Think-Tank Proposals Mirror Clinton Education Agenda

By Mark Walsh — December 16, 1992 3 min read

WASHINGTON--President-elect Bill Clinton’s education agenda should push “charter schools,’' youth-apprenticeship programs, and a “civilian G.I. bill’’ offering college aid in return for national service, a policy handbook by a think tank with close ties to the incoming Administration suggests.

The new President “should marshal public support for a radical redesign of U.S. education,’' says the education section of Mandate for Change, a 380-page book of recommendations from the Progressive Policy Institute, the policy arm of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

The book was released here last week amid great fanfare because Mr. Clinton was a founding member and former chairman of the D.L.C. and his Presidential campaign drew on many of the policy ideas advanced by the council and the P.P.I. Two of the top domestic-policy advisers on Mr. Clinton’s transition team, Al From and Bruce Reed, came from the D.L.C.

The book’s education chapter was written by Ted Kolderie, a senior associate at the Center for Policy Studies in Minneapolis; Robert I. Lerman, the chairman of the economics department at American University; and Charles Moskos, who has written extensively on proposals for national service.

Charter Schools Urged

In the section on precollegiate education, Mr. Kolderie contends that better organization, not necessarily increased funding, is the most important ingredient for reforming public schools.

Conservatives have rightly focused on “public bureaucracies that exercise monopoly control over education,’' the book states, but have picked the wrong solution in pushing for privatizing public schooling through vouchers.

The book calls on the new President to support proposals to expand public school choice in the states and to encourage the development of charter schools--independent public schools run by licensed teachers that operate free of most school district bureaucracy. (See Education Week, Nov. 25, 1992.)

“The charter idea ... can deliver the benefits of choice without bankrupting the public schools, as a voucher system could,’' the book says.

Mr. Clinton should use both the “bully pulpit’’ of his office and the leverage of federal education aid to promote choice and charter schools, the book urges.

“There are lots of ways for a President who is a former Governor to move in skillful ways to advance an agenda’’ that includes such proposals, Mr. Kolderie said in an interview. “There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents a President from making proposals to state legislatures.’'

Training, Service Programs

During his campaign, Mr. Clinton embraced two other education ideas advanced in Mandate for Change.

One proposal calls for using federal grants to increase the number of youth-apprenticeship programs for students who do not plan to go on to college.

Such programs, pairing students in high school with local businesses, would improve the training of non-college-bound youths and help the economy by providing a more stable source of productive employees, the book asserts.

In addition, the book calls for a “Citizens’ Corps’’ in which high school graduates would work for one or two years in low-wage community-service positions in exchange for vouchers for college, job training, or housing. Students might work as tutors or teacher’s aides in schools or help out in hospitals, nursing homes, or homeless shelters.

The book calls for vouchers worth $10,000 per year of service.

Will Marshall, the president of the P.P.I., acknowledged in an interview that the book does not present a comprehensive approach to every major school-reform issue.

“We thought we would highlight three innovations that we thought would make the largest difference,’' he said.

Other sections of the book call on the new President to back changes in family and welfare policy, such as an intensive media campaign to discourage teenage pregnancy and out-of-wedlock births and an $800-per-child tax credit for all preschool children.

Mandate for Change, published by Berkley Books, is available in bookstores for $11.95.

A version of this article appeared in the December 16, 1992 edition of Education Week as Think-Tank Proposals Mirror Clinton Education Agenda