Strengthening America's High Schools
Taxpayers are concerned - or at least curious - about the price tag attached to remedying our high schools' problems. In its report ''A Nation at Risk,'' the National Council on Excellence in Education recommended that graduation requirements be more strict; that colleges and universities raise their admission requirements; that the school day or year be lengthened; that better teachers be recruited, trained, rewarded, and retained; and that citizens provide the money to finance these reforms.Skip to next paragraph
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The final recommendation has drawn strident criticism from taxpayers who feel pinched already by local property taxes. They think federal government expenditures are more equitable.
But President Reagan, who has reluctantly abandoned his earlier promise to dismantle the federal Department of Education, nevertheless wants to restore widespread local support for education, vs. reliance on large federal expenditures.
All Democratic presidential candidates, by contrast, favor more, not less, federal spending on the public schools.
Sen. John Glenn (D) of Ohio, for instance, has proposed 25,000 merit awards of $1,000 each for exceptional teachers as part of his $4 billion education plan. He also advocates spending $3 billion on remedial courses for disadvantaged students and $250 million to double the number of magnet schools. The rest of the $4 billion would go toward teaching centers and special loans for students who expect to enter the teaching profession.
Former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale wants colleges to toughen their standards, parents and teachers to demand more from young people, and students themselves to study harder and longer. He would add $11 billion to Mr. Reagan's
To attract a new generation into teaching, Mr. Mondale favors a Teacher Corps patterned after the Peace Corps. He would apply $3 billion to restoring special help for disadvantaged students. He recommends that every community bring together parents, teachers, students, business leaders, and others to create its own commission on excellence.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D) of South Carolina has proposed a $14 billion plan.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D) of California has endorsed the idea of setting up merit schools where all faculty members would get bonuses.
The 20th Century Fund Task Force, after studying the role of the federal government in education, concluded it should complement local control and act as a ''firm but gentle goad'' to strike a balance between quality and equality in the schools.
Almost everyone agrees it's hard to put a price tag on education. Nor is it possible to determine, by the amount of money spent, what the resulting quality of education will be.
Alaska, for instance, outspends all other states per pupil on education, while Arkansas is close to the bottom in per-pupil expenditures. But both Ketchikan, Alaska, where the per-student cost is $5,060, and Gravette, Ark., where it is $1,285, have certified teachers, guidance counseling, sports, a yearbook, a library, audiovisual equipment, computer instruction, academic and vocational courses, dances and clubs, and also some art and music courses.
The assistant superintendent in Ketchikan, Ed McNulty, whose three children grew up in that town, says one year he decided he owed them schooling in the lower '48. ''But they made nearly straight A's in Florida, Wisconsin, and California. That was a big eye-opener to me,'' he says.''They didn't make the A's here.''