Federal File: James Madison Elementary; Oprah and Chester?; Bugetary Preview

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Secretary of Education William J. Bennett hopes to create an ideal elementary school fit to prepare students for James Madison High.

Mr. Bennett created the fictional high school as a vehicle for his vision of an ideal secondary-school curriculum. He told a school audience this month that he plans to do the same for elementary education.

Mr. Bennett's spokesman, Loye W. Miller, said the Secretary's staff is working on a model elementary-school curriculum, but added that the project may never come to fruition. It is difficult to quantify the study of specific subjects when students do not change classes and there are no graduation requirements, he noted.

"The high-school curriculum is a very structured thing," Mr. Miller said. "In comparison, the elementary-school curriculum is spongy and mushy."

Federal officials usually are not featured on Oprah Winfrey's television talk show, which tends toward such topics as women who are suing their plastic surgeons.

But Assistant Secretary of Education Chester E. Finn Jr. appeared on the popular Chicago-based program in a recent panel discussion on school discipline. He said order must be maintained by whatever method works and praised Joe Clark, the tough-talking New Jersey principal.

Mr. Finn also plugged parental choice, which got him in trouble with a local man in the audience.

Choice "for who?" the man asked. "The elite? The ones with? The haves?"

"Your boss walked into this city and said we had the worst school system in the country," he said, referring to Secretary Bennett's remarks about the Chicago district last year.

"And he was right!" Mr. Finn retorted.

"Bull," the man shot back. "When the federal government and the State of Illinois fund the Chicago public schools where it should be, ... we'll turn out a product that will make your head turn around backwards!"

President Reagan will propose $16.85 billion in discretionary education spending for 1989, a $650-million increase over 1988, according to budget documents obtained by The New York Times and reported Feb. 12.

Adding 1988 appropriations for the Education Department's nondiscretionary programs to the reported discretionary totals yields a 1989 budget of about $20.8 billion. If nondiscretionary programs received increases, the total would be slightly higher.

Department officials have said their 1989 budget request would be close to $21 billion.--jm

Vol. 07, Issue 21

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