Governors' Education Task Forces Begin Hearings; State Policy Agenda Is Goal
Competency tests for prospective school administrators, competition between states for the best teachers, and choice without vouchers were among the ideas governors were urged to consider at a series of task force hearings conducted recently by the National Governors' Association.
The hearings, held at various sites around the country, kicked off the nga's new education initiative, the Governors' Report on U.S. Education, 1991. By August of this year, seven task forces created and staffed by the governors are scheduled to recommend state policy options in each of the areas the task forces are investigating, including:
Attracting and retaining good teachers;
Improving young people's readiness for school;
Expanding educational opportunity and choice;
Encouraging results-oriented leadership;
Making more efficient use of school buildings;
Making effective educational use of advanced technology; and,
Assessing and improving college quality.
Six of the task forces have already met, and one--the task force on readiness--has met twice. The task force on technology is scheduled to hold its first meeting later this month.
nga staff will also meet this month to decide how to fashion the "report cards" that will monitor state actions on the task-force recommendations through 1991.
Set the 'Education Agenda'
Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the nga chairman, launched the education initiative last summer, claiming that it would help "set the American education agenda for the next five years."
"These are seven good topics not adequately dealt with by the first spate of reforms," said Gov. Bill Clinton, Democrat of Arkansas, who chairs the school-leadership task force. Mr. Clinton is scheduled to serve as chairman next year of both the nga and the Education Commission of the States.
"If we don't tackle these issues, no one will," Mr. Alexander, a Republican, added in a recent interview. He said the task forces would help governors decide "where to put the money" in the next round of reform.
Each of the nation's governors serve on one of the task forces, although only the chairmen, and in some cases the vice-chairmen, have attended the initial hearings. Each task force is expected to meet three times prior to filing a final report.
The work of the task forces is being coordinated by the governors' education aides, with the help of the nga
"Governor Alexander wanted the work done by aides to governors, not the nga staff," said Joe Nathan, an education consultant in St. Paul who works with the task forces. "If the governors are going to get much out of this, they need to be deeply involved."
Mr. Alexander, who proposed the nation's first statewide career-ladder program for teachers and administrators and has been an outspoken advocate of public-school choice, acknowledged that the task force topics--which he selected--constitute "a congenial agenda to me."
"Plenty of people will tell you why something won't work. There needs to be one organization that says, 'why not?"' he said, explaining his view of what he hopes the task forces will accomplish.
Other governors said they detected a "tilt" to the briefing materials that Mr. Alexander and his staff prepared for the task forces, but none said they were troubled by it.
"I do believe that in areas where Governor Alexander has an opinion there is a tilt," Governor Clinton said. "But to be fair, that's expected."
"I don't mind reading something saying these are good things, because we don't have them," he added.
Gov. Charles S. Robb of Virginia, a two-term Democratic governor who stepped down last week, added that the task force topics were sufficiently broad to permit a full debate of the issues.
"I think there is an attempt here to be extremely open," Mr. Nathan said, adding that the task forces have received more than 400 written testimonies.
Mr. Nathan, who wrote the briefing materials, noted that regardless of any slant, the governors chairing the task forces have been setting their own agendas.
The briefing book, he said, "was never intended to be the report and what's happened since has made clear that it will not be the report.''
Wide Range of Testimony
Indeed, the governors chairing the task forces took testimony on a wide range of issues in the first round of hearings, and, in several in-stances, the testimony appeared to go considerably beyond the debate that the nga prospectus had indicated the task forces would pursue.
In part, this may have been because the governors wanted to give all interested parties a chance to get on the record. In most cases, the initial hearings involved a procession of experts who spoke in general terms about the value of reform, without getting into specifics.
But the nature of the testimony also appeared to reflect the personal preferences of the task-force chairmen.
During the first hearing of the task force on teaching, for example, the subject of career ladders was hardly discussed at all, and at the hearing held by the task force on choice, there was no serious discussion of vouchers.
Also, at the insistence of other governors, Governor Alexander has directed the nga's standing subcommittee on education to focus this year on vocational education--creating, in effect, an eighth task force. And two of the other task forces have been renamed at the request of their chairmen. The task force on readiness, for example, is focusing on a completely different topic than the one originally intended for it.
That task force, chaired by Gov. Richard W. Riley of South Carolina, a Democrat, was supposed to study early-childhood education. But Governor Riley preferred to examine strategies to help students at all levels meet the higher standards that states have set during the current reform movement.
"You give the governors a chairmanship and they'll put their imprimatur on it," said Joan Wills, the director of the nga's Center for Policy Research, and the nga staff person with overall responsibility for the task forces. "Governor Alexander knew that would happen and that it should happen."
"One thing the governors who chair these task forces want to do is get people in their states to think about these issues," Mr. Nathan said. "Otherwise, what's in it for them?
Will They Sign On?
The governors directing the task forces also face the challenge of getting their colleagues who are not participating to agree to their recommendations.
At one of the recent hearings, for example, no governor other than the chairman was present, and only one was represented by an aide.
"The important thing is that the governors who don't agree, if they're on the task force, they will have to make their feelings known," Governor Clinton said.
He predicted that all of the governors would become "much more involved" with the task forces as the year progresses.
Highlights of the task-force hearings that have been conducted so far include:
Teaching: A roundtable discussion headed by Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey focused on how the states can attract and retain one million new teachers in the next decade without lowering standards.
Participants in the Dec. 12 meeting at Rutgers University agreed that the pending teacher shortage would lead to higher salaries for teachers and greater involvement by states in deciding who can be-come a teacher.
