A federal report calling for a major upgrading of American education received wide praise yesterday, but there was confusion over its view of the federal role in education and over President Reagan's endorsement of the document.
Some said the cost of carrying out the recommendations would be high. Others stressed that the push for higher standards, endorsed by the report, already is part of a trend in schools and colleges around the country.
The report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education was released by the White House Tuesday.
Several of the 18 commission members complained yesterday that President Reagan had misinterpreted the report by saying at a White House ceremony that it was "consistent with our task of redefining the federal role in education," which the administration has sought to reduce by cutting funds and regulations.
Gerald Holton, a Harvard professor, said he was "startled" when Reagan suggested that the report endorsed administration policies
"Contrary to Reagan," Holton said, "we made a clarion call for the federal government to identify the national need and finance what's necessary . . . . If the states cannot afford it, and it's a national emergency, then the money must come from the only source that has it--the federal government."
Margaret Marston, a Republican member of the Virginia State Board of Education from Arlington, said the report "was in no way intended to criticize or to praise" administration policies. But she said she was "upset" that Reagan had used the occasion to repeat the administration's support for tuition tax credits, education vouchers and school prayer. These issues, she said, were never mentioned in the report.
In its report, the commission said American schools had deteriorated so drastically in the past two decades that "our very future as a nation and a people" was threatened. Its long catalogue of recommendations included more required courses for high school students, seven-hour school days, 200- to 220-day school years, "far more homework," higher pay for teachers tied to their performance, and higher admissions standards for college enforced by standardized achievement tests. The report did not say how much its proposals would cost or who should pay for them.
Rep. Carl D. Perkins (D-Ky.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said he was "encouraged" by the recommendations and urged the president "to take a signal from this report and put an end to his questioning of whether the federal government should be involved in education."
The report said the federal government "has the primary responsibility to identify the national interest in education" and should help fund a variety of programs. But it said state and local officials have "the primary responsibility for financing and governing" schools. Federal aid, it said, should be given "with a minimum of administrative burden and intrusiveness."