A Role for the Department of Education
The editorial "For Better Schools," July 23, shows that the Monitor genuinely cares about the future of America's schools and children. I also welcome the support for President Clinton's school construction and renovation initiative and the calls for more choices within public education. But I was puzzled by some of the other conclusions.
For example, the editorial calls for an end to the US Department of Education because "the federal government [has not been assigned] this responsibility." Yet in the very next sentence it says that "the federal government has an important role to play" in vital education tasks, including helping states strengthen their schools.
There is an important - but limited - role for the national government to play in education. The longest-serving secretary of education, Ted Bell, who was appointed by President Reagan, strongly agrees on this point. And the US Department of Education is doing exactly the kind of thing you want the federal government to do - support communities in their efforts to improve education.
Whether it is making the dream of a college education come true for more than 7 million students through financial aid; assisting 6 million poor and disadvantaged children to improve their reading, writing, and math skills; helping teachers upgrade their skills; helping schools prevent violence and drug abuse; encouraging parents to get more involved in their children's education; or working to bring computers into classrooms - the US Department of Education is supporting grass-roots efforts without supplanting local control or decisionmaking.
I am also troubled that the editorial endorsed a voucher plan that would take billions of taxpayer dollars out of neighborhood schools and put them into private schools. Everybody would lose under this plan. It would seriously undermine the local public schools that nearly 90 percent of America's children and parents rely upon. And it would make private schools less private.
Some may portray vouchers as a reasonable plan to help the poor, but a plan like Sen. Bob Dole's is seriously flawed. Among other problems, it sets no specific eligibility requirements, which means that taxpayer dollars could end up in the pockets of the more affluent while schools attended by the poor and middle class suffer. And it is a distraction from the real work of education reform.
Our public schools need to do better. We need to toughen standards and accountability, improve discipline, and attract and keep good teachers. Mr. Clinton and I also support public school choice and charter schools. These give parents more choices and encourage failing schools to get their act together while strengthening America's time-honored tradition of free public education for all children.
This fall nearly 52 million students will be in our nation's classrooms - a record-breaking number. That's even more than there were at the height of the baby boom. At this critical time, we should be working together to make our public schools stronger - not drawing up plans to abandon them when America needs them the most.
Richard W. Riley
Secretary of Education
History 101: US-China Relations
It is obvious from the opinion-page article "The Glue in US-China Relations," July 24, that the author, like former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the 1930s, has neither had his country taken from him (as have the Tibetans) nor been placed in prison for expressing nonviolent opinions (as have thousands of Chinese citizens). It is fortunate that some members of our government remain committed to the thesis that principles of human decency outweigh those of the marketplace.
James A. Scott
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