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US Education Agenda Looms Large

To meet the national goals, public schools need major revamping to come from the state level

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WHEN it comes to education in the United States, the year 2000 haunts 1991. If the nation is going to achieve the six education goals outlined by President Bush and the 50 governors last February, much needs to change inside US schools over the next nine years.

``There is a kind of stasis at work in American education where people like to talk boldly and do very little,'' says Diane Ravitch, education professor at Columbia University.

Although there has been plenty of debate over whether or not the ambitious agenda can realistically be achieved by 2000, support for the effort is fairly strong.

``Now we're moving heavily into implementation as opposed to talking,'' says Frank Newman, president of the Education Commission of the States in Denver. ``It's one thing to set goals; it's another thing to go out and do something.''

What's needed, reformers say, is not tinkering with education's engine, but giving it an overhaul. ``You can't reach these goals without restructuring the education system,'' says Marc S. Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy.

Some states and private reform projects have taken the initiative on exciting - even radical - changes. But much of the effort is thinly spread over the 83,000 schools on the national map.

``There's all sorts of bits and pieces of things going on,'' says Theodore R. Sizer, professor of education at Brown University in Providence, R.I. ``While I'm encouraged by these independent efforts driven by wonderful people, one doesn't see them cohering into a larger movement.''

Public apathy a problem

Policymakers and many educators are aware of the crisis in education, but the level of public alarm is still low.

``It's important not just to recognize that schooling in America needs to be better, but that this particular school needs to be better,'' says Chester E. Finn Jr., executive director of the Education Excellence Network.


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