No matter who wins this year's presidential election, education is likely to benefit, said Keith B. Geiger, vice president of the National Education Association, who is a Utah visitor.
Geiger, who represents the 1.9 million member teachers' organization, is a guest of Davis School District. He was to address district teachers as part of their observance of Teacher Appreciation Day Tuesday.In a Deseret News interview, Geiger said NEA has already begun careful assessment of the various presidential hopefuls and is anticipating a better shake for education no matter what happens. Vice President George Bush has not responded to the organization's requests to establish an official educational position for NEA membership to consider. However, the vice president has expressed more potential support for education than has been forthcoming under the Reagan administration, Geiger said.
"In either case, we'll be a winner," he said.
With 300 NEA delegates involved in the Democratic convention and 100 to the Republican convention, the organization has significant voice in the selection of candidates.
Geiger was critical of Reagan's secretary of education, William Bennett. "In three-plus years, he has never said anything good about our schools. He has been a constant critic. I'd like to hear him say there are good things happening in education, because there are."
The federal government needs to be a partner in education, recognizing its weaknesses, but being ready to participate in dialogue toward resolving those problems, the NEA official said.
Educational reform is occurring piecemeal across the country, Geiger said, but is not succeeding as well as it could because it is being applied from the top down.
Governors and legislators are imposing reforms on the schools, but change would come about more quickly if teachers and others at the school level were able to adopt pertinent reforms.
Decision-making should rest at the lowest possible level, ideally at the district or even at the building, Geiger said.
The importance of education is increasing in the United States, not declining, he said. "This society will not survive if it doesn't provide at least a high school education for every child." The need for an educated work force in the next few decades is critical.
"Twenty years ago, there were 17 people in the work force for every individual on Social Security. Today, there are three. No matter what it costs, it (education of American children) has to be done."
The increased need for universal education comes at a time when many leaders are pulling back to the 1950s concept that education should be concentrated on those students who are most capable, he said. Increased requirements for high school graduation (including Bennett's proposals for two years of foreign language studies) are pushing many youngsters out of the system.
The NEA believes funding for education should be equally divided among federal, state and local sources. Instead, federal support fell from 9.2 percent to 6.2 percent during Reagan's tenure, Geiger said.
The country's defense system must remain strong, he said, but it should not be financed at the expense of education. "We simply have to re-order our priorities."
Geiger, who was a high school mathematics and science teacher in Michigan for 15 years, anticipates greater demands on teachers as they prepare for their careers. Increased educational requirements, however, should be rewarded with salaries that are commensurate, he said.