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Taking a critical look at the nation's public schools, a noted educator said Saturday that the federal and state governments should return the schools to local control.

John I. Goodlad, director of the Center for Educational Renewal at the University of Washington, said "the bureaucratic nature of the federal and state response" to the crisis in education has "gotten in the way" of reasonable solutions.

"If we are to have healthy schools in healthy communities, major decision-making authority regarding their conduct must remain close to home," Goodlad told 211 graduate students who were awarded master's degrees by Niagara University in commencement ceremonies at the Convention and Civic Center.

Lamenting that "the momentum has been away from broad decision-making authority at the local level," Goodlad said he would prefer to rest the nation's educational fate "on the soft and tender leanings of parents and the careful scrutiny of the local community."

"The proper rearing of our children in a democratic society requires the intimate relating of home, school and other human-services agencies in a healthy community ecology," he said.

"Recent national and state goals for school reform have virtually omitted all reference to the traits of the educated individual and the role of schools and individuals in a democratic society," concentrating instead on such economic goals as preparing students for jobs and for competition in the world marketplace, he said.

"Continuation on the present course is likely to produce worse rather than better schools; we are into still another orgy of beating up on our schools," Dr. Goodlad said.

Noting that local authorities might misspend some of the federal and state money entrusted to them, the educator observed:

"I would rather have some misspending by a few close to home instead of that same money being concentrated in one place and being misspent. . . . Recent experience with scoundrels in high places suggests that I would take my chances with scoundrels close to home."

Goodlad, author of "A Place Called School: Some Prospects for the Future," has taught at every grade level from preschool to graduate school. He is former dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California at Los Angeles and is engaged in an extensive study of how teachers are trained in the United States, seeking ideas to improve teacher-education programs.

He was awarded Niagara's honorary degree of doctor of humane letters at Saturday's ceremony.

Most of the degrees awarded Saturday were for advanced studies in education, but a few were awarded in science and business administration.

Honorary degrees also were presented to Luiz F. Kahl, president of the Carborundum Co., doctor of commercial science; Thomas A. Sugalski, senior vice president for chemicals of Canadian Occidental Petroleum Ltd. of Calgary, Alberta, and former head of Western New York operations for Occidental Chemical, doctor of commercial science; and Sister Edmunette Paczesny, president of Hilbert College in Hamburg, doctor of humane letters.

A baccalaureate Mass was celebrated later at the convention center.

The Very Rev. Donald J. Harrington will preside at his last commencement as president of Niagara and will deliver the main address when 518 undergraduate students receive their degrees at a ceremony at 1:30 p.m. today at the convention center.

Father Harrington, who has been president of Niagara for five years, will assume new duties as president of St. John's University in Jamaica, L.I., in August.

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