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Riley Launches Campaign To Spark Parent Involvement

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Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley launched a parent-involvement initiative last week that he said will draw on the support of education, business, and church groups to enlist parents in the fight to improve schools.

He also released a new Education Department report on parental involvement in education.

Since February, when Mr. Riley declared in a "state of American education" speech that parent involvement would be a priority, department officials have convened 125 meetings here and around the country in an effort to bring diverse interests together in support of the issue.

The initiative is not legislatively driven and the Clinton Administration will not seek additional money for it. However, the Administration has sought to promote greater parent involvement in schools by requiring schools to address it in plans they will submit under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and some grant programs in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Rather, said Mr. Riley, the initiative is a partnership with various organizations, with the department promoting and coordinating the effort.

"What we're primarily doing is engaging people to share and participate," he said at a news conference after announcing the initiative in a speech at the National Press Club. "We're listening and pulling people togther."

The initiative, Mr. Riley continued, is "really no set thing. But it's important for us to set the net wide. It's important to say that it's zero politics. It's nonpartisan."

Goals 2000 Connection

One purpose of the effort, Mr. Riley acknowledged, will be to build support for the Administration's Goals 2000 strategy and the standards-setting movement of which it has become a part.

Mr. Riley acknowledged that some grassroots opposition to Goals 2000 has emerged, but he contended that it has resulted from "incorrect information" about the new law. He said of parents who oppose it: "We want them involved; that's the best we can say."

In his speech, Mr. Riley issued a call for all parents to support public education. It is a theme he has emphasized several times this year.

"Parents, including those who have strong religious values, must be at the table when it comes to public education," the Secretary said. "But they must also be willing to build bridges and not see public education as the enemy."

Chief among the campaign's partners is the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, which comprises 45 education-related organizations. Its chairwoman, Sue Ferguson, said the coalition's next step is to develop a long-range plan that includes creating a data base of successful parent programs and a dissemination mechanism.

Representatives of the National PTA, the National Alliance of Business, and the U.S. Catholic Conference also spoke in support of the initiative and pledged their organizations' help.

Mr. Riley spent much of the day touting the initiative, including appearances on the Cable News Network and C-SPAN. A department spokesman said parent involvement is a theme the Secretary will reiterate on the road over the next several months.

Research And Strategies

The report Secretary Riley released last week offers parent-involvement strategies and pulls together 30 years of research supporting his thesis that "the essential building block for learning is how the American family uses its strength and power to support and encourage young people to meet the high expectations now being demanded of them in the classroom."

In addition to advice for parents, the report, "Strong Families, Strong Schools," also calls on schools, communities, businesses, and state and federal governments to support families and make it easier for parents to show interest in their children's education.

It suggests, for example, that schools "get rid of jargon to clarify communication," that businesses "adopt [such] family-friendly policies [as] child care and flexible-leave policies," and that communities "make health, library, and cultural services easily accessible to the school's neigborhood."

Mr. Riley first mentioned many of the ideas included in the report in his February speech, in which parent involvement topped the list of four areas the Secretary deemed vital to American education. (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1994.)

Sounding a theme from that speech, Secretary Riley told members of the press club that the report "is both a call to arms against ignorance and low expectations and it is also a challenge to adult America to reconnect with our children's education."

Copies of "Strong Families, Strong Schools" are available by calling (800) USA-LEARN.

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