A new book about the Clinton Administration’s first year offers a few insights into policy development on issues related to education and children.
In On the Edge: The Clinton Presidency, journalist Elizabeth Drew writes that First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton had wide-ranging responsibility for developing domestic policy, as well as taking the lead on health-care reform.
“Although it was never announced, she was basically put in charge of domestic policy for the Administration,” Ms. Drew says of the First Lady. “Economic policy excluded, she would oversee the agencies (Health and Human Services) and issues (children, welfare) she was interested in.”
The book says that Donna E. Shalala, the Secretary of Health and Human Services; Carol Rasco, the President’s chief domestic-policy adviser; and White House aides responsible for children’s issues reported to Mrs. Clinton.
Ms. Shalala, along with Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich, get high marks from Ms. Drew as “innovators.” She writes that Mr. Riley was one of three Cabinet secretaries whom President Clinton “especially respected.”
However, Ms. Drew writes that “the Domestic Policy Council, under Carol Rasco, a former aide to Clinton in Arkansas, foundered, in part because the economic team ran over her, in part because the health-care policy was made elsewhere, and in part because she didn’t assert herself in the near chaos.”
Ms. Drew reports that the difficulty the Clinton White House encountered in its attempts to implement new ways of governing were nowhere more pronounced than in its relations with the Education and Labor Committee. The panel, she says, “was more interested in the distribution of federal funds to the status quo than in the outcome-based approach Clinton sought in Goals 2000.”
Ms. Drew incorrectly writes, however, that the Goals 2000: Educate America Act “set voluntary national academic standards.” The law provides grants to states to establish voluntary standards, and it establishes a national body to develop model standards.
Ms. Drew also calls Goals 2000 “the reverse of the Bush approach of providing vouchers for attending private schools.” President Bush advocated both vouchers and standards-based reforms similar to those in Goals 2000.
A version of this article appeared in the November 30, 1994 edition of Education Week as Federal File Column