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Clinton Must Now Achieve Education Goals

The president elect - who helped shape the nation's education agenda - is expected to focus on five areas for improvement

By Laurel Shaper WaltersStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 11, 1993


PRESIDENT-ELECT Clinton says he wants to be the "Jobs President." Yet many educators are counting on him to be a successful "Education President" at the same time.

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"Jobs really means that you have a well-trained, flexible work force," says Ernest Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. "Mr. Clinton has repeatedly made the point that a good economy is really related to good education."

Throughout the presidential campaign, Clinton often spoke about the need to improve education. In 1989, he played a prominent role in drafting the six national education goals. Now he's taking over responsibility for meeting these ambitious objectives by the year 2000.

"You're going to see a considerable change in the focus of things in Washington," predicts Frank Newman, president of the Education Commission of the States in Denver. Vouchers lose favor

One major shift will be away from the promotion of private-school vouchers or choice. Although Clinton supports public-school choice, he is opposed to government funding of private schools.

Mr. Newman expects to see more emphasis on "making federal programs effective in terms of their actual impact on learning out in the schools."

During the past two administrations, Newman says, "There hasn't been much understanding of the immensity and sophistication of the [education] reform movement and its nature."

As governor of Arkansas during the education-reform movement that began in the 1980s, Clinton gained first-hand knowledge of the complexity of school systems.

"This president knows education as thoroughly as any president we've ever elected," Dr. Boyer says. "He's lived it, he's argued it, he's implemented it."

The Clinton education agenda is just beginning to take shape. Five areas are seen as early priorities for the administration:

* Improving early-childhood education and expanding the federal Head Start program for disadvantaged preschoolers. "If there's anything that Governor Clinton and Hillary Clinton have been known for in the past decade, it's focusing on children in the early years," Boyer says. Mrs. Clinton helped start a successful parent-training program in Arkansas, and the governor has called for full funding of Head Start.

* Continuing the development of national standards and a national examination system. This process was begun by the Bush administration and requires minimal federal investment for the early stages. "All the national government would have to do is certify that these are the national curricular-content standards in math, and history, and science, and so on, and then certify national examinations to meet those standards," says Michael Kirst, a professor of education at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Cali f.

* Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which expires this year. This legislation provides more than $6 billion for Chapter 1, the federal government's largest elementary and secondary education program, which finances remedial reading and math instruction for low-income, low-achieving students.

"The first rethinking of that program in terms of its fundamental educational assumptions will be proposed in 1993," Professor Kirst says. Plans call for revamping the program to make it more flexible and to discourage schools from pulling students out of their regular classrooms for remedial training, which is a common practice today.