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Federal File: New award?; Politically incorrect

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The Baldridge Award, created by the Congress in 1987 and administered by the Commerce Department, recognizes excellence among American companies that have improved the quality of their products or services and thereby benefited the economic or social well-being of the nation.

The prestigious award is usually bestowed on six companies each year, chosen through a rigorous application process that includes a review by an independent beard.

At a meeting last week, most members of the advisory group seemed to think that a National Quality Award for Education would be a good idea, but noted that a lot of questions would have to be answered.

The problem, said H. Dean Evans, the superintendent of public instruction in Indiana, is that, once you get beyond test scores and attendance, "there really aren't many student outcomes that you can hang your hat on."

Education Department officials were a bit embarrassed tiffs month to learn that a newly appointed member of the Advisory Committee on Institutional Accreditation and Eligibility wrote a series of columns last fall praising the platform of David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who is challenging President Bush for the Republican nomination for President.

John C. Hirschfeld, the publisher of the Champaign Urbana News-Gazette in Illinois, said in a column that the Republican Party was too quick to abandon Mr. Duke during his unsuccessful campaign for the Louisiana governorship.

Citing Mr. Duke's opposition to welfare, high taxes, affirmative action, and immigration, Mr. Hirschfeld wrote, "Duke's message is appealing, even if Duke is not."

Because Mr. Duke has disavowed his past, Mr. Hirschfeld added, he should be given "the benefit of the doubt."

In a follow-up decorum, Mr. Hirschfeld said that, although he does not endorse Mr. Duke's candidacy, "Reformation and salvation are possible for everyone."

Etta Fielek, a spokesman for the Education Department, said that Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, who appointed Mr. Hirschfeld to the panel last year, has no plans to ask him to resign. Ms. Fielek said Mr. Hirschfeld has a First Amendment right to express his opinions, and noted that he did not express outright support for Mr. Duke.--LO. & M.P.

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