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As Assaults Intensify, Administration Moves to Defend E.D.

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Washington

The Clinton Administration continued its defense of the Education Department last week as more Republicans expressed interest in abolishing it.

President Clinton and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, in separate appearances, touted the Administration's education record and asserted that federal leadership is producing school improvements.

Mr. Clinton said his education agenda is the result of years of bipartisan discussion about how to improve schools. The Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which provides grants to states and school districts that promise to set academic standards, embodies that discussion, he said in a speech to the National PTA here.

"We worked for 10 years on this in a bipartisan way. It didn't stop being a good idea because we had an election," the President said.

"The success we've had in the last two years is building on what has been done in the last 10 years," he said. "I think it is important to remember that there's been a lot of progress in our schools in the last 10 years. To hear [critics] talk about it, you'd think that it's all gotten worse, and only because we had a Department of Education in Washington."

Dole Joins Fight

Days before Mr. Clinton's speech, the Senate majority leader, Bob Dole of Kansas, became the latest Republican leader to say he would fight to abolish the department. Mr. Dole is seen as a top contender for the 1996 G.O.P. Presidential nomination.

Riley Opposes Merger

Also last week, Secretary Riley appeared before a House panel that is expected to consider proposals to scrap his agency.

In testifying before the House Subcommittee on Human Relations and Intergovernmental Affairs, he pointed to rising student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the increasing percentage of students taking core academic courses and Advanced Placement examinations, and increases in the number of defaulted student loans the agency has managed to collect on to illustrate the success of the department's efforts.

And he reiterated his opposition to a proposal to merge his department with the Labor Department. The merger idea, proposed by Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., is not yet in legislative form. (See Education Week, Feb. 15, 1995.)

"I don't think merging with Labor or disintegrating education [and putting education programs in] eight or 10 different places is going to do anything but be harmful to American schoolchildren," Mr. Riley said.

But the chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said such a merger is logical. It might even allow for education to become more prominent, he said.

"If education gets eaten up by the Department of Labor, it doesn't make sense to me," Mr. Shays said. "If the reverse happens, it makes eminent sense."

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