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Silber to air views on education

John Silber, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education, will reflect upon the state of public education in the state and the nation at an MIT seminar next week.

The seminar, fourth in a series co-sponsored by the Council on Primary and Secondary Education (CPSE) and the Museum of Science, will be held at Gilliland Auditorium (Rm 66-110) on Wednesday, Feb. 12 from 4-6pm. Dr. Silber will talk for about 40 minutes before taking questions from the audience. Speakers at previous seminars have included Thomas Payzant, superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, and Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Science.

Dr. Silber, president of Boston University for 25 years before becoming chancellor last year, has focused sharply on the deficiencies in the current educational system since assuming the duties of chairman in January. Professor Ronald M. Latanision, chairman of the CPSE, applauds his efforts--and in large measure his blunt language.

"He's gotten more visibility for educational reform in this state than we've had in a long time," said Dr. Latanision, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. "That kind of attention is important."

Recently, Dr. Silber proposed that high school seniors be required to pass General Educational Development (GED) tests before receiving diplomas, a suggestion that drew ire on many fronts. He withdrew the proposal, but the issue of measuring student achievement had been confronted.

"He really did get people thinking about it," Professor Latanision said. "Without teeth, a certificate or diploma is not worth its weight. A lot of kids don't achieve in Massachusetts. We have to understand why. He may have sent up a trial balloon to make that point." The Education Reform Act of 1993 mandates achievement tests for graduating high school seniors in several areas, including mathematics, social studies, and science and technology.

Dr. Silber, who holds a bachelor's degree from Trinity University in his native San Antonio, TX, and the PhD in philosophy from Yale, was the dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Texas before being named Boston University's seventh president in 1961. During his tenure, BU was contracted to operate the public schools in Chelsea and opened the Boston University Academy, a private high school.

Professor Latanision hopes that Dr. Silber's reputation for outspokenness will attract a sizable audience to the seminar, including a number of people from the MIT community. Broad involvement is needed to make reform work, he says.

"The educational system involves everybody, and the public is really very complacent about these issues," he said. "We've got to wake up. We're doing a disservice to a generation of kids."

In addition to the seminars, the CPSE runs a number of programs, including the MIT-Wellesley Undergraduate Teacher Education Program, which prepares high-achieving students to teach mathematics, science and the creative use of engineering and technology in urban settings. For additional information, see the Web site at <>.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 5, 1997.

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