University help for public schools

A number of outstanding universities around the United States warrant the highest commendation for taking the lead in seeking to upgrade the nation's elementary and secondary schools. Recognizing that ''responsibility for the well-being of schools is not localized in society but widely distributed,'' the presidents of Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and University of Wisconsin have pledged to have their schools participate in joint ventures designed to ''insure excellence'' in US public schools.

Following the release of several major reports in recent months sharply critical of the state of the nation's schools, the pledges of support from the university presidents add up to a ringing example to all Americans - including the corporate and professional sectors - of the type of citizen and community action so urgently needed to bolster the educational system. Indeed these offers of support underscore that the ultimate challenge in reshaping the public schools is not really financial - i.e., merely appropriating more money for education, although additional expenditures will be necessary - but rather one of community involvement. That means drawing upon the talents and support of private citizens, professional persons, firms, and other interested community or-ganizations.

How exactly will the universities help out elementary and high schools? The programs are expected to vary. But the university presidents say that such efforts include developing courses to train school administrators and principals; recognizing outstanding teachers; improving teacher training courses. In some instances, programs are already under way. Harvard, for example , through its Graduate School of Education, operates a special center for principals that has already trained many officials from Boston schools.

The university presidents rightly recognize that such aid by the colleges must be collaborative, not dictatorial. That means working together with the school systems, but not taking over the proper leadership role of school administrators. This is a point that should not be lost on US political leaders, many of whom are now offering ambitious plans for upgrading the schools.

The six universities have set a high standard for public participation. Now let's hear it from the business sector as well.

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