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Federal File: Nomenclature; Culture clash; Kids' turn

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In a satellite-television "town meeting'' last week about school reforms in Omaha, Clinton Administration officials began the awkward job of publicly dealing with the Bush Administration's America 2000 education-improvement strategy.

The program was the latest in a series that profiles communities that have embraced the six national education goals, which were the cornerstone of the Bush education agenda. The shows have been co-sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Education Department and, until now, had been hosted by former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, the architect of America 2000.

Last week's show on Omaha 2000 was hosted by Gov. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the chairman of the National Education Goals Panel. Although guests discussed what they are doing to reach the goals, as in previous meetings, they studiously avoided the term America 2000.

In brief remarks, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley indicated that the new Administration would continue supporting local efforts begun during Mr. Bush's term. But he, too, did not use the America 2000 label.

The Washington Times reported last week that Secretary Riley signaled during an interview that he will be a champion of bilingual and multicultural education.

According to the newspaper, Mr. Riley said that bilingualism and multiculturalism are "a real strength,'' and that schools "should teach all cultures.''

"I don't see that as a problem, but as a benefit, and I plan to get heavily into that,'' the newspaper quoted him as saying.

The article prompted English First, a group that seeks to make English the nation's official language, to issue a scathing news release titled, "Education Secretary Plans To Divide America on the Basis of Race.''

Asserting that bilingual education is a failure, the group said Mr. Riley's remarks hint that he will reintroduce rules issued under President Carter but withdrawn by President Reagan that would have required federally funded schools to provide native-language instruction.

President Clinton is scheduled to appear on a Saturday-morning children's television show on Feb. 20.

The 90-minute ABC special, moderated by the news anchor Peter Jennings, will have a town-meeting format featuring questions from audiences of children at the White House and from other locations via satellite.--J.M.

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