Education Secretary Lauro F. Cavazos yesterday called various plans for broader parental choice of schools, including home schooling and private school vouchers, "the best way" to reach national education goals.

Cavazos announced the establishment of an Education Department unit and telephone hotline to promote parental choice, but predicted that states and school districts would have to continue such programs largely without federal funding. He said the administration was "very seriously" considering allowing education block grants to be used for parental choice programs.

The announcements came as Cavazos released a 19-page report on five hearings he held last year on parental choice and as White House officials have been debating a "new paradigm" for domestic policy that would concentrate on empowering citizens to address social problems. The proposal has generated intra-party warfare among administration officials and congressional Republicans.

Cavazos carefully pointed out that he has promoted parental choice, now a stock position of the Bush administration, since the administration's earliest days.

"We saw it even then and see it today as an empowerment issue of bringing parents back into these {education} discussions," he said. "It obviously fits into the new paradigm. Clearly, it's an empowerment issue."

Cavazos asserted that by promoting competition for students, parental choice improves instruction, a statement that he said was proved by higher reading scores in East Harlem since the New York district opened enrollment and diversified schools in the 1970s. "I think that in itself is pretty good evidence," he said.

"I am convinced that the radical restructuring of our education system through school choice and school-based management is the best way to reach our national education goals by the turn of the century," Cavazos said. He referred to goals adopted by Bush and the nation's governors pertaining to a lower dropout rate, higher achievement in several subjects, drug-free schools, adult literacy and readiness of young children to enter school.

Eleven states have adopted parental choice plans in various forms: Minnesota, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Vermont and Kentucky. A Wisconsin court recently ruled unconstitutional, on technical grounds, a private school voucher program limited to Milwaukee.

The report on the Cavazos hearings, entitled "Choosing Better Schools," describes parental choice as taking eight forms -- specialized magnet schools, open enrollment within a district, open enrollment between districts, college courses for high school students, alternative programs for dropouts, tuition tax credits, education vouchers and home schooling.

When a reporter asked if the various approaches have the same educational value, Cavazos replied: "I'm not saying one is better than the other. I know home schooling goes on out there, and in some places, it probably works pretty good."

On vouchers, which Bush has said the federal government cannot afford, Cavazos said it was for state and local governments to decide whether to provide such public subsidies to private schools.