Accord on Goals Hard To Attain, Executives Find
Washington--Setting national education goals that are both measurable and memorable has turned out to be a far more complex task than many participants in the process had first imagined, several involved in the task acknowledged last week.
Preliminary drafts of goals obtained by Education Week indicate that, while negotiators for the White House and the nation's governors have quickly hammered out agreements on some issues, consensus on others has proved elusive.
Interviews with sources involved in the process reveal that the discussions have gotten tangled at times by the need to balance the concerns of so many. In addition, they say, negotiations have sometimes been impeded by a lack of clear understanding among participants of the complicated education issues under discussion.
Another complication, sources say, has been the time pressures caused by President Bush's desire to include a statement about the goals in his State of the Union Message this week.
Any statement by the President will be broad and reflect only tentative agreement between some members of the National Governors' Association and Roger B. Porter, Mr. Bush's domestic-policy adviser, sources said.
Separate drafts of goals written by Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Mr. Porter indicate that some accord has been reached on such objectives as guaranteeing access to preschool programs for disadvantaged 4-year-olds and asking states to cut their dropout rates in half by the year 2000.
But the drafts also reflect points of contention. The documents contain differences, for example, on how to define student achievement and on how to state goals on closing the minority gap in achievement, retention, and college-going rates.
A Closed-Door Meeting
An agreement to set national goals in seven broad areas was reached by the President and the nation's governors at an "education summit" called by Mr. Bush last fall in Charlottesville, Va. (See Education Week, Oct. 4, 1989.)
The governors delegated Mr. Clinton and Gov. Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, co-chairmen of the NGA task force on education, to spearhead the effort for the association. Mr. Porter has been the key player for the Administration.
The goals are to be formally adopted at the NGA's winter meeting Feb. 24-27 in Washington.
Participants in the goal-setting process said many of the problems in reaching a consensus became apparent at the first formal gathering following the summit, a closed-door meeting on Dec. 7 in Washington.
Mr. Clinton and Gov. Richard F. Celeste of Ohio were the only two Democrats in attendance; Republican participants included Cabinet officials, White House staff members, and several governors.
"It became apparent that any consensus reached in that room would not necessarily reflect a bipartisan agreement," one participant said.
Several in attendance described the discussion as sometimes tense and, on certain issues, fraught with crossed communications and a lack of deep knowledge of the issues.
"The debate was not finely tuned," said Gloria Cabe, Mr. Clinton's chief aide in the goal-setting process. "Once you get Cabinet people and governors talking, the terminology no longer has the specific meaning to them as it would to professional educators."
"It wasn't clear to me that people who were saying opposite things necessarily disagreed," she added.
What did become clear at the December meeting, participants said, was that a discussion involving a large group would not lead quickly to an agreement on a goals statement.
As a result, the negotiations were handed over to Governors Clinton and Campbell and Mr. Porter.
A Time Crunch
Also in December, the White House picked up the pace of negotiations in an effort to include a statement on the goals initiative in Mr. Bush's State of the Union Message.
Sources in governors' offices said last week that the time crunch--caused by the fact that the President's speech comes a month before the NGA's meeting late next month--has not allowed the draft goals to go through normal association channels.
"We are trying to figure out something we are all comfortable with so that the White House can go with it in the State of the Union," Ms. Cabe said. "I don't think they will be able to say anything more than this is a draft of goals that the NGA task force on education has agreed to distribute to the other governors."
Ms. Cabe last week described the negotiations over what the President would say on goals in his address as "shifting constantly."
After the December session, the next face-to-face meeting of participants in the process came when Mr. Porter and Mr. Clinton, both armed with their own draft goals, met on Jan. 8. Mr. Campbell was unable to attend the meeting.
Mr. Clinton brought a far more detailed proposal to the table, including not only goals, but a proposed statement on assessment concerns and the changes that would be needed to reach the goals.
Drafts drawn up by both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Porter after the Jan. 8 meeting point to some agreements reached at that time. (See excerpts on this page.)
Both drafts, for example, state that young children should have access to preschool education and that their nutritional and health needs should be met.
And both drafts mention the role of parents in their children's educational development, but in varied terms that shed some light on the different philosophies of the negotiators.
Mr. Clinton's draft states that all children should be assured proper development opportunities "through support and training of parents as first teachers."
Mr. Porter's draft states that "every parent in America will be a child's first teacher and devote time each day to helping his or her preschool child learn."
Mr. Clinton's draft is also much more specific on setting health goals, calling for the elimination of malnutrition and proposing that the percentage of babies born at low birthweight be reduced from almost 7 percent to 5 percent.
Different views are also evident on the issue of student achievement.
Mr. Porter's draft is more narrowly focused on "demonstrated competency" in grades 4, 8, and 12. His subgoals include the objective of tripling the percentage of students completing a rigorous curriculum similar to that suggested in the 1983 report A Nation at Risk. Mr. Porter also calls for improved performance on achievement tests.
Mr. Porter's statements on science and mathematics achievement focus on increasing the number of students obtaining college degrees in these areas and on boosting the pool of qualified math and science teachers.
Like Mr. Porter's draft, the Clinton document includes goals on increasing academic performance in all curricular areas and on ensuring that U.S. students are first among industrialized nations in mathematics and science knowledge.
But the Clinton draft includes two other goals related to student achievement. The first is that all students be involved in activities "that teach, promote, and demonstrate good citizenship, community service, and personal responsibility." Mr. Porter's draft includes no statement on community service.
In addition, Mr. Clinton calls for the "elimination" of the achievement gap among sexes, races, and ethnic groups by the year 2000.
Sources close to the process said that setting a goal on the achievement gap between minorities and non-minorities has been one of the most complicated and contentious negotiations.
The Porter draft addresses the issue in terms of high-school completion. He suggests that the gap in high-school graduation rates between minority and nonminority students be cut in half.
Both draft documents suggest that, by the year 2000, the nation's graduation rate should be 90 percent. To reach that goal, each state should reduce its dropout rate by 50 percent or to 10 percent, whichever comes first.
Further, both drafts state, 75 percent of the nation's dropouts should be brought back into the system to earn a high-school degree or its equivalent.
In addition to draft goals, the Clinton document includes a statement on "necessary changes" that must be made in the nation's education system to meet the goals.
He calls for, among other changes, school restructuring, school-based management, flexibility in use of funds, alternative certification, parental involvement through school choice, and "incentives for improvement and consequences for persistent failure."
Mr. Clinton also notes that a safe, drug-free school is a necessary first prerequisite to meeting his 10 goals. Mr. Porter lists that as a goal by itself.
In another section of his draft, on assessment concerns, Mr. Clinton said decisions must be made on what needs to be measured. In some cases, a base exists for measuring achievement toward the goals, he said, although existing efforts would need to be expanded and strengthened.
In other areas, such as early-childhood education, new assessments may be needed, Mr. Clinton said.
"There is an emerging consensus among experts in early-childhood development that the time is right for the development of a national assessment of school readiness, to be administered on a sample basis for judging progress toward meeting the goal," Mr. Clinton writes.
Christopher Cross, assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, has been providing background information for the White House on assessment. He said in an interview last week that state-by-state data do not exist for many of the proposed goals.
"The consequence is that there is a need to develop some new systems and data," Mr. Cross said.
Ms. Cabe said that, in some cases, "the assessment tools that we have don't measure what we think ought to be measured."
"As a result," she said, "we won't be able to set a specific target until much later in the process."
Mr. Clinton suggests in his draft that the governors, the Congress, and the President create a National Panel on Education Performance, which would report annually on the progress toward the goals, oversee the development of new measures, and revise goals when necessary.