Think tank's ideas on education

One book sure to be high on the reading list of the next secretary of education is a Heritage Foundation's publication, ''Mandate for Leadership II: Continuing the Conservative Revolution.''

This 600-page report is scheduled for publication Dec. 7. The book will be similar to Heritage's 1981 best seller, ''Mandate for Leadership: Policy Management in a Conservative Administration,'' which was praised by presidential adviser Edwin Meese III at a Washington breakfast meeting shortly after the 1980 election as the blueprint for administrative action.

An entire chapter, written by Heritage's director of education, Eileen M. Gardner, looks at the role of the Department of Education in a second Reagan term. It calls for rearranging the department into a ''three-room schoolhouse.''

The first room would conduct fiscal business, serving essentially as a ''check-writing machine and teller's window.'' From it, federal funds would be ''disbursed to states, localities, occasionally to schools and colleges, and very occasionally to individual recipients.''

On the elementary and secondary level, funds would take the form of block grants to states and localities. Broad purposes for spending the money would be outlined by the department, but the recipients - not federal bureaucrats - would be the final arbiters on exactly how to spend the funds.

Postsecondary financing would be ''wholesaled'' to colleges and universities for them to ''retail'' to qualified and needy students. Heritage wants financial aid to be aimed at qualified low-income students and away from underwriting the education of middle- and upper-middle class people. Heritage also calls for legislation that would require students receiving federal financial assistance to adhere to minimum academic standards.

The second room of Heritage's proposed Department of Education would house ''a small but outstanding statistical bureau.'' The federal government has been collecting data on education since 1860, notes Heritage, and even if the department were abolished (something Heritage called for in President Reagan's first term), its information-gathering function would still be necessary and should be strengthened.

Heritage would abolish the National Institute of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, and the Office of Education Research and Improvement and combine their functions into a new Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research.

The third schoolroom would be a ''bully pulpit'' to project a vision of educational excellence. More pointedly, it would extol what ''citizens might reasonably expect from their children's schools, teachers, textbooks, and colleges.''

Heritage does not want Washington to run schools by issuing regulations and tying programs to budgets. The proper role, the foundation insists, is to highlight standards and examples of excellence.

A room that now exists in the department, and that Heritage would demolish, is that of enforcement agency. While not quarreling with a federal role in preventing discrimination, Heritage would transfer this function to the Justice Department, where it could not be used as a carrot or a stick in concert with federal funding programs.

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