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Top-Level Task Force To Study Children's Readiness for School

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Denver--State and federal officials this month announced that they have created a top-level task force to help school officials reach the first national education goal: ensuring that children begin school ready to learn.

The panel, announced here this month at the annual meeting of the Education Commission of the States, will be chaired by Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan. It will also include Education Secretary Lamar Alexander; Gov. Booth Gardner of Washington State; James J. Renier, chairman and chief executive of Honeywell Inc.; and David W. Hamburg, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Dr. Sullivan said the panel, supported by the ecs and the National Governors' Association, will over the next 18 months study exemplary practices in a wide range of early childhood issues, consider reforms necessary in current child-welfare efforts, and establish model demonstration projects.

It plans to circulate its recommendations to groups ranging from government agencies to businesses and volunteer groups.

Officials said the task force was created to address issues which fall outside the purview of most schools, such as prenatal care, immunization, lead poisoning, child abuse, and malnutrition.

"The social environment and the communities in which children grow up are crucial elements in helping them learn and prepare for productive lives," Dr. Sullivan said. "A child's education doesn't depend solely on the school."

Mr. Alexander added that the panel will also examine how federal resources can best be used to further the readiness goal, one of the six targets adopted by President Bush and the nation's governors.

"There is a consensus that our schools are not ready for our children, and our children are not ready for our schools," Mr. Alexander said.

In addition to studying health, welfare, and education factors, the task force is also expected to consult with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack F. Kemp and Agriculture Secretary Edward Madigan for insights on programs under their jurisdiction.

Organizers said the coordinated effort will be vital to head off the damage nearly 450,000 children suffer each year, according to the ecs About 11 percent of all newborns show signs of their mother's drug use, and 40,000 children each year are born with learning difficulties associated with maternal alcohol use during pregnancy, according to the group.

"I am interested in starting a process which leads to systemic changes," Secretary Sullivan said.--lh

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