Swamped by studies on schools, some call for education summit
A foot-high stack of reports issued in recent months on the quality of American education may have confused as many people as it has enlightened. So teachers and lawmakers have come up with a plan they hope will make sense out of the mountain of information: They want to call a national summit conference on education.
Educators and others see a summit as the logical culmination of the national debate on schools touched off by the release of seven major reports in six months. Without a summit, they say, the momentum built so far will quickly abate , and the once-in-a-generation opportunity for lasting reform will be lost.
''Education trends in public interest wax and wane; a summit conference can help break the recurring cycle of neglect,'' says Joseph Marinelli, a school official in Orlando, Fla., and a member of the American Association of School Administrators.
To that end, a House bill passed Monday calls for a series of regional meetings on education, culminating with a national summit conference.
The concluding meeting would bring together up to 200 education, business, political, and labor leaders. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts has introduced a similar measure in the Senate.
In a recent congressional hearing on the bill, groups representing school administrators, teachers, and parents voiced support for the idea of a summit meeting. But some educators have denounced the plan, saying that the half-dozen reports have already outlined a course of action, and that what is needed now is a concerted effort to achieve the goals set forth.
Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Pat Williams (D) of Montana, the summit would address the issues of ''student achievement, student discipline, teacher quality and compensation, curriculum content, and the role of the federal government and other levels of government and of private institutions in improving the educational system of the United States.''
Robert Mattson, associate dean of the College of Education at the University of Oregon, says he thinks Congress should be careful not to bite off more than it can chew when setting an agenda for such a meeting.
''We wonder if it's reasonable to charge this conference with the chore of developing workable solutions to problems as old as education itself,'' he said in testimony before a House subcommittee.
He said he would like to see the summit meeting focus on one critical issue - the role of the federal government in improving education. States and local school boards have traditionally had the primary say in how schools are run, a concept the Reagan administration heartily endorses.
But the problems facing America's schools and the recent reports detailing the problems have rekindled debate about the federal government's responsibility for ensuring quality education.
Concern has been voiced that any such gathering on education would become mired in politics before it even began. Already there are signs that this may be the case.
Under Representative Williams's original plan, the President and Congress were to have chosen three-fourths of the participants in the summit. After complaints from local educators, that provision was changed to give states an equal say in the choices.
An aide to Williams says the rewritten bill ''is much less of a political document'' than the first draft.