President Clinton on Thursday signed into law the framework for his Administration's nationwide education reform, telling hundreds of elementary students here that the country now will have "world-class standards for what every child in every American school should know."
Students at San Diego's Zamorano Fine Arts Academy sat on a blacktop play area to witness Clinton signing the Goals 2000 Act, which will create a hands-on role for the federal government in local schools across the country.
The act provides $700 million in federal funds in 1995 for those states and school districts that voluntarily adopt standards to meet new federal guidelines for what students should be achieving at each grade level. The Administration intends to ask for $1 billion in subsequent years.
Clinton said the award-winning Zamorano elementary school, with its ethnically diverse student body, was a perfect place to sign the bill because it exemplifies the challenges that face the nation's schools, and the successes that are possible.
"You look like America will look in the 21st Century and we will have to win with you," Clinton told the black, Latino, Asian and white students.
After Clinton signed a huge replica of the bill with a large black marker, dozens of schoolchildren sitting on the stage with him signed it too.
Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, took a break from their vacation in San Diego for the ceremony.
Clinton said that "this is a new and different approach for the national government," which had assisted only certain groups of students with specific needs, such as those with disabilities.
Education reform is "one of the reasons that my husband ran for President," Mrs. Clinton said. "We think every child can learn and that every child can make a contribution and be a good citizen."
Goals 2000 establishes voluntary guidelines in academics and occupational skills, providing a yardstick so parents and educators can judge whether their schools measure up.
The goals include the objectives that by the year 2000 "all students will be competent in core academic subjects" and that "the United States will be first in the world in math and science."
It also calls for a nationwide high school graduation rate of at least 90%, compared with a current rate of about 75%.
The new law establishes a National Education Goals Panel to assess efforts to achieve the goals. It also establishes a National Education Standards and Improvement Council and a National Skills Standards Board to establish academic and occupational standards.
The signing culminates a national education reform movement that was launched in 1989 by then-President George Bush and a group of the nation's governors, including then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. Dismayed at reports showing that the nation's schoolchildren were falling behind the rest of the world, the leaders pledged to overhaul the nation's schools.
Education Secretary Richard W. Riley, who flew to San Diego for the ceremony, said Goals 2000 signifies that "America as a nation is getting serious about education."
Thomas Payzant, an assistant secretary of education and a former superintendent of schools in San Diego, said the legislation could have an impact on each of the nation's schools because "a little bit of money that is focused on getting people to the next level of thinking and planning and action is so important."
Although the Clinton Administration has faced fierce opposition from Republicans and members of its own party in other domestic policy areas, Goals 2000 experienced bipartisan support. The Senate passed the act 63 to 22 and the House passed it 307 to 120.
"More of a consensus developed across party lines as to what needed to be done than in many other parts of the domestic agenda," said Bill Galston, a domestic policy adviser to the President who attended the ceremony.
Sen. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) commended Clinton's leadership in forging the new legislation, which he said took a "decade too long." In a conference call with the President and congressional supporters of the bill right before the signing, he urged the President to make the federal government an even bigger player in the nation's schools.
Supporters of national standards have warned that results will not be measurable for some time but that dramatic reform is essential.
"Now we have a system of anarchy and chaos," said Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "We need elements of continuity. This does not accomplish this immediately, but . . . it will bring us to a more systemic approach to education. What kids learn each year will build on the last like building blocks."