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Summit Slated For Governors, Corporations

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The nation's governors and business leaders will convene in the spring for an education summit organized by two forceful advocates for wholesale change in public schools.

Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson and Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the chairman and chief executive of ibm, issued invitations late last week to the 50 governors, who will each choose one business executive to attend. The summit will be at the International Business Machines' conference center in Palisades, N.Y., on March 26 and 27.

The meeting will mark the first time since the 1989 national education summit in Charlottesville, Va., that the nation's governors have gathered with the sole purpose of mobilizing school reform.

"Our goal is a small, intense meeting that will produce action, not rhetoric," Mr. Gerstner said in a joint statement with Gov. Thompson.

The meeting will focus on the development of academic standards and assessments by the states and the role of technology in school restructuring. The summit is intended to "build on the successes that states have had in developing and implementing school reform across the nation," Gov. Thompson said in the statement.

The Charlottesville Legacy

Six years ago in Charlottesville, the governors and President Bush, who attended along with Cabinet members and staff, reached a historic agreement to set national performance goals in education.

That two-day meeting at the University of Virginia served as a powerful symbol of democracy at work, as nightly newscasts broadcast images of the president and the governors forging consensus on the campus designed by Thomas Jefferson.

But many officials planning the March summit were reluctant to describe it as a sequel to the Charlottesville meeting. Before the public announcement of the event last week, some even balked at using the word summit to describe the meeting.

"I think it's better to call it a 'conference' or 'meeting' for now," Stanley S. Litow, the head of ibm's corporate-giving program, said in an interview.

Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad, a key organizer of the Charlottesville summit, said that duplicating the drama and impact of that meeting would be difficult. "But I would hope that we could reinvigorate our efforts, that we could motivate some of the new governors and make education a front-burner issue again."

Only six of the 50 governors who attended the Charlottesville summit remain in office, and the task of the old guard is to infuse the newcomers with the bipartisan spirit and urgency of that meeting, Mr. Branstad said.

"We as a group consider education to be a very, very key issue," he said. "Probably a lot of the new governors will, too, but you don't know."

Turnover among governors--19 newcomers took office this year alone--has drained the standards movement of some strong champions, said Michael S. Cohen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. If most of the governors attend the summit and recommit to rigorous standards, "that could give it some momentum and restore some bipartisan support," Mr. Cohen added.

Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, another Charlottesville participant, said, "There has been some backing away" from federal involvement in education, "but we at the state level have to move forward."

'Bone-Jarring Revolution'

Discussions about a possible education summit started after the National Governors' Association met in July in Burlington, Vt.

At that meeting, Mr. Gerstner, an influential education philanthropist, delivered a stinging assessment of the state of school reform.

The goals established in Charlottesville will not be met without a "fundamental, bone-jarring, full-fledged, 100 percent revolution that discards the old and replaces it with a totally new performance-driven system," he said at the nga meeting. Each governor, as the chief executive officer of his state's school system, "has to reach out, grab it by the throat, shake it up, and insist that it happen."

Gov. Thompson has preached a similar message while pushing initiatives in Wisconsin for tuition vouchers, charter schools, and the revamping of the state's education-governance structure.

Even before the nga meeting, he had pledged to use his chairmanship of that group and of the Education Commission of the States, another state leaders' policy group, to make education a high-profile issue in next year's elections.

"My mission: I want to bring education back to the forefront," he told an ecs gathering in Denver in July.

Whether the summit can move education into the election spotlight depends in part on whether President Clinton participates, said Garrey E. Carruthers, a former governor of New Mexico who was chairman of the ecs during the Charlottesville summit.

"A lot would depend on whether [Gov. Thompson] invites the president or not," Mr. Carruthers said. "That would increase the awareness quite a bit."

Mr. Cohen of the Education Department said officials there knew of the meeting but had not been involved in planning it.

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