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Governors Seek More Leeway, Involvement in Standards-Setting

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If standards are to be developed for what schools are expected to offer students, states should be given as much leeway as possible, the National Governors' Association argues in a new report. The group warns against federal mandates that it says would amount to a vast new regulatory checklist for schools.

"States, not the federal government, should assume the responsibility for creating an education-delivery system that enables all students to achieve high standards,'' the N.G.A. said in a statement on the issue last year.

In the report released this month--based on the efforts of state study groups as well as discussion groups convened by the N.G.A.--the governors again stress that states, not the federal government, should wrestle with the issues of what schools are expected to provide in curriculum, teaching, resources, and administrative leadership.

But the state leaders bluntly concede that the job may be beyond their own grasp as well.

"Despite more than a century of efforts to use input and process standards to provide equal opportunity, states have had limited success in addressing this issue through state policy,'' the N.G.A. says in "The Debate on Opportunity-to-Learn Standards.''

"The difficulty of achieving past education-equity goals should be sobering for state policymakers now facing a much more complex challenge,'' the report says, noting that lawmakers are now looking at equal access to high-quality instruction, not just school services.

"Achieving political consensus,'' it says, "may depend on keeping opportunity-to-learn standards voluntary and defining them in broad categories that are closely related to teaching and learning.''

As part of the organization's effort to research the issue, the N.G.A. awarded grants last year for studies by state officials in California, New York State, South Carolina, and Vermont.

Four State Designs

"Each state considers opportunity-to-learn standards as a key component of its systemic education-reform strategy,'' observers of the state projects report.

Each state task force recommended a system light on bureaucracy and mandates. But the groups took differing approaches:

  • The California panel agreed on a broad definition of opportunity standards that would include equal access, curriculum, and funding, and would guarantee an enriched and differentiated curriculum, support programs, access to technology, and safety. The system would be enforced through school-level and district reviews.
  • In New York, officials said standards should be used to create "a culture of review'' in which school and district officials closely monitor their own work. State reviews would be done by teams visiting each school on a five-year cycle. While the results would be open to school officials and parents, "the review has no external accountability purposes or consequences,'' the N.G.A. says.
  • Total Quality Management would be the emphasis of the South Carolina system, based on self-assessment by schools and districts on a host of issues grouped under the headings of learning, operations, and quality.
  • Vermont officials envisioned using opportunity standards as a diagnostic tool for schools not meeting state performance measures. The standards would focus on vision, curriculum, assessment, professionalism, funding, administration, and safety.

Copies of the report are available for $15 each from the National Governors' Association, 444 North Capitol St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001-1512; (301) 498-3738.

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