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Clinton Education Policy Pushes National Standards

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CREATION of national academic and vocational standards tops the list of priorities for the Clinton admin- istration's education policy.

Legislation outlining the Clinton education plan will be submitted to Congress "within the next couple of weeks," says Madeleine Kunin, deputy secretary of education.

"The president has it high on his agenda," Ms. Kunin says. "It's one of the underpinnings of his economic plan. A well-educated labor force is critical to an employed labor force."

Education Secretary Richard Riley told Congress last month that national education standards would "set critical benchmarks for all of our states and communities."

The development of voluntary content standards outlining what students should learn in various subject areas began under President Bush.

Along with the education goals drafted in 1989, these "rigorous, internationally competitive" standards are an effort to boost the performance of American students in global comparisons and provide uniform guidelines for states.

"We have to have standards to measure our progress toward the goals," says Gov. Roy Romer (D) of Colorado, who is a member of the National Education Goals Panel.

Yet the notion of nationally applied standards runs counter to the tradition of local and state control of education in the United States. Although standardized tests dictate an informal national curriculum, state and local officials currently determine what schools should be teaching students.

"It's pure efficiency for us to arrive at something at a national level rather than to duplicate it in each of the 50 states," Governor Romer says.

"The key word to remember here is `voluntary,' " Kunin says. "There's no way that the federal government will say, `You absolutely have to meet this.' "

Kunin, who is the former governor of Vermont, adds: "With three [former] governors involved in this process - the president, Secretary Riley, and myself - we are very sensitive to state and local control. I think you will see that sensitivity being expressed throughout this process."

While some critics charge that national standards will lead to centralization and stifle teacher creativity, others question the likelihood of ever reaching consensus on high-level standards.

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