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Published in Print: April 10, 1991, as Federal Role Remains Sticking Point In Goals Talks, Participants Admit

Federal Role Remains Sticking Point In Goals Talks, Participants Admit

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Furthermore, they warn, the divisions among the governors and Bush Administration officials who are the decisionmakers in the process could undermine the enterprise.

With a set of recommendations from its expert resource groups in hand, the goals panel appears to be well on its way toward selecting measures to assess the progress of the nation's education system toward the goals.

But Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, chairman of the panel, said he is growing "impatient" because Republican members are reluctant to discuss a framework for evaluating the efforts of the federal government.

While Roger B. Porter, President Bush's domestic-policy adviser, denies that the Administration is reluctant to assess its own efforts, he disagrees about the relative importance of such an endeavor.

In an interview, Mr. Romer, a Democrat, said: "We have not done one piece: the federal piece. That is one piece I have serious concerns about."

"There have been differences of opinion among the governors and the Administration," the Governor added.

"Some feel it's an afterthought and not one of the main purposes of our body," he said. "Some feel this is only an outcome-based assignment, and there is nothing to be tested in terms of outcomes as regards the federal government, and so there's nothing to report."

Mr. Romer said he would like to gather an expert panel similar to the resource groups that recommended assessment measures for each goal to suggest how the federal role should be evaluated.

The Administration officials and Republican governors who hold 7 of the panel's 10 seats--particularly Mr. Porter, who has been a dominant force throughout the goals process--are reluctant, Mr. Romer said.

He argued that this attitude lends credence to the view held by some members of the Congress that measures devised by the federal and state politicians with a political stake in the outcomes are unlikely to be honest and credible.

"Ask them why they think they need [a more independent panel]," Mr. Romer said. "I'm trying to say, 'Hey, we can do it. Now let's do it.' If we can't do it, there's a very interesting case to be made that somebody else needs to do it."

Porter 'Puzzled'

Mr. Porter said in an interview that he was "puzzled" by Mr. Romer's remarks. He noted that the Administration had agreed to include measures of federal efforts in annual "report cards" both in a 1990 agreement on the goals panel's mission and in the joint statement that launched the goals-setting process at the 1989 "education summit" in Charlottesville, Va.

"We've had some discussions of it," Mr. Porter said. "There will be federal measures on the report card, as I understand."

But Mr. Porter also indicated that he does not think exhaustive study is necessary.

The federal issues--defined in the panel's mission statement as providing federal funding, increasing flexibility of federal education programs, and controlling federal mandates that tie up state funds--are "straightforward," Mr. Porter said.

"The big challenge," he said, "is how we are going to develop results-oriented measures for the goals."

Members of the goals panel discussed the issue of federal measures at a private meeting just before a March 25 public gathering where the resource groups' work was unveiled. (See Education Week, April 3, 1991.)

Sources involved in the assessment process said Mr. Romer proposed appointing an advisory group to suggest federal benchmarks, and was unhappy with the lukewarm response he received from Mr. Porter and his Republican colleagues.

The sources said Mr. Romer warned the panel that Democratic governors would not support an assessment package that did not contain a strong federal component.

"There's a general fear among Democratic governors that they are being used by the Administration in some way," an aide involved in the goals process said.

Credibility Problem?

That fear is not new. Democratic governors, and occasionally Republicans as well, have expressed concern since the Charlottesville meeting that the Administration would try to score political points for showing an interest in education while shifting all the accountability for results to the states.

A successful resolution of the largely partisan dispute over the federal role is crucial, observers said, because failure to do so could undermine the credibility of the annual report card that is to be inaugurated in late September.

"I think there would be a lot of skepticism, and people wouldn't take the goals seriously, if there wasn't going to be a serious commitment on the part of all the actors to deliver, if behind the facade there isn't a serious commitment on both the state and national levels," said Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the leader of one of the resource groups.

Many observers also argue that another unresolved dispute--that between the goals panel and the Congress--could also undermine the effort.

"The Administration has been very slow in talking about what they should do with respect to each of these goals," said Gordon M. Ambach, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "But even without new initiatives, they will need Congress. A significant amount of federal money will be needed even to monitor the goals."

Members of the Congress have complained from the outset about not being included, and some are supporting legislation to create an independent monitoring panel dominated by educators, a move the Administration has vigorously opposed.

The proposal, whose primary sponsor is Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, is included in an omnibus education bill introduced by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, and Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the majority leader.

They plan to put the bill, S 2, up for committee consideration as soon as Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander has a chance to study it.

Issue of Control?

Mr. Romer has said repeatedly that he would like to negotiate an agreement with the Congress and include members in the goals process. In the interview, he said he is growing increasingly frustrated with Mr. Porter's refusal to consider any compromise.

Mr. Porter replied that, "We have an understanding that there will be further discussions on this issue, that the subject is not closed."

He reiterated, however, that he thinks the current panel "is the appropriate one."

Mr. Porter also contended that he is not the only participant opposed to the Bingaman initiative.

"If he is trying to single me out, that's totally false," Mr. Porter said. "There are 9 people on the [10-member] panel who happen to feel that way. Anyone who tries to characterize this as partisan in nature isn't telling you the truth."

Sources close to the goals panel agreed that many governors from both parties are leery of giving up control over the process.

"They see this as their authority and their responsibility, and they are the ones who are directly accountable," one aide said. "On the other hand, we all know they are going to need help from Congress."

Several observers and goals-panel sources suggested that partisan tension could increase after Mr. Romer relinquishes the chairmanship of the panel in August, as Democrats see the process dominated by Republicans.

The new chairman, to be appointed by John Ashcroft, Missouri's Republican Governor, after he assumes the chairmanship of the National Governors' Association, will presumably be one of the other Republican governors who sit on the panel. They are Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina and Terry E. Branstad of Iowa, both of whom played key roles at earlier stages of the goals process.

Partisan concerns aside, some observers fear that Mr. Romer's successor will not be as strong a leader.

Some sources say personality conflicts have contributed to the disputes between Mr. Romer and Mr. Porter--who even argued about the location of the goals panel's office, according to one aide.

High Marks for Romer

But many observers and participants--including Mr. Porter--give Mr. Romer high marks for his efforts to keep the process on track.

"I don't know that I've seen a person on a steeper learning curve, putting as much energy into anything as that man has," said David Hornbeck, an educational consultant and a former chief state school officer who served on a resource panel. "He's provided truly significant leadership."

The monitoring panel is scheduled to decide in early June what measures to use for the 1991 report card. The deadline for decisions on what new assessments to support is less certain.

And observers note that the governors and the Administration have yet to confront, in a systematic fashion, the question of how to reach the goals.

"Not much has been done to determine the programs that are needed to achieve the goals," Mr. Boyer said. "There's been a lot of effort spent discussing how to evaluate and who's in charge of the process--and probably more effort has been devoted to the latter."

"It would be an absolute tragedy if the goals were held up in a symbolic sense, and there are no specifics on what has to be delivered," he said. "The stakes are too high."

Vol. 10, Issue 29, Page 1, 26

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