"Cynics say we may eliminate the shortage by subterfuge," Mr. Kean said. "We could increase class size, lower standards, or create teachers by granting emergency licenses. But after governors and legislators fought for three years to raise standards, we aren't going to do that."
Gregory R. Anrig, president of the Educational Testing Service, recommended that states compete with each other for the best teachers. The more competition there is among states, "the better it will be for the profession," he said.
Mr. Anrig also recommended that states recruit teachers from among early retirees from other professions, such as the military, and from slumping industries.
Governor Kean, however, questioned whether competition between states would allow the wealthier states to buy up the best teachers. And Marc Tucker of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy pointed out that teachers who cross state lines lose their seniority and most of their pensions.
Mr. Tucker suggested that states enlarge the pool of potential teachers by requiring a strong liberal-arts background, rather than a degree in education. But Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, insisted that prospective teachers need both education and liberal-arts courses.
The participants generally agreed that efforts to attract new teachers would fail unless states make the profession more attractive, and that such efforts--including career ladders--will fail unless teachers are involved. (See related story on page 10.)
"Excellence requires active participation. You don't get it by telling teachers what to do. You get it by respecting them and letting them find their way," Mr. Shanker said.
"We're not going to get anywhere near where we need to go until teachers are partners in running schools," Mr. Tucker added.
Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, and Mr. Shanker spoke in favor of testing prospective teachers, but Ms. Futrell urged states to do a better job of teaching minority and poor students to prepare them for the tests.
Leadership: Some 600 people who assembled in Little Rock, Ark., on Dec. 11 heard experts testify that states should certify school administrators on the basis of demonstrated competence, rather than on "paper credentials."
Participants disagreed, however, on the value of education courses, the desired extent of state regulation, and the role that school leaders should play.
Despite a wealth of literature on the importance of effective school leaders, said Lynn Cornett, director of the career-ladder clearinghouse for the Southern Regional Education Board, "the good ole' boy network of choosing principals is alive and well."
"No state is doing the job we should be doing in this area," in terms of training, evaluating, and supporting administrators, said Governor Clinton, the task-force chairman.
Chester E. Finn Jr., assistant secretary of education for educational research and improvement, galvanized the audience with a 10-point plan for upgrading the quality ofel10lschool administrators that would not require principals to be instructional leaders.
Mr. Finn said it was more important for principals to act like business executives and "make the whole institution operate effectively." A revitalized teaching profession would produce instructional leaders, he said.
Mr. Finn also called for a "radical decentralization" to the school-building level, with the building principal given full authority and responsibility for the school's performance. He said school boards and district superintendents would most likely become the "educational dinosaurs" of reform.
But Governor Clinton challenged Mr. Finn's assertion that principals need not be instructional leaders, and he encouraged audience members to rebut Mr. Finn's charges that education programs for administrators are "not worth much."
"How can teachers have any respect for someone who doesn't know a lick about what they're doing all day?" Mr. Clinton asked Mr. Finn.
"Some people are quick studies and command respect," the assistant secretary responded.
Choice: Education practitioners and researchers, union leaders, and politicians generally agreed that the public schools and their "customers"--parents and students--would certainly benefit from increased choice within the public sector.
But these witnesses at the Dec. 16 meeting in Denver of the task force on public-school choice and parental involvement, chaired by Gov. Richard D. Lamm of Colorado, opposed vouchers and private-school involvement in choice schemes.
Witnesses also discussed the political ramifications of choice. For example, Mr. Shanker, president of the aft, said that increasing public-school choice could head off the threat of government aid to private schools.
Ruth E. Randall, commissioner of education in Minnesota, said that parents' demands to choose their children's school has partly resulted from the shift in education decisionmaking to legislators and away from bureaucrats and other non-elected officials.
Readiness: Originally designed to focus on early-childhood education, this task force has instead heard testimony on programs that can help at-risk youngsters succeed in school despite higher standards.
"Higher standards may impose a forbidding barrier rather than create a positive challenge," said Governor Riley, in explaining the task force's focus.
"Governor Riley wants to be able to sketch out for the governors how much readiness and remediation cost and which are the most cost-effective," Mr. Nathan added.
At the first hearing, held Nov. 27 in Columbia, S.C., participants generally agreed that early-childhood-education programs would help youngsters cope with higher standards. David P. Weikart, president of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, called for increased funding for Head Start and greater state investments in effective preschool programs.
Helen Blank, director of child care and family support services for the Children's Defense Fund, stressed single mothers' need for child care and said new preschool programs4should not conflict with existing programs.
At the second hearing, Dec. 6 in San Francisco, experts and practitioners described the common characteristics of effective dropout-prevention and remediation programs.
Michael Kirst, professor of education at Stanford University, urged governors to closely examine their schools' curriculum, to make sure that all students have access to the same knowledge base.
"The alternative is a continuation of the current drift of overall curriculum policy for at-risk students," he said.
College Quality: At a Dec. 17 meeting in St. Louis, Gov. John Ashcroft of Missouri, the task-force chairman, took testimony from a number of college officials who favor assessing student progress.
"There is a lack of public confidence in the process of undergraduate education," said Tom L. Duncan, the governor's assistant for education and policy development. "Consequently, there's agreement about the need to assess."
Participants disagreed, however, on what it is that colleges and universities should assess, how they should do it, and whether the states should mandate assessment.
Facilities: The first of the task forces to meet heard from administrators who are making innovative use of school buildings and discussed the possibility of using such facilities year round, whether for educational or other purposes.
Although participants at the Nov. 19 session in Helena, Mont., generally favored the concept of extended use, debate focused on whether it would be worthwhile, given the insurance liabilities involved.
Mr. Nathan said the task force would commission studies to "investigate what states could do with the liability problem."