President Clinton described tests showing American high school students lagging behind those of other industrial nations as "a wake-up call on education." But Republicans blamed the disappointing results on a "hungry bureaucracy in Washington" that gobbles up education funds.
"A remote Washington bureaucracy, proposing one-size fits all prescriptions, can't possibly know what your school district needs," Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., said.Both the president - here on a family skiing vacation - and the Republicans chose the same topic for their weekly Saturday radio sparring match: last week's release of international test results that showed American students underperforming those in most other industrial nations - mostly in Europe - in math and science.
"In a global economy that is increasingly powered by information and technology, this is a very sobering fact," Clinton said. "We need smaller classes, better teaching, higher standards, more discipline, greater accountability."
The president urged a renewed effort to boost classroom performance and called on all American parents to join by participating in the first national "Read America Day" Monday by reading out loud to their children and grandchildren.
In a dueling radio message, Republicans blamed the test results on Clinton administration policies and a "hungry bureaucracy in Washington" that gobbles up education funds.
"We need to turn back the authority and the dollars to the local level. We need to get dollars to the classroom," said Pitts.
Both men expressed disappointment over the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.
It showed math scores of U.S. students were markedly lower than those of students in 14 other countries. In science scores, U.S. students were lower than students in 11 other countries.
"This week, America got a wake-up call on education," Clinton said in his broadcast.
"This concerns me greatly," Pitts said. "Even the brightest students in the United States scored lower than their counterparts in these other countries."
Pitts, chosen to deliver the GOP response in part because he's a former math and science teacher, said his party shared the president's goals of improving education. But he said that goal should be accomplished by handing more control of education to the local level.
"What we don't need is more bureaucracy and studies in Washington."
Clinton said that Monday's Read America Day "will be the talk of the nation."
"I encourage parents and grandparents to get involved."
The day is sponsored by the National Education Association to honor the late "Dr. Seuss," the famed children's book writer. Dr. Seuss, the pen name of Theodore Geisel, would have been 94 on Monday.
Education Secretary Richard Riley has blamed easy graduation requirements and a lack of teachers with college majors or minors in math and science.
He called on the Senate to pass the House-passed Reading Excellence Act, which modified Clinton's 1997 proposal to improve literacy in the early grades. The bill makes local grants available for reading improvement and tutoring. The Senate has yet to produce any legislation.
Clinton said that means "$210 million in targeted assistance is now on hold in Washington, not at work in our communities. So today I call upon the Senate to pass this legislation without delay. We need it. Our children need it."
Clinton did not mention his 1997 proposal for national standardized testing for schools, which received a cool response in the GOP-Congress.
Both the Clinton and the GOP radio messages were taped earlier.