Terrel H. Bell explains department agenda to Monitor readers

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Secretary of Education T.H. Bell, in a telephone interview, told the Monitor:

''In the heartland, the concern is not about the size and shape of the federal structure. The typical person is much more concerned about what the schools are doing about quality education, their strengths and weaknesses. We feel the states and local communities can best address these issues of quality.''

''I feel narrow set-aside provisions and rules should be toned down so that the 50 states can utilize funds as they best see fit,'' Mr. Bell said. ''The fear of special-interest groups that the state and local systems are not competent, are corrupt, or cannot meet the needs of the large urban school systems leads me to say, 'shape up the local system, and don't look to the federal government' - that's the way our system of government is supposed to work.''

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''A national education foundation,'' (proposed by the Reagan administration as a replacement for the Department of Education), the secretary said, ''is an effort on our part to have a federal agency in Washington administer whatever education programs Congress wants, but do it in a way that doesn't have power to regulate or set policy for schools or universities. We see an active role for a foundation, not just a clearinghouse for ideas. We see it as a proponent of quality education - something that will lend assistance, but not control.

''The foundation will play a major role in assisting the evaluation of the computer-technology revolution in the classroom. The interactive capacity of the computer - with its ability to present a paragraph with animation, with sound, with questions and accompanying avenues for student responses - will individualize and revolutionize the classroom.''

''The federal role is important as we accommodate and move to this new technology. Something good in Georgia should be made known in Idaho and Montana.''

''But,'' the Secretary said, ''we ought not be involved in curriculum; in fact, we should be carefully proscribed in this area. For example, we can fund the movement of educational technology toward a uniform data base. It's like going to one standard-gauge railroad track.''

In a more general view of education the Secretary said:

''I see the relationship of the states to education as I see the federal role in national defense. States need to sense the same sort of commitment, if education is going to work. I get a feeling they are since we've come into office.''

''State education policy for elementary and secondary schools might get involved in other than a single salary schedule for faculty,'' Mr. Bell says. ''Higher education does this with rank - full professor, associate professor, distinguished chair, and so forth. There isn't that dreadful sameness in higher education that exists in local public schools.''

Regarding proposed regulatory changes for special education, the secretary said: ''Detailed requirements on special-ed programs went way beyond what the law required. The law wanted parents to be involved in planning the education of their child. But the bureaucracy added all kinds of record- keeping requirements. If state legislatures want to do this, that's fine, but it's terrible if the federal government does.''

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