Clinton Adds School Success Effort to His Agenda

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President Clinton added a new item to his expansive education agenda last week. He now says he wants the federal government to pass along K-12 success stories so they can be copied elsewhere.

"I want what is happening in Chicago to happen all over America," Mr. Clinton said in an Oct. 28 speech at the city's Oscar Mayer School.

"I challenge every school district to adopt high standards, to abolish social promotion, to move aggressively to help all students make the grade through tutoring and summer schools, and to hold schools accountable for results, giving them the tools and the leadership and the parental involvement to do the job."

In Chicago, the management installed in 1995 by Mayor Richard M. Daley has ended so-called social promotions of students with failing grades and mandated summer school for students who fail to meet specified achievement levels at the end of the school year.

About 35 percent of the students who started last summer academically ineligible to move to the next grade scored high enough to move ahead after summer school. ("Chicago Data Show Mixed Summer Gain," Sept. 10, 1997.)

The urban district's reform is just one example of the kind of initiative that Mr. Clinton is asking the Department of Education to review and share with others.

In a memo to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley describing the new project, the president cited the San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York school districts as potential models.

He also hailed Maryland's and Kentucky's use of testing to identify districts in need of help.

Cooperative Effort

The department has three months to compile descriptions of successful reform practices so that interested school districts can learn from them.

The new effort comes in addition to Mr. Clinton's wide-ranging 10-point education agenda, which includes proposed voluntary new national tests, tax incentives for college attendance, and the creation of 3,000 charter schools by the end of the century. ("Clinton Gives Top Billing to Education Plan," Feb. 12, 1997.)

It also is independent of Republican initiatives in Congress to document successful school reforms across the country. Earlier this year, House Republicans traveled to 16 cities to learn more about successful--and wasteful--education practices. ("GOP Targets Government Waste, Bureaucracy in Schools Spending," May 14, 1997.)

Unlike most of Mr. Clinton's other proposals, the new action does not require congressional approval or assistance from state and local policymakers.

It will instead rely on redirecting Education Department research and technical-assistance spending, the president's memo said.

The initiative will require the department's research and program staffs to work together.

The researchers will review best practices while those who administer federal funding determine how the practices fit with their programs. Department officials could recommend that schools choose from among the identified proven strategies in applying for grants or using federal education funding.

"What's essential is to do both of these [actions] in combination so we are informed by what seems to make a difference," said Terry K. Peterson, a senior adviser to Mr. Riley.

When the project wraps up in three months, the department may write a guidebook or how-to manual similar to the agency's earlier publications on school uniforms and after-school programs, Mr. Peterson said.

Move in Congress

The president's initiative is similar to one that is nearing passage in Congress. In an amendment to the Education Department's annual spending bill, two influential House members want to set aside $200 million for schools that want to adopt comprehensive school reforms. ("Proposal Would Link School Dollars, Proven Models," Sept. 10, 1997.)

The bill is close to passage but faces a potential presidential veto because it would alter Mr. Clinton's testing plan.

The amendment would require that the money be spent on programs proven to be successful and suggests interventions from New American Schools, a nonprofit school reform venture created at the behest of President Bush. In his memo to Mr. Riley, Mr. Clinton also cited New American Schools' designs as practices to review.

Whatever the Education Department recommends, Mr. Clinton's speech in Chicago underscored his commitment to linking student testing and high standards to spark school improvement.

"You still have to have high expectations, high standards, and some accountability, because people have to be working toward a goal and they have to know what the goal is," he said.

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