Friday, May 05, 2000

Clinton pushes school proposals

Columbus example praised

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — President Clinton made an appearance in Columbus on Thursday, hoping to revive his stalled education reform agenda by praising what's already working in the city's schools.

        Mr. Clinton spent two hours at Eastgate Elementary, just east of downtown, on the last stop of a two-day tour that had him visiting classrooms in Iowa, Minnesota and Kentucky.

        In a hot gymnasium, the president told a crowd of 250 that school district efforts to reduce class sizes and to better train teachers helped turn around Eastgate students' test scores.

        “These strategies, which are our strategies in the Clinton-Gore administration, are working,” Mr. Clinton said. “They show all children can learn.

        The visit also carried echoes of the presidential campaign, which has targeted Ohio as a key battleground. Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, spent a day at Columbus' Avondale Elementary in April. Mr. Clinton hadn't been in Columbus since 1996.

        The school's 195 students were held after class to meet the president. Local and state school officials later joined Mr. Clinton in an open discussion of his education plan, caught up in a slow-moving budget battle in Congress.

        The president wants to continue funding an initiative that so far has spent federal money to hire 29,000 teachers to help reduce class sizes in elementary schools, including in Columbus and in Cincinnati. The proposal faces some criticism from Republicans who say a smaller class does not necessarily mean a better education.

        Eastgate Elementary, said Mr. Clinton, shows that smaller classes work. Principal Barbara Blake linked the school's recent improvement in test scores to a $3 million federal grant that hired new teachers and reduced average class sizes to 15 students from 25 students.

        On the state reading proficiency test, 45.4 percent of Eastgate fourth-graders passed last year, up from 9.5 percent in 1998. A third of the students who took the science test last year passed compared to 2 percent in 1998.

        The president also praised a new Columbus district Peer Assistance Review Program that uses established teachers to evaluate and train teachers in their first year. The program also targets poorly performing teachers to get on track or out of classrooms.

        Cincinnati Public Schools has used a similarly titled program to evaluate new teachers and dismiss bad teachers since 1985. Last year the CPS panel evaluated 135 of the district's 3,200 teachers, said Deputy Superintendent Rosa Blackwell.

        CPS spokeswoman Janet Leslie said the district lets go 10 to 13 teachers a year under the peer assistance program. She also said the district received $2.4 million from Washington this year to reduce class sizes.


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