Eighteen public and private schools in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia were among 277 schools nationwide recognized yesterday by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett for outstanding programs.

Bennett said each school had surmounted great difficulties. Representatives of each junior and senior high school will be invited to Washington to receive a flag. Each school will also get a plaque.

The public schools were chosen according to how they matched a list of 14 attributes, which included clear academic goals, positive climate, and order and discipline. They also were evaluated on student scores and awards. Private schools were considered on similiar standards, but in different categories, such as religious and special education.

Arlington's Washington-Lee High School was one of the local winners. Principal William Sharbaugh attributed the award to the school's High Intensity Language Training Program, which helps foreign students learn English. Of the 1,650 students at the school, about 15 percent are Asian and another 15 percent are Hispanic, according to Sharbaugh.

"It does feel good," said Sharbaugh about the award. "We have a large foreign population and we still maintain a high standard of excellence."

Washington-Lee has been selected as one of the top six schools in Virginia for the last two years.

Other schools in Virginia to receive the award:

Hampton High school (Hampton), Norfolk Academy (Norfolk), Huntington Middle School (Newport News), and Brookland Middle School (Brookland).

Maryland schools selected:

High schools: Thomas S. Wootton (Rockville) and Centennial (Ellicott City). Junior highs: Milton M. Sommers (La Plata), Redland Middle School (Rockville), Parkland (Rockville), and Wilde Lake (Columbia). Private schools: Arlington Baptist (Baltimore), Calvert Hall (Towson), Elizabeth Seton (Bladensburg), LaReine (Suitland), Mercy High School (Baltimore) and Notre Dame Preparatory (Towson).

In the District, Browne Junior High received an award.