Clinton Must Now Achieve Education Goals
The president elect - who helped shape the nation's education agenda - is expected to focus on five areas for improvement
PRESIDENT-ELECT Clinton says he wants to be the "Jobs President." Yet many educators are counting on him to be a successful "Education President" at the same time.
"Jobs really means that you have a well-trained, flexible work force," says Ernest Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. "Mr. Clinton has repeatedly made the point that a good economy is really related to good education."
Throughout the presidential campaign, Clinton often spoke about the need to improve education. In 1989, he played a prominent role in drafting the six national education goals. Now he's taking over responsibility for meeting these ambitious objectives by the year 2000.
"You're going to see a considerable change in the focus of things in Washington," predicts Frank Newman, president of the Education Commission of the States in Denver. Vouchers lose favor
One major shift will be away from the promotion of private-school vouchers or choice. Although Clinton supports public-school choice, he is opposed to government funding of private schools.
Mr. Newman expects to see more emphasis on "making federal programs effective in terms of their actual impact on learning out in the schools."
During the past two administrations, Newman says, "There hasn't been much understanding of the immensity and sophistication of the [education] reform movement and its nature."
As governor of Arkansas during the education-reform movement that began in the 1980s, Clinton gained first-hand knowledge of the complexity of school systems.
"This president knows education as thoroughly as any president we've ever elected," Dr. Boyer says. "He's lived it, he's argued it, he's implemented it."
The Clinton education agenda is just beginning to take shape. Five areas are seen as early priorities for the administration:
* Improving early-childhood education and expanding the federal Head Start program for disadvantaged preschoolers. "If there's anything that Governor Clinton and Hillary Clinton have been known for in the past decade, it's focusing on children in the early years," Boyer says. Mrs. Clinton helped start a successful parent-training program in Arkansas, and the governor has called for full funding of Head Start.
* Continuing the development of national standards and a national examination system. This process was begun by the Bush administration and requires minimal federal investment for the early stages. "All the national government would have to do is certify that these are the national curricular-content standards in math, and history, and science, and so on, and then certify national examinations to meet those standards," says Michael Kirst, a professor of education at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Cali f.
* Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which expires this year. This legislation provides more than $6 billion for Chapter 1, the federal government's largest elementary and secondary education program, which finances remedial reading and math instruction for low-income, low-achieving students.
"The first rethinking of that program in terms of its fundamental educational assumptions will be proposed in 1993," Professor Kirst says. Plans call for revamping the program to make it more flexible and to discourage schools from pulling students out of their regular classrooms for remedial training, which is a common practice today.
"Some language will be added to the legislation to encourage schools to be somewhat more innovative," says Denis Doyle, an education specialist at the Hudson Institute in Indianapolis.
* Improving school-to-work transitions. The greatest infusion of new federal funds is expected to go toward helping the "forgotten half" - high school students who do not attend college - enter the skilled work force. Clinton is considering a proposal to create 300,000 youth apprenticeships that would combine work training with the last two years of high school and two years at a community or technical college. The program has an estimated price tag of $1 billion over the next four years.
* Replacing the federal student-loan program with a national service plan. Throughout the campaign, Clinton highlighted his plans to overhaul the current college loan program by creating a National Service Trust Fund that would allow college students to repay education loans through community service.
Both the apprenticeship program and revamping the federal college-loan program will require major investments. "If people are [also] expecting a lot of federal money in the K-12 system, I think they are going to be disappointed," says Kirst. "If you're going to be the Jobs President, I don't think you start with second grade."
Limited resources and high expectations will require careful juggling from Clinton and his nominee for secretary of education, Richard Riley, the former governor of South Carolina.
"There is huge pent-up demand," Mr. Doyle says. "You've got very hungry Democrats in Congress and out there in the cities and towns of America who want the spigots opened up again. Many of them are going to be bitterly disappointed, because there's just nothing to put into the pipeline." Funding challenges
During the Reagan and Bush years, Congress engaged in a constant tug-of-war over funding for education programs, points out Newman. Some Democrats in Congress, he says, "feel like they have been the defenders of those programs for a long time. Now, they're saying, `Whew! We made it through that without these programs getting chopped out. Now it's time that we get a little benefit.' "
The challenge for Clinton and his team will be to keep Congress moving forward without major new investment in education programs. But many educators are encouraged by the early signs of Clinton's commitment to improving education.
The president-elect's Cabinet appointments help restore the connection between education, the economy, and other social issues, such as welfare reform, says Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest US teachers union.
"He has put a lot of people who have a passionate interest in education into Cabinet and sub-Cabinet positions," Mr. Shanker says.
"I'm sure that we'll have some disagreements and some arguments," Shanker predicts. "But there's a difference between having a disagreement with somebody who is out to kill you and having a disagreement with somebody where you know that your goals are the same but you've got some different opinions on how to get there. In one case, it's a life or death struggle; in the other case, it's a family feud."