Md. officials react to Bush plan Educators give ideas mixed grades

April 20, 1991|By Sandra Crockett

Maryland public officials are of two minds about President Bush's blueprint for education. They consider it either a big step toward producing better educated children, or a lot of hot air.

The president unveiled his education plan, "America 2000," yesterday during a White House gathering of politicians, business leaders and educators. It outlines steps for improving the county's educational system, including nationwide exams, allowing parents to choose schools, creating model schools and giving merit pay to teachers.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer weighed in early with his support of the president's plan, sending Mr. Bush a telegram expressing his enthusiastic support.

"Maryland wants to be the first state to join 'America 2000' education revolution," the governor said, noting that it is similar to Maryland's "Schools for Success" plan. "It also shows that even in difficult economic times, we can continue to move forward in educating our young people."

But Robert Y. Dubel, the superintendent of Baltimore County schools, said these difficult economic times require a strong fiscal commitment from the federal government -- in addition to goals.

"I view it primarily as rhetoric," Dr. Dubel said of Mr. Bush's plan. "I don't see it as anything new."

Dr. Dubel agreed with the governor that the goals are very similar to those of the state, and for that matter of Baltimore County. What is needed, he said, is enough federal money to help reach those goals.

"It can not be done by state and local funding alone," he said, adding that the county's educational system was not as much in need as urban school systems.

Dr. Dubel said what was encouraging in the plan was Mr. Bush's prodding of the business community to take a strong interest in schools.

Business leaders and other donors have pledged at least $150 million to $200 million to finance research and development teams. As for other money, Congress would be asked to provide $550 million in one-time grants to develop model schools in each congressional district.

To promote giving parents a choice of schools, a $200 million Education Certificate Program Support Fund would be established to provide incentive grants to local school districts to upgrade their standards. A $30 million initiative would support school choice demonstration projects.

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the State Board of Education, said he is glad the president has come up with a plan, but he doesn't think the recommendations will have much effect on education in America.

"I am glad he's doing more than talking about it. That's been the case up to now. But it is too marginal. It is not significant," Mr. Embry said.

"The federal government is limited in what it can do," he added. "For instance, a major problem is inadequate funding for poor children and nothing is being done about that," Mr. Embry said.

Larry L. Lorton, superintendent of Anne Arundel County schools, said he shares the president's "vision of excellence of education for all children." But he wishes Washington politicians, including Mr. Bush, would spend time in public school classrooms so they could see what it's really like.

"The federal track record for putting their resources where their legislature and mandates are have been so bad that I am not confident that we begin to put in place what is in the plan," Dr. Lorton said.

Furthermore, he said, there are "implicit assumptions" in the plan that he disagrees with. "One is that are schools are poorly run, inefficient, mismanaged businesses. That's a crock," Dr. Lorton said.

"I wish that Washington politicians, including Mr. Bush, would spend more time in public classrooms so they could see where the rubber meets the road," he said.

Montgomery County Superintendent Harry Pitt said he likes the idea of experimental schools and more parental involvement, but is concerned about the part of the plan that deals with choice.

"I am concerned about that and how it would work," Dr. Pitt said. He, too, also wishes there would be more of a financial commitment to schools from the federal government. "I am disappointed there is not some significant effort to provide financing," Dr. Pitt said. "School systems are hurting across the country."

Financing for early childhood education is particularly needed, he said.

On the other end of the spectrum is the state schools Superintendent Joseph L. Shilling. A spokesman from the state Department of Education said the head of the state schools had no problems at all with the plan.

"The national plan is very much like the 'Schools for Success' plan," said Beth Campbell, a spokesman from the state Department of Education.

Dr. Shilling sent an overnight letter to U.S. Education Secretary Lamar Alexander, saying that Maryland would be an ideal state to sign up for "America 2000." "Congratulations on an impressive unveiling of 'America 2000! '" the letter read in part.

Spokesmen from Baltimore and Howard County school systems had no comment on the plan while a Harford County school official said he was encouraged about what he has read about it so far.

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