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Bush's Education Goals Not Final, Governors Say

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Washington--President Bush used his State of the Union Message last week to unveil what he called "America's education goals," a list of six objectives developed in negotiations with key governors following last September's education summit.

But while Administration officials apparently view the goals announced by Mr. Bush as a final agreement, there is evidence that the governors do not.

Nonetheless, many observers said last week that the list is likely to form the core of a "comprehensive goals and objectives statement" to be adopted at the National Governors' Association meeting later this month.

The goals announced by Mr. Bush promise that, by the year 2000:

  • All children "will start school ready to learn."
  • The percentage of students graduating from high school will increase to at least 90 percent.
  • Students will "demonstrate competency over challenging subject matter, including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography" in assessments in grades 4, 8, and 12.
  • American students "will be first in the world" in achievement in science and mathematics.
  • Every adult American will be literate and possess the skills "necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship."
  • All schools will be free of drugs and violence and "offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning."

"Ambitious aims? Of course. Easy to do? Far from it," Mr. Bush said. "But the future's at stake. The nation will not accept anything less than excellence in education."

Similar to Porter Draft

The goals are virtually identical to those in a draft proposal circulated Jan. 11 by Roger B. Porter, Mr. Bush's chief domestic-policy adviser and the official who has represented the Administration in most negotiations with the governors.

A separate draft circulated by Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, who has spearheaded the governors' efforts along with Gov. Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, also included goals addressing the need for community service, closing the "achievement gap" between racial groups, and increasing higher-education enrollment, particularly by minorities. (See Education Week, Jan. 31, 1990.)

A week before Mr. Bush's speech, Gloria Cabe, Mr. Clinton's education aide, said: "I don't think they will be able to say anything more than this is a draft of goals that the n.g.a. task force on education has agreed to distribute to the other governors."

But Mr. Bush presented the goals with finality, and during his speech, he pointed out that four governors key to the goals-setting negotiations were in the audience: Govs. Clinton, Campbell, Terry E. Branstad of Iowa, and Booth Gardner of Washington.

After the speech, Administration officials said governors involved in the negotiations had signed on to the goals, subject to approval by the entire n.g.a. membership.

"I would be very surprised if they make major changes," said Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos. "We kept the governors informed throughout this discussion. [The list] was not developed in a vacuum here in the White House."

An n.g.a. statement lauding the President's announcement as "a major step for education reform" characterized the objectives as "broad, preliminary education goals" that will be "recommended" by the association's task force to the governors as a group.

Michael Cohen, an education-policy analyst for the n.g.a. who has been a key party to the goals negotiations, affirmed that the President's goals reflect only a preliminary agreement and that the final statement could be different.

"It is subject to further discussions and modifications," Mr. Cohen said.

The night before the speech, Govs. Clinton, Campbell, Branstad, and Gardner joined Mr. Cavazos and Mr. Porter in briefing members of the education community on the goals, and some participants said their attitudes appeared to conflict.

Several participants recalled Mr. Porter's remarking that, because Mr. Bush intended to announce the goals in his speech, it would be unlikely that they would change and embarrassing if they did.

Asked flatly during the briefing whether the goals were final, "Porter said 'yes' and Clinton said 'no,"' Bruce Hunter, an associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, recalled.

Mr. Hunter said his impression was that the governors are "happy" with the goals but open to suggestions.

"Clinton said the task force could not bind the 50 governors, and that's what Branstad said, too," Mr. Hunter said. "It was clear to me that they think the process is open."

Other participants said they thought the governors were simply noting that the goals still had to be approved by the entire n.g.a.

"I think the governors feel pretty comfortable with them, but they may ultimately call for something that isn't there [now]," said Samuel B. Husk, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.

Observers agreed that the details to be fleshed out in negotiations over the coming weeks are at least as important as the broad goals announced by Mr. Bush.

"What will ultimately be considered is ... a vision statement, the goals, a series of objectives under each goal, a statement on necessary changes [in the educational system], and a statement on assessment," Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Hunter said it will be important for educators to be involved in that process, and to overcome the "low level of trust" between them and the Administration.

"The history of 'us against them' at the White House at budget time is not helping now," he said. "We've got to work past that."

Staff Writer Reagan Walker contributed to this report.

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