"My boss ... might not want me to say this," said Charles Kuralt in a conspiratorial tone, "but it's a matter of advocacy," he said, saying the word that's generally out of bounds in news coverage.

"We're not just wringing our hands. We're proposing solutions. We think we know what they are."

And CBS News didn't just come up with the ideas yesterday. The proposals, airing this week in various forms under the banner "Project: Education," come after a year of examining American education with an eye toward identifying the system's problems and suggesting solutions.

It's one of at least two education-related programs airing this week as children across the country return to their classrooms. Roger Mudd heads a PBS look at American schools as well.

The CBS project includes a two-hour documentary, "America's Toughest Assignment: Solving the Education Crisis," anchored by Kuralt, airing Thursday from 9 to 11. Kuralt's report will be supplemented by segments throughout the week on "The CBS News With Dan Rather" and on "CBS This Morning."

Wednesday, an education conference will be held in Washington, with CBS News pulling together political leaders from around the country in an effort to find a consensus on how to improve American schools.

"Assignment" (and local news) will be followed at 11:30 Thursday by a national forum, which will include portions of the Washington conference as well as participation from teachers, students and community leaders.

Locally, WUSA's "22:26" (Sunday at 11:30 a.m.) plans a look at high-school dropouts and their problems. Next Sunday, the CBS affiliate's "Capital Edition" (10:30 a.m.) will devote a segment to the E Street Book Club, a Saturday reading club founded three summers ago in Southeast by two neighbors originally for schoolchildren. Now, people of all ages have become participants. And the station will give prominence to public service announcements concerning education.

Both the CBS documentary and Mudd's PBS program concentrate on schools and communities where things seem to be going well in the classroom, and the CBS effort, Kuralt noted, pointedly suggests that what works at the schools they present will work elsewhere.

The program "has become a celebration of education because it finds things that work," said Kuralt. "It suggests that for every big education problem, some community has found something that works. It's one example after another of how you solve problems of kids coming to school not ready to learn, keeping good teachers, schools that are too big and impersonal -- all the things that people bring up."

One of the people who brings up a lot of things about education is Ernest Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and a consultant on the project.

"He plays a big role," said Kuralt. "He's spent his life thinking about the things we're trying to address."

One of Boyer's concerns is what happens when children go off to junior high, or middle school. Kuralt summed up this particular problem: "The student comes from the often nurturing atmosphere of grade school and then there's junior high, where a lot of dropouts occur because, as Boyer said, no one knew the student dropped in. At a time when students need a lot of caring, they enter a bigger, impersonal school and get lost." One of the solutions is to break such large schools into smaller units "so no one can say 'no one cares about me.'"

Kuralt cares, about education and other matters of the world, as any watcher of his "CBS Sunday Morning" program can attest. If he has a personal affinity for this subject, it can be traced to his North Carolina roots. His mother was a teacher and his father was a social worker.

"I never wanted to teach, myself," he said, "but I probably grew up with more social consciousness than most kids, simply because of what my folks did. Doing this program, I've thought back on my own childhood, what my parents did to encourage me, to give me a taste for success. I think kids will develop an appetite for it if they're given a taste."

The program begins with the problem of the problem child, the child "who, going back to birth, born with low birth weight, grown up in a home in which neither parent may be present, may be a throw-away kid and doesn't have a chance from the beginning. I come from a social-worker family, and I believe that programs can help at an early age. I feel the biggest problem is finding the best and brightest students to become teachers." He noted that a program in his home state pays a student's tuition if he or she agrees to teach in a public school upon graduation.

He has renewed his appreciation for what teachers go through. "I've really become sympathetic to them," said Kuralt. "Imagine {coping with} class size. Teachers get into it because they are idealistic and want to make a difference. So they are presented with 35 6-year-olds and told they must keep in touch with their parents, in a school where there's one telephone. Impossible demands are being made. And it's not just low pay. There's lack of respect. Somewhere in here we say that kindergarten teachers should be given the same respect we give college professors."