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Twelve Years After School Report: Lots of Ideas, Limited Success

April 6, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Parents should turn off TVs. Companies should ask to look at young workers’ report cards. And schools can help parents attend teachers’ meetings by offering child care.

Those were some of the suggestions Wednesday from business people, elected officials, teachers and parents who are considering the lessons learned from a decade of school reform proposals.

In the 12 years since the seminal ``A Nation at Risk″ report, educators have spent countless hours researching what’s needed to improve American schools, those at the conference agreed.

But they have been less successful at acting.

``We’re on the move,″ said Terrel H. Bell, the former education secretary under President Reagan who issued the ``Nation at Risk″ report. ``But the pace is slow, too agonizingly slow for many of us.″

David P. Gardner, who chaired the report, said teachers are now better-trained, and high school students take more college-preparatory classes.

But at least two things are needed to turn reform ideas into reality in the next decade, participants agreed: setting standards to toughen what all American children learn, and getting parents and communities more involved.

``People still believe their fundamental concerns _ safety, order, respect, a core series of studies _ are not being addressed by the educational elite,″ said Deborah Wadsworth, who has done public opinion polling on Kentucky’s school reforms for the group Public Agenda.

Until communication improves, ``they will not rally in support of reforms,″ Wadsworth said.

Parents need to change, too, and realize the vital role they play, said Pat Henry, a former PTA national president and businesswoman in Texas and Oklahoma.

``We need to quit assuming we can drop (children) off in kindergarten and pick them up at 12th grade fully educated,″ Henry said.

Many states are working to set tougher educational standards for their students, said Michigan Gov. John M. Engler.

But the states need help in three areas, said Colorado Gov. Roy Romer: making sure their course standards are ``world-class,″ learning from the successes or failures of other states and developing tests needed to measure student performance.

The conference, sponsored by Bell, current Education Secretary Richard Riley and Sen. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., also focused on whether the United States will fall economically behind nations whose students do better in math, science, reading and writing.

Allan Wurtzel, chairman of Circuit City Inc., noted that his company’s workers do not need particularly high-tech skills compared with many modern companies.

Nevertheless, he said, the electronics chain must interview up to 20 young applicants to find just one who can ``read, write and interact″ well enough to work at its stores.

``American business has a problem,″ Wurtzel said.

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