Visiting affluent Chicago suburbs Thursday in his first post-inaugural trip, President Clinton challenged schools to do better in teaching math and science.
"Change is out there. At a time like this, it is critical that we not only know certain things but be able to learn for a lifetime," Clinton told some 5,000 people who packed the Glenbrook North High School field house.The district participated in last year's Third International Math and Science Study, which tested and ranked fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders from 41 countries.
In conjunction with Clinton's speech, the Education Department said Thursday it would help as many as 60 school districts to participate in the 1997 and 1998 math and science tests and use the results to improve teaching methods.
Clinton's push for all school districts to adopt the international testing and standards was reminiscent of the federal standards he institutionalized in the Goals 2000 act. Conservatives have sought to gut the measure, arguing that it robs local communities of control over their schools.
Clinton angrily rebutted that argument Thursday.
"To pretend that somehow holding ourselves to these standards - and agreeing that there has to be some uniform way of measuring them - is giving up local control is just an excuse to avoid being held accountable," Clinton said. "And it's selling our kids down the drain."
Last year's testing, which involved 11,000 Americans, scored them below average in math - well behind Russia and Canada. In science, U.S. students performed above average and on par with their Canadian, English and German counterparts.
The study blamed the Americans' less-advanced and unfocused curriculum and also faulted teachers here for asking students to memorize mathematical formulae rather than understand the concepts behind them.
Accompanied by Education Secretary Richard Riley, Clinton met Wednesday afternoon with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and the city school board.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has signaled that Republicans won't give Clinton a blank check on education, saying over the weekend that he didn't think "the answer is just always more money."