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Cabinet chief grades US education

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US Secretary of Education Terrel Bell has issued the Reagan administration's report card on American education as the 1981-82 academic year begins. While the chief educator awarded some A's, he also handed out some outright F's.

At a conference of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) held here on Aug. 28, Sec. Bell also sounded the administration's policy of expelling the federal government from the classroom. "Education is to state government what defense and foreign policy is to the federal government," he said.

The secretary noted the following strengths in US education:

* Equality of opportunity: "The most significant strength of American education -- peerless among all the nations of the world -- is the access to education provided by our great diversified and decentralized system."

* The sheer size, effort, and depth of the American education system: 63 million people are involved full time in education. 12.135 million students will enroll in colleges or universities. 45.430 million will enroll in elementary and secondary schools of which 5.1 million will be in private schools. $198.3 billion will be spent in 1981-82 in institutions for formal schooling.

But the secretary also found educational weaknesses:

* Hundreds of thousands of students graduate with baccalaureate or higher degrees without competence in any language other than English. "We are a bunch of monolinguistic bumpkins and American education is to blame," asserted Mr. Bell.

* Despite the billions spent on education, youth unemployment is "scandalously high."

* Minimum competency requirements, though necessary, should really be maximum competency requirements:

"When standards are high and discipline requires a vigorous effort to measure up to what is expected," the secretary reasoned, "the outcomes will rise accordingly." He called on local school boards to re-examine their graduation requirements and set the highest possible academic standards.

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