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In Defending Teachers, Clinton Calls for Help in Improving Quality

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President Clinton last week took on the issue of improving education and asked Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley to send schools a list of ideas.

Over the past couple of months, Mr. Clinton's Republican challenger, Bob Dole, has accused teachers' unions of being barriers to school improvement and to school reform. In response, Democrats have positioned themselves as the protectors of public education spending and the defenders of the nation's teachers.

Mr. Clinton's remarks came during a campaign swing in Fresno, Calif., and were tied to the release of a major study on teaching quality. ("Teaching Focus Called the Key in Reform Push," in This Week's News.)

Terry Peterson, a counselor to Mr. Riley, said the president sought to demonstrate the importance of good teachers in making good schools.

"The president's agenda is ... very much about building partnerships between parents, teachers, schools, business people, and communities," Mr. Peterson said.

Mr. Clinton said the nation's challenges on teaching quality are to:

  • Recruit and retain talented teachers;
  • Require tougher licensing and certification, and provide better professional development and teacher training;
  • Remove poor teachers "quickly, fairly, and at less cost than at present"; and
  • Identify and reward good teachers.

He ordered Mr. Riley to notify local officials of federal dollars and exemplary practices available to address those objectives.

In the latest salvo in the debate over who's responsible for the increase in teenage drug use, President Clinton has sent a letter to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., urging Congress to fund his spending request for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program.

The letter, dated Sept. 7, cites the program as "the only federal program fully dedicated to helping schools combat alcohol and drug use, as well as violent behavior."

Meanwhile, the Dole campaign is reportedly planning to make the nation's moral fiber an issue in the campaign's final weeks, and the rising drug use among teens will figure strongly. The campaign reportedly has asked former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett to serve as a spokesman on the issue.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Rep. Jack Reed, D-R.I., won Senate primaries last week.

Mr. Wellstone, a first-term senator, is a member of the Labor and Human Resources Committee; Mr. Reed is a member of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee.

Mr. Reed is seeking to succeed Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities.

Observers are wondering whether Secretary Riley will remain in his Cabinet job should Mr. Clinton win re-election.

Mr. Riley, 63, has said in the past that he will serve as education secretary as long as Mr. Clinton wants him to. But his desire to return to his native South Carolina and spend more time with his family is no secret.

One person whose name has surfaced as a replacement, Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, is playing down the rumor.

"I've had no conversations with the White House about that," Mr. Romer, who spoke on education at the Democratic National Convention last month, told the Rocky Mountain News. "I don't think you rule anything out, but I'm not after anything."

Mr. Romer has been Colorado's chief executive since 1987. He has more than two years left in his third term.

--MARK PITSCH federal@epe.org

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