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States, Businesses Urged To Recommit to School Reform

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Lincoln, Neb.

Acknowledging that the Goals 2000: Educate America Act "has some political baggage," a senior Education Department official last week urged state officials and members of the business community to redouble their efforts on behalf of the standards-based school-reform strategy and of school reform in general.

"Nobody can provide any guarantees at this point as to what the future of Goals 2000 is," said Michael Cohen, a senior adviser to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. "We're all in a period of watching and waiting for what will happen."

Mr. Cohen's remarks, at a Council of Chief State School Officers meeting here, came just days after significant Republican victories in the midterm elections.

Not only will the g.o.p. control the House and Senate during the next Congress, but it also captured a majority of governorships for the first time in decades and made substantial gains in state legislatures. (See Education Week, 11/16/94.)

In an interview, Mr. Cohen said he meant to sound a cautionary note in the wake of the elections, but stressed his belief that Goals 2000 is on a sure footing.

"We're just uncertain right now like everybody else is," he said.

Underscoring that uncertainty, Thomas Sobol, the commissioner of education in New York State, told his colleagues here that the defeat of Democratic Gov. Mario M. Cuomo may scramble his state's Goals 2000 efforts.

While Mr. Sobol had named half of the members of a state panel that is to develop a statewide school-improvement plan under Goals 2000, Mr. Cuomo had not filled the remainder of the slots.

Mr. Sobol said it is uncertain whether the incoming Republican Governor, George E. Pataki, will support Goals 2000 or the state's other existing reform efforts.

"We're hoping the new Governor will agree that Goals 2000 is really nonpartisan, that it's mainstream," Mr. Sobol said.

For the most part, Goals 2000 proponents said the election results should not dramatically alter implementation of standards-based reforms in the states.

Mr. Cohen noted the bipartisan support the Goals 2000 legislation received in Congress. Moreover, he said, nearly all states--regardless of which party controls statehouses or legislatures--have applied for Goals 2000 funding.

Commitment Level

"That leads to a degree of commitment that you wouldn't assume was there when a state routinely participates in federal programs," he said.

However, observers agreed that an effort will have to be made to bring the incoming group of elected officials up to speed on ongoing school reforms.

Susan Traiman, the director of education programs for the Business Roundtable, said the business community is in a perfect position to do that, especially in light of the success of conservatives in the elections.

"We need to reinforce the need to continue to pursue systemic education reform," Ms. Traiman said. "The business community can be very effective in making the point that Goals 2000 is not just a Democratic idea."

Patty Mitchell, the vice president for education for the National Alliance of Business, said a coalition of business officials is putting the final touches on a collective effort to back school reform "to get some extra momentum for the next two or three years."

Goals 2000 and the standards-based reforms it advocates, she said, will continue to have vocal bipartisan support from the business community.

The National Governors' Association, meanwhile, plans to continue stressing the voluntary nature of Goals 2000.

"If concerns are raised, we're happy to address them," said Paul Goren, the director of education-policy studies for the n.g.a.

Peer Review

At the meeting here, Mr. Cohen told the chiefs that the Education Department is preparing to review state school-improvement plans submitted under Goals 2000. He said the department will send guidance to state and peer reviewers soon about how to judge state plans.

Among other criteria, he said, reviewers will look at whether the plans reflect widespread backing, support bottom-up reform, include evidence that state standards will be challenging, and seek to improve the achievement of all students.

He also said the department hopes to hold a series of conferences on Goals 2000 for state and local officials next spring.

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