The Capitol Page School fails to provide the best education for its 91 students who serve as Senate and House messengers and should be upgraded, according to a report drafted for - but not approved by - a House Education subcommittee.
"Inadequacies in the education process of the pages are a reflection on the Congress," the subcommittee staff said in the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.
The draft report urges Congress to consider several reforms, including changes in the page program itself, and in administration of the school by the D. C. Board of Education. It suggests a possible conversion of the school into a "model" private school.
It also revives a proposal to build a dormitory for the pages who come from all parts of the county and live in rooming houses, apartments and private homes. Ranging in age from 14 to 18, they are not supervised in their free time.
The draft report was presented to subcommittee members several weeks ago but was not adopted, one staff member siad, because of an apparent lack of interest.
Rep. Carl D. Perkins (D-Ky.), chairman of both the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary and Vocational Education and of the parent Education and Labor Committee, could not be reached for comment.
Despite the subcommittee's inaction, Rep. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.) told fellow members of the House Legislative Appropriations Subcommittee a few days ago that he will continue to press for reforms.
Armstrong spoke as the subcommittee was approving a proposed $193,700 budget for the school in the coming year. The funds will reimburse the D.C. Board of Education for expenses.
"I really think we have a burden of conscience here," Armstrong said. "The young people are not getting a quality education. I'm not trying to make waves. I'm trying to help the kids."
Capitol pages are chosen and paid under a poolitical patronage system. They serve terms as short as two months - typical in the summer when school is not in session - and as long as two years.
The Capitol Page School, located on the third floor of the Library of Congress, holds classes from 6:15 to 10:30 a.m. weekdays, except when Congress convenes earlier and classes must be cut short.
The school has been operated since 1946 by the D.C. school system as a miniature but ful-fledged and accredited high school. It has six teachers, a principal and an administrative aide.
In some ways it is prestigious.Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) spoke at its recent commencement and the student council often invites lawmakers, officials and such notables as columnist Art Buchwald to "rap sessions"
However, according to the subcommittee draft report, four days of hearings conducted last year by Rep. William Lehman (D-Fla.) brought "some rather serious allegations about the quality of the school."
Lehman is not now on the Education and labor Committee, and an aide said he did not want to comment on the draft report.
"As gauged from student testimony and individual discussion with pages," the draft report says, "the major problem area seems to be the quality of instruction.
"Preliminary findings from Congressman Lehman's survey (of students) support this conclusion. Twenty-two out of 34 pages said . . . that teacher-student communication was worse or much worse than in their previous school," and that teachers did a poor job of motivating students.
Faculty testimony, on the other hand, "attributed student dissatisfaction to demanding schedules, keen competition resulting in disillusionment of students who are used to being at the top of their class and overly high expectations regarding the entire page experience," the report says.
John C. Hoffman, principal of the school and an educator for 29 years, defended the school in his testimony and contended it is difficult to mesh operations with the erratic congressional schedule and with the heterogeneous nature of the student body.
The draft report said that the uniqueness of the school "is too often used as a blanket excuse by its faculty for its shortcomings."
These were among the specific points made in the draft report:
The differing ages of Senate pages (14 through 18) and House pages (16 through 18) require teachers to conduct ninth grade classes for as few as one or two students. This might be cured by standardizing the ages.
Problem of frequent student transfers might be eased by standardizing the appointment of pages to coincide with school semesters.
Construction of a dormitory, perhaps integrated with new classroom facilities on the already-purchased Providence Hospital site on Capitol Hill, "would alleviate many of the problems of the page system, especially those resulting from lack of supervision" in free hours.