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Education secretary looks for balance

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Us secretary of education Richard Riley has been deeply involved in education reform for most of his public life. As governor of South Carolina in 1984, he persuaded the business community to support a hike in the sales tax to finance sweeping reforms in public schools, including incentives for schools that improved and restructuring for those that did not.

Now, he aims to convince Republicans in Congress that the president's new education proposals will not undermine the principle of local control of schools. He discussed how to strike that balance with the Monitor last week. Excerpts follow:

On reform in the states:

"Forty-eight states have in place a system of statewide, challenging standards. The important thing is to get those standards down into the classroom, so the child has the opportunity to learn to challenging standards in every grade. Then, everything exponentially improves."

On low-performing schools:

"For standards to work, all parts of the system have to work. If you have a poor-performing school and you try to correct it, and you try again, and you try again, and it's still a poor-performing school, then it ought to be reconstituted or closed down and other schools put in its place. You can't tolerate poor-performing schools."

On social promotion:

"We don't favor just letting kids drift through the system or just building a system based on retention.... If a kid can't read independently by the end of the third grade, then something special needs to be done for that kid to help him move along. Clearly, that is up to the states and the local schools. We're trying to be helpful to get the states and the country moving in the right direction. [Our proposal] will bring about a very healthy debate, and that's part of the president's role."

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