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New 'Goals 2000' Bill Excises State Standards Requirement

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Washington

A new version of the Clinton Administration's education-reform plan, which could reach the Senate floor as early as this week, would not require states to establish standards for curricular content and student performance--a key change to the Administration's proposal and the bill that emerged from a Senate committee.

Under the new version of the "goals 2000: educate America act,'' states seeking to qualify for new federal education-reform grants would still have to submit plans to the Education Department describing how they would help students achieve "high academic standards.''

But instead of calling for plans that include the establishment of specific standards, the measure asks states to submit a "state improvement plan'' that would describe "strategies for meeting the national education goals ... by improving teaching and learning.''

The Administration's proposal called on each state to develop content and performance standards, as well as so-called opportunity-to-learn standards, which describe the conditions needed in a school for students to learn to high levels.

HR 1804, the version of the bill approved by the House last month, retained that concept and included language that strengthens the opportunity-to-learn standards. House members have argued that students should not be held to high standards unless their schools meet certain standards as well. (See Education Week, Oct. 20, 1993.)

But the development of content, performance and opportunity standards would only be one possible strategy under the new Senate bill, which will be unveiled on the Senate floor by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee.

"There is no utter requirement that [states] have to do content standards or performance standards or opportunity-to-learn standards,'' said an aide to Mr. Kennedy. Instead, the aide said, the new version of S 1150 says, in effect, "This is what needs to be done. You tell us the approach you want to take.''

Standards the Key Issue

The aide said some senators wanted to make it easier for states that are already undertaking reforms that meet the spirit of the bill to qualify for the $400 million in grants that would be authorized under the legislation to support the development and implementation of state and local reform plans.

Congress has appropriated $100 million for the current fiscal year, which will be available if "goals 2000'' is enacted by April 1.

However, some Democratic Senate aides whose bosses support standards requirements said that Republicans sought the changes as a condition for their support.

Michael Cohen, an aide to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, said the Clinton Administration is "quite comfortable'' with the new Senate language.

But some of Mr. Kennedy's colleagues are not.

An aide to Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., said the senator would offer an amendment on the floor that would reinstate the opportunity-to-learn-standards requirement.

The new version of S 1150 "seems to be fairly discretionary, so why are you even providing the money?'' commented John F. Jennings, the education counsel to the House Education and Labor Committee.

He suggested that a House-Senate conference on the bill would likely focus on the opportunity-to-learn standards.

It is unclear when S 1150 will go to the floor, but Senate aides and Mr. Riley have been anxiously waiting for weeks. Last week, the Senate was immersed in crime legislation, and was likely to turn to it again first thing this week. (See story, page 14.)

The new version of S 1150 includes these changes as well:

  • A provision authorizing an office of educational technology in the Education Department.
  • A new national education goal on parental participation.
  • Language stating that the bill does not require the teaching of values or the establishment of school-based health clinics as a condition for receiving grants.

The bill would also codify the national education goals, formally authorize the National Education Goals Panel, and establish an occupational-standards board.

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