President Clinton sought anew Tuesday to build support for national testing standards, urging more school districts to promote children on the basis of academics rather than for social reasons.
In a speech at Oscar Mayer Elementary School, Clinton said Chicago has been able to turn failing schools around in part because of its decision to stop advancing children from grade to grade based on their social development.
"People used to say that asking a child to repeat a grade was too high a price to pay for learning because of the damage to self-esteem," he said. "We are not punishing children by making sure they know what they need to know."
Clinton urged critics to consider the consequences of pushing children through school without adequately measuring skills.
"Think about the thousands of Americans who are sitting in GED (high school equivalency) classes today, struggling in literacy programs, standing in unemployment lines, who can tell you there is nothing more damaging to self-esteem than wanting a job and not being able to get one," he said.
"If we adults send our children the right messages now their self-esteem will not be harmed by an expression of love and hope for their future that prevents that sort of problem for them later on."
Speaking in the school's gymnasium to an audience mostly of adults, Clinton joked about the school's name, placing a miniature plastic car in the shape of a hot dog on the podium. The hot dog maker had a factory near the school when it was built in the 1950s and donated money to help construct it.
Clinton praised reforms begun by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who took control of the school system two years ago. Daley abolished the practice of promoting children for social reasons and required that students meet academic standards at certain grade levels.
Clinton announced that he has directed the Education Department to distribute guidelines on what is working in other cities. He said the department also would help local districts get better access to federal programs and resources, such as charter schools or his "America Reads" volunteer tutoring program, "to transform schools that are not performing into world-class learning centers."
Clinton is at odds with Congress over what will go into the fiscal 1998 spending bill covering Education Department programs.
Clinton is advocating voluntary national tests for reading and math, and a program that allows college work-study students to tutor children in reading. Republicans have rejected that program and have approved bills that would allow using federal spending or tax breaks to pay for school vouchers.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, also in Chicago, called national testing standards "benchmarks of excellence for our children" in a speech to the College Board, a group that promotes higher education.