Clinton's education pulpit Annapolis speech: Setting national standards and high expectations for school children.

February 11, 1997

PRESIDENT CLINTON kicked off his education crusade yesterday in the Annapolis State House, mounting the bully pulpit to preach a gospel of national standards in reading and mathematics as a way to improve student achievement. Without such measuring sticks, the president said, children and their parents have no way of knowing if they have mastered the basic skills needed to compete for jobs in an increasingly high-tech and highly competitive world.

The president put it in stark terms. "Sooner or later," he told the Maryland General Assembly, "your children are going to have to face the fact that either they can read or they can't; they either can do math or they can't; they know algebra or they don't." Setting national standards gives educators a tool for identifying which students are falling short. Such yardsticks serve as reality-checks for teachers, students and parents -- before it is too late.

Why national standards? Because we live in an era in which tomorrow's high school graduates will be vying with graduates from other states and nations for jobs. It does no good for students in Mississippi to pass a graduation test only to discover that they don't stack up well against graduates from other states.

Maryland proved a perfect place for the president to help a friendly governor and to launch a series of campaign-style speeches before receptive state legislatures. The state is a national leader in basic competency tests. Maryland's state performance tests have not been without controversy, but they have achieved their purpose: Based on test results, educators have revamped schools and teaching techniques. In most schools, scores have improved.

Better schooling is on people's minds. A poll in the Los Angeles Times last weekend found that education topped the public's priority list by a wide margin. The president also knows business leaders favor nationwide standards. They have long advocated such an approach to prepare U.S. students for a complex workplace.

Using the presidency as a bully pulpit on a popular issue could put pressure on Congress to look more favorably on some of Mr. Clinton's education proposals. But the president's greatest impact may be among the state legislators he will be addressing in the months ahead. It is at the state and local levels that key education decisions are made, standards are set and teaching actually occurs. By generating enthusiasm for voluntary, uniform standards throughout the country, Mr. Clinton could do more to change the education landscape than anything emanating from Washington.

Pub Date: 2/11/97

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