Education Secretary William J. Bennett endorsed a national survey's finding that parents - no matter what their socioeconomic background - believe in the importance of reading.

"In this important survey we found out that parents regard reading and reading to their children as a very important activity," Bennett told a news conference this week."The interesting thing is the fact that we see agreement among all parents, fathers and mothers, rich and poor, black and white parents. There is no difference, no disagreement about the importance of reading," he said.

The national telephone survey of 1,000 people, conducted in February by the Roper Organization, contacted parents of children ages 3-14. The survey results were based on evaluations of one child in each household.

Although the survey said only half the parents contacted reported that their children were very interested in reading, and less than half said their child reads for pleasure every day, Bennett maintained that this too was part of parental responsibility.

"Mothers and fathers should read to their children as early as possible to teach them that it's just plain fun," he said.

The survey found that how much children read is directly related to their parents' educational background and reading habits. But it said the high value placed on reading cut across parents of all educational backgrounds and demographic groups.

"Parents with less education may not possess the knowledge or skill to help their children read," the survey said. "However, they do not diminish in any way the value of reading, nor do they lack the desire to help their children become better readers. This provides a solid ground for optimism about the future."

Among the specific survey findings:

-91 percent of parents said reading well is very important to their child's success, but only two-thirds of those with a child old enough to read said they were very satisfied with the way that child reads.

-72 percent of parents believe how much a child reads is critical to future success.

-72 percent of the parents said it is primarily their responsibility to make sure their children develop an interest in reading, compared with 22 percent who said it is a mutual responsibility of parent and school. Fifty-eight percent of parents also said they are responsible for how well their children read.

-51 percent of parents said their children are very interested in reading outside school, another third said their children are somewhat interested while 13 percent said their children were not very or not at all interested, a figure the survey said translates into 5 million.

-44 percent of parents with children old enough to read said their child reads for pleasure every day, and 43 percent said their child reads for pleasure a few times a week.