly high quality.''

Vol. 12, Issue 33

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