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Governors' Action Team Recommends State 'Benchmarks' for Readiness Goal

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A task force of the National Governors' Association was expected to issue a report this week recommending interim "benchmarks'' that states can use to measure their progress toward ensuring that all children start school ready to learn.

The task force, chaired by Gov. George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, developed the benchmarks after the National Education Goals Panel concluded that there are currently no direct ways to measure the nation's progress toward achieving the readiness goal.

The report was one of three on education set to be released this week at the N.G.A.'s annual meeting in Princeton, N.J.

A 'Clearer Picture'

The 14 interim benchmarks, recommended by a panel of experts that worked with the governors, define the outcomes and services that directly contribute to school readiness.

They include the percentage of children under age 5 who participate in public or private preschool programs; the percentage of communities with family-support and education services; and the percentage of pregnant women receiving prenatal care during the first trimester.

The report, "Every Child Ready for School,'' suggests that, where appropriate, each of the benchmarks should be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, income, family status, and gender to provide a "clearer, more accurate picture'' of the progress that states are making.

Given the negative effects of poverty on children's well-being, the report also suggests that states may want to establish a separate benchmark for the percentage of all children under age 5 who live in areas with high concentrations of poverty.

Self-Help Groups

The committee of governors and corporate leaders that produced the report was one of three teams convened by Gov. John Ashcroft of Missouri this past year in his role as chairman of the N.G.A.

They were primarily designed as self-help groups that would enable the states' chief executive officers to share ideas and information about how to make progress toward meeting the national education goals.

The other two teams of governors and business leaders focused on the school years and on lifelong learning.

Each governor who participated on a task force was expected to initiate plans in his or her own state around the goals on which the action team was focused.

The reports include numerous examples of the steps states have taken, along with the barriers they have faced, and the lessons they have learned.

An 'Uneven Record'

The overwhelming conclusion appears to be that change is tougher than the governors had anticipated.

An overview of the three reports concludes that an "incremental approach'' to education reform over the past decade has resulted in an "uneven record of improvement on some measures and frustration with the lack of any significant change on others.''

"Current systems and governance structures are fragmented and uncoordinated,'' the executive summary states, resulting in "wasted time and resources, competing and sometimes conflicting goals, and incomplete patterns of service.''

Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, the incoming chairman of the N.G.A., last week said he would convene a task force on education to help states move from "incremental to systemic change'' over the coming year.

According to the governors, their challenge is to redesign all pieces of the education system in a "coordinated, coherent fashion'' over a long period of time--a task made more difficult in light of shrinking financial resources.

'Radically Affects' States

Mr. Romer, a Democrat, is expected to reflect the governors' collective concern with the troubled state of the economy in his agenda for the organization this year.

In an interview last week, the Governor said he would urge his fellow leaders to work with the White House and with the Congress to devise a strategy to reduce the federal deficit and redirect funds toward "strategic investments.''

"Governors have got to be effective participants in that debate because any resolution of it radically affects states,'' he said.

But while Mr. Romer expected to take up the issue with the N.G.A.'s executive committee this week, he predicted that any action would have to wait until after the Presidential election in November.

Mr. Romer said he would also create N.G.A. task forces on health-care reform and on "reinventing'' government to make it more effective.

Copies of the action-team reports are available from N.G.A. Publications, P.O. Box 421, Annapolis Junction, Md. 20701.

Copies of the reports, "Every Child Ready for School: Report of the Action Team on School Readiness,'' and "Keys to Changing the System: Report of the Action Team on the School Years,'' are available for $16.95 each; copies of "Enhancing Skills for a Competitive World: Report of the Action Team on Lifelong Learning,'' are $18.95 each.

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