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Monitoring Panel Likely To Be Inserted in Bill, Aides Say

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Washington--It appears likely that a provision establishing an independent panel to monitor progress toward national education goals will be incorporated into pending omnibus education legislation, Congressional aides said last week.

Meanwhile, education groups offered a mixed assessment at a hearing last week on the leading proposal to establish such a monitoring panel. The bill is sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico.

S 2034 calls for an independent panel of education experts to monitor progress toward the goals set last year by the Bush Administration and the National Governors' Association and possibly to set new goals. The number of members has not been set.

In contrast, the panel approved by the governors and the Administration in July includes six governors and four federal officials appointed by the President. Four Congressional leaders would also serve on the panel, but all would be nonvoting members. (See Education Week, Sept. 5, 1990.)

At last week's hearing, Christopher T. Cross, assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, reiterated the Administration's argument that Congressional action would duplicate its work with the governors and would "risk fragmenting the growing national consensus behind education reform."

"It is the governors and the Administration who should be responsible," Mr. Cross said. "They are the ones who are going to be held accountable for these decisions, and they should be the ones making these decisions."

Mr. Bingaman responded: "I think we have a fundamental disagreement here. My own view of the most credible way to assess progress is to get someone who doesn't have an immediate interest in a good assessment."

The vehicle that would carry Mr. Bingaman's proposal is omnibus education legislation already being shaped in meetings of House and Senate staff members.

HR 5115, the omnibus bill approved by the House in July, includes some of President Bush's education initiatives, proposed teacher-training and literacy programs, and a controversial plan to free some school districts from federal regulation in exchange for performance agreements. (See Education Week, Aug. 1, 1990.)

The Senate has passed separate bills containing the Bush initiatives and literacy programs, and a teacher-training bill is pending.

Although staff meetings have begun, an official House-Senate conference cannot get under way until senators approve the teacher provisions and pull all their programs into one bill.

At that time, senators may also add other provisions, such as Mr. Bingaman's report-card proposal.

Aides said leading Senate Democrats favor establishing a broad-based monitoring panel, but hope to avoid a floor fight over the issue with Republicans, who would feel pressure to support the Administration. Therefore, supporters of the Bingaman proposal hope to resolve the question in conference.

House Education and Labor Committee aides have said there is also significant support among that panel's members for adopting some kind of monitoring mechanism.

An issue cannot be raised in conference if it is not included in at least one bill on the table, but supporters hope a goals-monitoring panel can be discussed in light of a provision in the House bill calling for a national summit on education open to a broad range of educators, political leaders, and others. The summit provision calls for a temporary monitoring panel.

An aide to Mr. Bingaman said he would offer his proposal as a floor amendment if Senate leaders decide it would otherwise be out of order to raise it in conference.

Aides said Senators plan to schedule Senate floor action this month, but are awaiting the outcome of ongoing budget talks, a development that will set the timetable for the rest of the Congressional session. (See related story, page 20.)

At last week's hearing, represen4tatives of two education groups opposed Mr. Bingaman's bill, and two supported it with some reservations.

Erling W. Clausen, president of the American Association of School Administrators, said the proposal would duplicate both the n.g.a.'s efforts and the Secretary of Education's duties.

He also argued that stepped-up assessment would not improve education and would "incorrectly put the total responsibility for results on teachers and administrators" who cannot control "all of the fundamental processes of children's learning."

Millie Waterman, a board member of the National Parent-Teacher Association, contended that increased reliance on standardized testing would "undermine" progress toward the goals and would give the monitoring panel unwarranted power to influence local curricula.

Preston C. Kronkosky, chairman of the Council for Educational Development and Research, also cautioned against "substituting school inspection for school improvement."

But he supported creation of a panel "representative of those people who have a direct interest in children's learning," with staff support from the National Center for Education Statistics, a semi-autonomous arm of the Education Department.

He also said the report card should include "input" measurements to permit "a public analysis of the success of various improvement strategies," a suggestion echoed by Martha C. Fricke, president of the National School Boards Association.

While Ms. Fricke agreed with Mr. Bingaman that a panel made up solely of politicians would be problematic, she also argued that a panel of educators "would suffer from a different credibility problem by being viewed as too insulated and reflective of the existing order," and suggested a more balanced group.

Ms. Fricke, Ms. Waterman, and Mr. Clausen also voiced support for holding the summit included in HR 5115. The Congress approved such a summit in 1984, but the Reagan Administration refused to organize it. HR 5115 would enable Congressional leaders to launch a summit without the Administration's participation.

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