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Riley Hauls Out Less-Than-Fresh Math Findings in Education Blitz

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Everything old was new again here last week.

On Capitol Hill, the deadlock continued over whether to underwrite President Clinton's proposed national tests in reading and math--a plan the House has voted to kill.

So over at the White House, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley was working hard to keep the case for the voluntary 4th grade reading and 8th grade math tests--Mr. Clinton's highest education priority--in the spotlight. And that meant calling a press conference to trumpet a new federal report with conclusions that were anything but fresh.

The report was a Department of Education "white paper" detailing how students, including low-income students, are much more likely to go on to college if they've taken algebra and geometry. Both Mr. Riley and Mr. Clinton linked the report's conclusions to the planned national math test.

In a brief audiotaped statement preceding the white paper's release, the president said: "Our math test will make sure our children master algebra and prepare for math and science courses that lead to college."

To illustrate the point further, Mr. Riley was joined at the event by adult and student participants in the Equity 2000 program, a privately run national effort to ensure minority and disadvantaged students enroll in college-preparatory courses such as algebra.

But the math report's conclusions were familiar, especially to the College Board, which runs Equity 2000.

The New York City-based organization released a report that came to the same conclusions--in 1990. And those results had helped spur the creation of Equity 2000.

"Obviously, we were familiar with that [College Board] report, but this is newer and different data with more analysis," said Melinda Kitchell Malico, an Education Department spokeswoman.

Education Blitz

Secretary Riley was intent on hammering home his message. Following the report's release before a smallish audience at the Old Executive Office Building, Mr. Riley moved next door and repeated his presentation before the White House press corps. He also briefed that group on the blitz of education-related events the administration had planned for last week.

Bashing Vouchers

In his remarks to White House reporters, Mr. Riley also used the findings from the math report to bash congressional proposals for school vouchers that would give parents public funds to send their children to private schools or out-of-district public ones. The secretary said that taking the right courses is more important to college access than what type of school--public or private--students attend.

The white paper is "focusing the nation's attention, particularly parents', on what really makes a difference in education," Ms. Malico said.

The Equity 2000 participants were invited because "we want to highlight programs that work," she said. "So we brought in people who can demonstrate that a comprehensive approach to encouraging students to take higher-level courses earlier in their school careers works."

Vinetta C. Jones, the executive director of Equity 2000, who was at the event, agreed with Ms. Malico about the merits of the new report, and said she did not feel her group had been invited for political purposes. "I think we were part of showing concrete examples of what can be done."

While the new Education Department report lacks startling revelations, it does provide updated numbers.

It says that one in four 8th graders took algebra in 1996, according to data collected as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. That's an improvement over 1992 NAEP data, which showed one in five 8th graders taking algebra.

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