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Federal File: Not his kind of town; 'I would not feel so all alone - everybody must get stoned'

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At a Nov. 6 education forum with reform-minded business leaders in Chicago, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett said that city's school system is the worst in the nation.

"I'm not sure there's a system as bad," Mr. Bennett said in remarks reported by the Associated Press and confirmed by his spokesman, Loye W. Miller. "If there's one that's worse, I don't know where it is."

Mr. Bennett cited American College Testing Program results in which average scores at half of Chicago's high schools ranked in the bottom 1 percent nationally. He added that he was "shocked" to learn that 46 percent of the city's public-school teachers who live in the city send their children to private schools.

Mr. Bennett said giving parents vouchers that could be used for private-school tuition, a favorite Reagan Administration proposal, would cause the public schools to "shape up fast."

The comments prompted an angry response from Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, who blamed some of the city's problems on federal budget cuts and called Mr. Bennett "caretaker of the dismantling of education all over the country."

Chicago school officials later added that their system struggles with a disproportionate number of disadvantaged and limited-English-proficient students, calling Mr. Bennett's remarks "callous" and "unfair."

The Secretary, who was in town for a literary awards ceremony, set up the forum on the spur of the moment, according to Mr. Miller, because he wanted to meet with the local media and had become interested in reform efforts in Chicago through news reports.

Senator Claiborne Pell, chairman of the Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities, was one of several politicians who confessed their own youthful dalliances with marijuana after the ill-fated U.S. Supreme Court nominee Douglas H. Ginsburg was excoriated for a similar admission.

The 68-year-old patrician Rhode Island Democrat told the Providence Journal-Bulletin that he took several puffs of a marijuana cigarette "many years ago," but did not like it and never tried it again.

Senator Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee and former Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona, both Democratic Presidential aspirants, also confessed to having used marijuana.--jm

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