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Riley Asks Conservative Parents To Back Standards

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Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley last week asked parents who have expressed skepticism about education reform to help put "an end to the era of low expectations.''

"We need to recognize that we are still struggling to find ways to reach those parents who have come to view public education reform with suspicion,'' the Secretary said in remarks at a National PTA conference in Las Vegas, Nev. "They think that anything new means that the basics are out the window when the very opposite is about to take place because we, too, want the basics, and much more.''

Mr. Riley did not specifically mention conservative Christian parents and others who have challenged the use of nontraditional academic standards and assessments.

But his speech clearly represented an attempt to court conservatives who have equated President Clinton's Goals 2000 program with approaches such as outcomes-based education that have stirred fierce opposition in communities across the country.

"I want to reach out to these concerned parents today and say that there is a place at the table for them,'' Mr. Riley said. "I urge them to take an honest look at Goals 2000 and work with us to raise standards.''

At the heart of the Clinton Administration's school-reform strategy is a grant program that will provide money to states that agree to set high content and performance standards and to align student assessment and teacher training with the standards.

'You Must Decide'

Some opponents say the program will lead to much greater federal control of education. But Mr. Riley pledged that the Administration wants "parents at every level of the planning process, including in the setting of standards.''

"We and others can provide promising ideas, but you must decide the answers that will work best back home for you,'' he said.

Jeanne Allen, the president of the Center for Education Reform, a conservative organization based in Washington, said that most parents back the idea of setting high educational standards for their children, and that they are not necessarily opposed to the approach advocated by Goals 2000.

But what concerns some parents, she said, is that Goals 2000, a voluntary program, will be tied to the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, under which nearly all school districts receive federal dollars. As part of its plan for the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Administration would require the setting of high standards as a condition for receiving Chapter 1 aid, in effect forcing states and districts to link up with Goals 2000.

Goals 2000, Ms. Allen argued, "takes on a new meaning under the E.S.E.A., and it takes on a new federal mandate under E.S.E.A.''

While a "vocal minority'' may be mischaracterizing Goals 2000, Ms. Allen said, Secretary Riley is "really shortchanging the intellectual climate out there right now'' by seeking to link Goals 2000 and the E.S.E.A.

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