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E.D. Will Not Help Pay To Develop Economics Standards After All

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Washington

The Education Department announced last week that it will not help finance development of model national economics standards.

"We think model standards developed by [subject-matter groups] make a lot of sense," said Michael S. Cohen, a special assistant to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. "It will be important over time for economics to be added to the mix of things."

"We think they can get support from other places," he added.

The decision brings to a close the department's involvement with national standards-setting, although it will continue to help pay for states' efforts to set academic standards. Since 1991, the department has helped underwrite seven national-standards projects. Four have been completed, two are expected by year's end, and one has been aborted.

Agency officials based their decision to forgo backing an economics project on budgetary, political, and practical considerations.

With a rescissions bill that would slice into the department's budget for this fiscal year pending in Congress, Mr. Cohen said, officials had to make hard choices about where to put their limited resources, and standards development was not a top priority.

He also said the department had been paying attention to the controversy that national standards, particularly in history, have generated.

A House subcommittee began hearings on the standards issue last week. (See related story)

Shift in Direction

"A lot of people have advised us, frankly, that federal funding is not necessarily in the interest of anyone who is trying to develop standards," Mr. Cohen said.

Another factor in the decision was feedback from states about the proliferation of standards. With all the documents already being circulated, "there is not a huge cry for speeding up work in other areas right now," he said.

Although the announcement does not represent a policy reversal, it does reflect a continuing directional shift.

Last year, department officials indicated they would pay for both an economics project and a new project in English and language arts. But in December, the department withdrew support for the latter initiative, noting that professional groups were setting standards on their own. (See **LINK(See Education Week, 1/11/95.)

The group that has been working on economics standards said it will proceed without federal aid.

"We are very committed to ... seeing it to fruition," Jack D. Middleton, the vice president for development of Economics America, the National Council on Economic Education, said last week.

But he also said that the council, which has raised $200,000 and expected $450,000 in federal funds, was disappointed because officials had given oral approval.

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