Since April 26 four major blue-ribbon commissions have released landmark studies on American education. Each of these reports has candidly assessed the status of American education--and urged a new commitment to educational excellence, at every level of our society.
We at the National Education Association welcome these commission reports. In fact, we are downright excited by them. All these studies recognize that there are no shortcuts to quality education. Excellence, as one commission put it so aptly, costs.
Sadly, the president of the United States has missed that message. President Reagan has, in highly politicized language, even rejected the widely acclaimed findings of the commission appointed by his very own secretary of education.
The National Commission on Excellence in Education--the panel appointed by Education Secretary Terrel Bell--called for national leadership. Reagan tells us the federal government ought to end its "interference" in education.
The National Commission on Excellence called for increased financial support for education--dollars that could go for up-to-date textbooks, higher teacher salaries, computers and a host of other desperately needed resources. Reagan proposes $2 billion in cuts out of federal aid to education.
The National Commission on Excellence called for real educational reform and rethinking. The president asks for prayers, tuition tax credits for private schools and the abolition of the Department of Education.
The National Commission on Excellence in Education has outlined an educational policy framework that can be discussed and debated seriously by parents, teachers, school boards, and the general public alike. The president has outlined an approach to education that makes no sense.
Let me amend that. The president's approach makes no educational sense. Apparently, he must feel his approach makes considerable political sense. For the New Right, there are prayers. For private school parents, there are tuition tax credits. For hard- pressed taxpayers, there are spending cuts.
And for teachers? The president appears to believe he has nothing to lose by claiming that large numbers of teachers are mediocre or worse.
He's wrong. The president has misread the spirit that permeates his own commission's report and misread the attitude of the American people. Americans who care about education aren't looking for someone to blame. They're looking for solutions, for partnerships that can take on and address problems head on.
We're encouraged by this atmosphere of cooperation, and we're also encouraged by the wide areas of agreement that are emerging--outside the White House. Commissions and citizens are agreeing that we need higher standards in classrooms and lecture halls, that we need higher starting salaries for teachers to attract young talent into the schools, that we need a federal government that understands its responsibilities to assist local school districts.
There will, of course, be disagreements. Those of us in education who are old enough to remember when male teachers made more than female, when white teachers made more than black, when high school teachers made more than elementary, when the superintendent's favorites made more than imaginative teachers who dared rock the boat are understandably not going to rush and embrace proposals to overhaul objective salary schedules.
But we will work with, we will listen to, we will discuss ideas from any commission, from any government official, from any school board that shares our interest in guaranteeing our young people the best possible education.
Our public schools have made an awesome contribution to our nation. We're confident they can make an equally important contribution for tomorrow.