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Federal File: The White House and the 'wall chart'; Information, please

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Education Department sources said last week that the department had not yet released its annual "wall chart," which has been unveiled in February in past years, because President Bush wants to be involved in the presentation, and the shape of the event must be negotiated with the White House.

Sources in the department's research branch, which provides much of the chart's state-by-state information on education, said the data had been ready for some time.

But, while Presidential involvement is still tentative, ed officials have held off on releasing the chart while they discuss with White House officials how a joint event would be structured, when it would be scheduled, and what would be said about the data, according to the sources.

"The big question is what will be emphasized and what spin will be put on it," one source said. "The same statistic can be interpreted as a small but significant improvement or an abysmal failure."

The wall chart, inaugurated in 1984 by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, has become both a popular annual media event and a major source of education information for the press and the public.

In fact, ed sources said they had received numerous inquiries from both quarters about the whereabouts of the 1989 data.

That's nothing new, said one source in the research branch.

The department logs numerous calls from "reporters who want us to write their story for them" and people "who want us to write their dissertations for them," he said.

"We're here to serve," the source said. "If we have the information, we send it out."

The wall chart does not offer breakdowns of data below the state level.

But the source said the department also receives inquiries from people who want to know how their local elementary school's test scores compare with others' nationwide, and from people who are contemplating a move and want to know where they should look.

"When you have a [toll-free] number with the word 'information' attached to it, people will ask you anything," he said, adding that "the letters are worse than the phone calls."

He offered as an example an inquiry from a citizen interested in "information on herbology and natural healing."

Perhaps a referral to the National Institutes of Health?


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