Whatever its faults, the report of the Carnegie Forum on Education cannot be criticized for a lack of boldness. The business, political and educational leaders who signed it proposed no less than a revolution in classroom teaching.
They suggested that undergraduate degrees in education be abolished. Teachers, they said, should have a broad liberal arts background and an advanced degree in teaching. They said top-line teachers should be so certified by a national board of their peers. They said those board-certified teachers should be placed in charge of their schools and held accountable for the schools' performance. And they said those teachers should be paid on a level equivalent to other professionals.
That is controversial enough. But in one respect, I wish the commission had been even bolder. I wish it had embraced the idea of voluntary national service in the classroom for many of the millions of college students being educated with government aid for high-paying jobs.
The underlying rationale for such a proposal is implicit in the powerfully persuasive report entitled ''A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century,'' issued earlier this month. But the recommendation doesn't appear there.
The commission headed by Lewis M. Branscomb, chief scientist of IBM, made these points:
The nation faces a severe shortage of teachers, with many of those now in the classrooms approaching retirement age and a shrunken ''baby-bust'' college generation coming along behind them.
Already, too many of the top students entering college are shunning teaching in favor of higher-paying alternative careers. Almost half the students now enrolling as education majors come from nonacademic high-school programs, not even designed to prepare them for college work.
There is a crying need for more support people in the typical high school and grade school, so that teachers can spend their full time doing their jobs, rather than being burdened with administrative and clerical chores. To impart the skills needed for America's economic survival in the next century, the "master teachers" envisaged by this report must be freed to tackle the toughest educational problems in their schools, with less demanding instruction being given by associates with somewhat lesser skills.
Tutoring -- direct, person-to-person instruction -- is a demonstrably successful teaching technique. It works particularly well when older students tutor kids just a few years younger. Both the tutors and their pupils come away with increased mastery of the subject.
Where can these needed classroom support people be found? Some communities have had good success in persuading retirees or parents or public-spirited professionals to volunteer a few hours of tutoring or teaching time a week. But the greatest potential source of assistance may be found right in the classroom -- the college classroom -- of today.
To me, the obvious implication of the Carnegie Commission report is that many of the brightest and best-educated young people now moving through our colleges -- people who currently spurn education as a lifetime career -- must be induced somehow to help in the high schools and grade schools from which they have come.
Is there an incentive to offer them? Indeed there is. The Department of Education says some 5.5 million people are attending college this year with the assistance of federal grants or federally subsidized loans, at a cost to the taxpayers of close to $9 billion. As readers of this column know, I have strongly defended these loans and grants against proposed budget cutbacks. Education is the best investment we can make in the nation's future.
But I also believe that turnabout is fair play. Two previous generations of students received their education subsidies as a reward for military service. Today's students face no draft. But America needs more of them in the grade-school and high-school classrooms.
For those who accept government grants to finance college degrees, a year's apprenticeship, at modest salary, as a teacher's aide does not seem an inappropriate or inordinate sacrifice to ask. For those who use government-subsidized loans to get through college, a combination of loan forgiveness and a small starting salary may be enough to induce a number of classroom volunteers. Offers of government assistance in graduate education could be conditioned on a year or two of classroom service.
Some of those recruited into temporary teaching aide or tutoring jobs would undoubtedly find that education is a rewarding field. Others would go on with their original career plans. But just think what it would mean if communities knew that today's 2.2 million teachers could be reinforced -- at modest additional cost -- with volunteered help from some of the 5.5 million college students the taxpayers are subsidizing.