Summit's Goal: Create Process To Set Targets
Washington--When President Bush meets with the nation's governors at this week's historic education summit, he apparently will not seek agreement on specific national goals, but on a decision to launch a goal-setting process.
"It's a beginning," Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos said at a news conference last week. "What follows is the most important part."
For example, he said, summit participants could agree that "we must increase literacy," and a specific target for meeting that goal could be set later.
Aides to Govs. Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina had said that the governors and top White House officials agreed in a meeting Sept. 13 to aim for a consensus on national goals for school performance. (See Education Week, Sept. 20, 1989.)
But Mr. Clinton and several Administration officials said last week that, while summit participants may agree on some broad issues to be addressed, specific benchmarks would not be set at the meeting this Wednesday and Thursday in Charlottesville, Va.
"What I think we are going to do is to put in place a process that will result in national goals after a period of consultation," Mr. Clinton said at a news conference where Congressional Democrats released a set of proposed goals.
Mr. Clinton said he would like to see specific goals set within a few months; Undersecretary of Education Ted Sanders suggested that "a few months into 1990" might be a more feasible deadline.
A Process for Goal-Setting
Education experts and business leaders who met with President Bush last week said they were told that the summit's emphasis would be on establishing a process for goal-setting.
In contrast, state legislators and representatives of the education community, who visited the White House the previous week, said the President and his aides gave them no specific indication of what he hoped to accomplish at the summit.
"They clearly regard the summit as step one," said David Gardner, who was the chairman of the commission that wrote A Nation at Risk and who is now president of the University of California. "They don't regard the summit as the end of a conversation, but a beginning."
Asked whether the White House officials gave any indication what the next step in the process would be after the summit, Mr. Gardner said, "One reason they are holding the summit is to figure that out."
Nathaniel M. Semple, vice president of the Committee for Economic Development, concurred: "They envision a process that begins at the ground floor and moves up, involving students, teachers, parents, and administrators."
White House officials and the governors have agreed that the summit will focus on six general topics: the teaching profession, the "learning environment," governance, choice and restructuring, worker training, and higher education.
The summit will begin and end with public sessions at which Mr. Bush and several governors will speak. But substantive deliberations will take place in closed-door meetings including the President, the governors, Cabinet members, and White House officials. The participants will break twice into three small groups to discuss specific issues, and they will also meet in one private plenary session.
'A National Issue'
Mr. Cavazos said the Cabinet was included because the problem at hand "is a national issue" and because their "areas of responsibility will all be greatly impacted by the quality of education."
In addition to the participants, as many as 1,000 news reporters, photographers, and technicians are expected to attend the summit, according to spokesmen for the White House and the University of Virginia, where the meetings will be held.
While a specific strategy may not be forged at the summit, Administration officials and governors have said they will discuss the responsibilities of different levels of government for alleviating what they termed an "education crisis."
"We're going to have a session where we ask the President what he sees as the federal role in education, and what he thinks our role is," Mr. Clinton said last week. "Bush made a specific commitment to this."
The participants also agreed that the strategy must include efforts to make federal and state regulation of schools less restrictive.
When Congressional Democrats, the authors of many of the programs in question, were asked about the issue last week, their reaction was neither enthusiastic nor hostile.
"These are legitimate and appropriate concerns that we in Congress must address in a positive way with not just governors but local officials from across the country," said George A. Mitchell of Maine, the Senate majority leader. "We must do all we can to assure that the assistance we provide allows them to do the job in the best possible way.''
Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, was more cautious. He said he would like to "evaluate the effectiveness" of Chapter 2 block grants, which can be used for a variety of purposes, and compare the program with "more targeted" efforts.
Other steps that participants in the presummit meetings said they suggested to the President include: developing better means for evaluating educational success; committing to a broad-based effort to attack the social problems that make it difficult for disadvantaged children to learn; and supporting efforts to upgrade the status of teachers.
Since the summit was announced this summer, Administration officials have said repeatedly that the effort will not necessarily be followed by support for more federal education spending.
"Funding has not come up at the [White House] meetings," Mr. Cavazos said last week. "It's not a funding issue."
Participants in those meetings said White House Chief of Staff John Sununu asked about where the money already being spent on education is going, indicating the Administration may argue for reallocation rather than additional resources.
Education lobbyists say, however, that they hope the Administration's very public commitment to educational improvement will make it difficult for the President to skimp on the education budget.
When Congressional Democrats held a news conference last week, participants insisted that they were not solely, or even primarily, interested in seeking more federal funding.
But their statement noted that the Democrats' goals "have some financial implications."
"Education is expensive," it says. "Ignorance is more costly."
"Some governors will urge [at the summit] that federal funding go back to the 2.5 percent of the budget that it was in 1980, up from the 1.7 percent it is now," Mr. Clinton said at the news conference. "But I think if we agree on goals, the money questions will resolve themselves."