U.S. Education Chief Vows Era of Cooperation : Schools: Administration will work with state and local officials, Richard Riley says.


Outlining the Clinton Administration's vision for overhauling American public schools, Education Secretary Richard W. Riley on Saturday promised a new era of federal cooperation with state and local school officials.

"If there is any single flaw in the school reform movement," Riley told a convention of the National School Boards Assn., "it is the tendency to push some people out, to assume that reform is driven from the top down, by national experts. I think otherwise."

One of the overarching principles behind the Administration's approach to school reform is a commitment to partnership with state and local school officials, business and others, Riley said. He promised more flexibility and less of the "fragmentation that currently plagues federal education programs."

The Clinton Administration plans to send its major school reform proposals to Congress this week, and Riley, in his first West Coast visit since his confirmation to the secretary's post, has been stumping for the package. He is scheduled to address a meeting of the California Teachers Assn. in Los Angeles today.

Dubbed "Goals 2000"--a name reminiscent of the Bush Administration's "America 2000" education proposals--Riley called President Clinton's plan "our effort to foster systemic education reform all across America." Details have not yet been released, but in general, the plan calls for:

* Codifying the national goals to improve schools, adopted by the nation's governors in 1990, and establishing a broad, bipartisan National Goals Panel.

* Developing a consensus on what constitutes international competitiveness standards and providing a voluntary system for states and communities to see how local standards measure up.

* Providing substantial federal grants to help states and local school systems develop comprehensive reform programs. The programs might vary considerably but the major focus would be on improved teaching and learning, high academic standards, achievement assessments, professional faculty development, school leadership, technology and parental and community involvement. The amount the Administration will seek for the grants program has not been disclosed.

In addition, Riley said the Administration will work for reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which includes the government's large "Chapter 1" program of providing extra money for impoverished underachievers. Although many educators have lauded the Administration's promise of more flexibility in how the funds are used, others have expressed concerns it could divert services from some of the neediest children.

Other Administration goals include designing a framework for school-to-work transition or apprenticeship programs, broadening school readiness and early childhood projects, and establishing a national service program to allow students to repay college loans through community work.

In addition, Clinton, in his proposals to revitalize the nation's sluggish economy, has called for spending $2 billion on summer sessions for disadvantaged students and preschoolers and for jobs for older youths.

Although Clinton and President George Bush pushed education reforms to the top of their agendas, the Bush Administration angered many public school educators by advocating voucher systems that would enable parents to spend public monies on private or parochial school tuitions. Clinton and Riley strongly oppose vouchers, calling instead for wider parental choice among strengthened schools.

Riley, a former South Carolina governor credited with forging a comprehensive reform of his state's once-lagging schools, has been well-received by educators.

E. Harold Fisher, president of the association, praised what he called "a welcome shift in priorities toward education and the needs of all our children," but he said he wondered whether Congress would provide enough money to get the reform job done.

Fisher also said he was concerned his group had not yet been promised a seat on the proposed national goals panel. "School boards are policy groups, and they must be equal partners" in efforts to improve education, Fisher said.

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