Bush Aides Mull Effect of Chart On Goals Efforts
Washington--Bush Administration officials are concerned that the impending release of the Education Department's controversial "wall chart" could adversely affect ongoing work with governors on the national education goals adopted little more than a month ago.
And some sources said Administration officials had suggested to Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos that the department reconsider the continued existence of the wall chart.
The 1990 edition of the chart, a state-by-state compendium of educational vital statistics, will be unveiled on May 2, Secretary Cavazos said in a recent interview.
Mr. Cavazos said he arranged the interview because he wanted to get the word out that he plans to proceed with this year's chart, but that the Administration does not view it as an effort to measure progress toward the goals or as the only measure of educational achievement.
"Very frankly, here we are at a time when we're working with all the states [and] the Administration has been working with the governors,'' Mr. Cavazos said, and some people think that publishing a wall chart or working on other measurements is an "either/or" situation.
"I never got really serious about not doing it, but I wanted to make sure people understood why we're doing it," he said.
"I felt that it was important to go ahead with this and continue to refine it, [because] there's no other national measuring system in the country," Mr. Cavazos said. "We intend to work with the governors in the months ahead beyond that presentation to refine it."
The Secretary hinted that he had been asked to consider dropping the wall chart, but he did not elaborate.
However, an Education Department source and another source familiar with the situation said they understood that Roger B. Porter, the President's domestic-policy adviser, and Christopher T. Cross, assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, had urged that the wall chart not being presented this year.
The sources said the two officials were concerned that release of the chart--which is heartily disliked by many governors and state education officials, particularly those whose states are ranked low in achievement--would hurt the Administration's efforts to work with the governors.
Mr. Porter was the Administration's chief negotiator in the goals-setting process, and Mr. Cross represented the department in some of the negotiations. The research4branch he heads did much of the research work in support of the goals-setting effort. (See Education Week, March 14, 1990.)
In an interview last week, Mr. Porter said that he had discussed the wall chart with Mr. Cavazos and Charles E.M. Kolb, deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, but that he "never even hinted" that he would like to see it dropped.
"All I discussed with them was the timing on the wall chart because of the discussions we have been having with the governors," Mr. Porter said.
Education Department officials said they had originally planned to release the chart in March.
"My recollection is that the wall chart deals with issues other than what we are going to be measuring in relation to the national goals,'' Mr. Porter added.
Mr. Cross also confirmed in an interview that he had expressed concern about the governors' response to the wall chart, but denied that he had urged scrapping it.
"My concern is that it be understood that the wall chart will in the future have to give way to something that reflects reporting on the goals," Mr. Cross said.
"I said I thought we needed to tell the governors ahead of time that what we are doing this year should not be seen as reporting on the goals," he said. "We should not have the wall chart released and have people draw the implication that, because we announced goals in January, and in May we are reporting a wall chart, the two are the same thing."
Another senior department official agreed that "it would be overstating it" to say that Mr. Cross and Mr. Porter had pressed for the wall chart's elimination.
"It would be fair to say they were concerned that there would not be steps taken that would be seen as interference with collaboration with the governors," the official said. "People are concerned that they want to maintain the cooperative relationship that's been established with the governors."
"We don't see the wall chart as pre-empting the field on assessment," the official added, "but a gaping silence wouldn't be helpful."
The single issue left unresolved in the February meeting at which the National Governors' Association adopted the goals was the structure and composition of an advisory panel that the governors and the Administration agreed should be created to monitor progress toward the goals. (See Education Week, March 7, 1990.)
Governors pushed for an independent panel that would include a variety of interested parties, particularly members of the Congress.
Mr. Porter, however, was reluctant to make a commitment on the panel's membership. He argued for a commission controlled by the President and the governors and connected to the Education Department.
Several governors and governors' aides said they did not want to give the department a lot of authority--in large part because of their antipathy toward the wall chart.
"Mr. Porter wanted the actual work done in the Education Department, but many of the governors had a problem with that," Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, one of two governors who negotiated on behalf of the NGA, said in an interview at the February meeting. "Even some Republicans have problems with the wall chart."
Ever since the first chart was unveiled by former Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell in 1984, some state officials and educators have angrily criticized it.
The critics argue that some of its indicators, particularly graduation rates, are not computed consistently and that the chart's use of Scholastic Aptitude Test scores does not make for fair comparisons because the tests are taken by a self-selected group. They also argue that the chart places undue emphasis on year-to-year trends that can ultimately prove insignificant or incorrect. (See Education Week, May 17, 1989.)
"I don't know of any discussions between governors and Roger Porter about scrapping the wall chart, or that he was doing anything on their behalf," said Gloria Cabe, an Arkansas state legislator who is Mr. Clinton's education adviser and was intimately involved in negotiations on the national goals.
"But I wouldn't be surprised" if Mr. Porter made such a move, she said. "And I can tell you there is certainly a lot of anxiety out here [among state officials], because we've heard they're going to do some things differently, but we don't know what."
Education Department officials said there would be changes in the chart this year, but not major ones. Both Mr. Cavazos and Mr. Cross said they wanted the indicators in the wall chart eventually to become more applicable to the national goals.
Several sources familiar with the department's internal deliberations said the current controversy reflects not only concern about the governors' reaction, but a debate over whether the wall chart will be part of the effort to report on progress toward the goals, whether it will continue separately from a new reporting mechanism, or whether it will be replaced by a new mechanism.
"That is certainly an issue we will have to deal with," Mr. Cross said.