Education Bill Stresses National Standards

THE Clinton administration put forward its legislative plan for improving public schools this week. The $420 million "Goals 2000: Educate America Act" calls for voluntary national standards and greater oversight from Washington.

The package moves away from the Bush administration's push for private-school vouchers while continuing the focus on six national education goals for the year 2000. Competency in the arts and foreign languages would be added to the goals.

An early draft of the legislation circulated several weeks ago drew criticism from Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee. The controversy delayed introduction of the proposal until Wednesday. William Ford (D) of Michigan, the committee's chairman, reportedly advised Secretary of Education Richard Riley to fire the person who drafted the original bill.

Although the bill was renegotiated, some Republicans and state governors remain concerned about a growing federal role in the traditionally state-run education system.

Secretary Riley says the bill is intended to "activate the forces of reform." "We don't seek to impose a national curriculum," he says. "We want to do whatever we can to provoke flexibility and encourage the bold reinvention of American education."

Most of the funds will be used to help states that define "action plans" for school improvement based on federal guidelines. Several panels would be established to oversee state strategies. The legislation calls for both vocational and academic standards defining what students should know and be able to do.

The proposal for "opportunity to learn" standards is one of the bill's most controversial items. These would provide basic guidelines designed to ensure that schools are equipped to teach.

Countering Republican opposition to the plan, Riley says: "The federal government's role in providing leadership as a partner in education reform has not been updated or clearly redefined in 30 years. We're talking about a new relationship between the federal and state government, one of partnership."

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