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Text of Policy Statement Issued at National Summit

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The following is the complete text of the policy statement issued at the conclusion of the 1996 National Education Summit last week in Palisades, N.Y.

1996 National Education Summit Policy Statement

The quality of our schools is one of the issues fundamental to America's future and our quality of life. The primary purpose of education is to prepare students to flourish in a democratic society and to work successfully in a global economy. Governors and business leaders recognize that our nation's future depends on all students being able to perform to their highest potential. Our joint leadership in our states is imperative. Parents have the primary responsibility to make decisions about their children's education. States and localities are responsible for providing high-quality educational opportunities. The nation's governors have made the strengthening of schools a top priority. Business leaders understand that companies can be successful and the nation can be economically viable only if the United States has a world-class workforce.

Notwithstanding the progress that has been made, we agree that substantial and focused efforts must be taken to significantly accelerate student performance. In November 1995, the National Education Goals Panel marked the progress made in achieving the goals at the midpoint between the time they were established and the year 2000, when they are to be achieved. The report shows some positive developments, but it is clear that, at the current pace, we will not meet these goals in any area. The report also shows that limited information is being collected to help us understand how students are performing. While we remain committed to implement at the state and local level the education goals adopted by governors following the Charlottesville (Va.) Summit in 1989, it is clear that simply setting goals is not enough.

Why We Have Come Together

As governors and leaders of American businesses we have a stake in the quality and performance of schools in this nation. We are united by our civic responsibilities, our concerns as parents, and our common interest in securing a prosperous future for our states and companies in the 21st century. We are compelled by the urgent need for schools to improve and for student academic performance to rise. Students must be challenged to perform at higher academic levels and be expected to demonstrate mastery of core academic subjects. In addition to basic skills, all individuals must be able to think their way through the workday, analyzing problems, proposing solutions, communicating, working collaboratively, and managing resources such as time and materials. Providing all citizens with the opportunity to develop these skills will give the people of our country a competitive edge. Today's economy demands that all high school graduates, whether they are continuing their education or are moving directly into the workforce, have higher levels of skills and knowledge. Improving our schools for children is an investment in the future that cannot be postponed. The world and the economy are changing rapidly, but many of our schools have not kept pace. We believe that schools must be more focused on the needs of students, parents, postsecondary education institutions, and employers. States and local school districts must implement the appropriate calendar, structure, and requirements for student performance necessary to meet the needs of the next century.

We do not prescribe change simply for the sake of change. The only reason to undertake change is to improve students' academic performance. To do that we must help states or local school districts develop a consensus on what children should know and be able to do. To be sure, parents must play a key role in this process. We also recognize that, because of our legitimate differences in opinion regarding the content and methods of providing education, building such consensus may be difficult, but such difficulty should not deter us from achieving our goal. Without such agreement from communities, students and teachers lack direction and focus to their efforts. This agreement will form the basis for developing high academic content and skill standards. Governors and business leaders must assist state or local school districts in developing assessments to measure student achievement and to use such assessments as measurements for providing students and parents with continuous feedback about student performance and specific areas where students may need some help. Finally, we must put in place the technology, professional-development opportunities, and curriculum that will enable both parents and communities as a whole to hold their schools accountable.

Explicit Expectations and School Accountability

We believe that efforts to set clear, common, state and/or community-based academic standards for students in a given school district or state are necessary to improve student performance. Academic standards clearly define what students should know and be able to do at certain points in their schooling to be considered proficient in specific academic areas. We believe that states and communities can benefit from working together to tap into the nation's best thinking on standards and assessments. We also believe that these standards and assessments should integrate both academic and occupational skills. However, standards and assessments are necessary tools to inform and direct our work, not an end unto themselves. We recognize that better use of technology, improved curriculum, better-trained educators, and other changes in the organization and management of schools are necessary to facilitate improved student performance. However, without a clear articulation of the skills needed, specific agreement on the academic content students should be learning, clear goals for what needs to be accomplished, and authentic and accurate systems to tell us how well schools and students are doing, efforts to improve our schools will lack direction.

We believe that setting clear academic standards, benchmarking these standards to the highest levels, and accurately assessing student academic performance is a state, or in some cases a local, responsibility, depending on the traditions of the state. We do not call for a set of mandatory, federally prescribed standards but welcome the savings and other benefits offered by cooperation between states and school districts and the opportunities provided by a national clearinghouse of effective practices to improve achievement. But in whatever way is chosen, standards must be in place in all of our schools and must be in place quickly.

Technology To Give Students The Knowledge and Skills They Will Need in the Workplace

We are convinced that technology, if applied thoughtfully and well-integrated into a curriculum, can be utilized as a helpful tool to assist student learning, provide access to valuable information, and ensure a competitive edge for our workforce. It can be used by trained educators in classrooms and other places students learn, such as in libraries, in museums, and at home. Interactive learning enables parents and educators to find new ways to help students improve academically, while helping students learn to use the tools that are being used not only in today's high-technology workplaces, but increasingly in any workplace. We cannot reach higher standards without developing new approaches and strategies to help students, teachers, and parents. While not a silver bullet, technology is one important tool to accomplish this.

Governors and business leaders need to support educators in overcoming the barriers that impede the effective use of technology. Such barriers may include the complexities of planning for the acquisition and integration of technology into classrooms and schools; the high costs of acquiring, developing, and maintaining it; the lack of school technology policies; resistance to change from individuals both within and outside the education system; and most important, the need for staff development and curriculum change.

Why We Believe in the Use of Standards To Improve Student Achievement

We endorse these efforts because we believe it will:

  • Help all students learn more by demanding higher student proficiency and providing effective methods to help students achieve higher standards;
  • Provide parents, schools, and communities with an unprecedented opportunity to debate and reach agreement on what students should know and be able to do;
  • Focus the education system on understandable, objective, measurable, and well-defined goals to enable schools to work smarter and more productively;
  • Reinforce the best teaching and educational practices already found in classrooms and make them the norm; and
  • Provide real accountability by focusing squarely on results and helping the public and local and state educators evaluate which programs work best.

Why We Believe in the Use of New Technologies To Improve Student Performance

We endorse these efforts because we believe that new uses of technology in schools will:

  • Substantially improve access to the best instructional methods and materials for all students;
  • Give families greater access to teachers and schools to increase family involvement and improve student learning;
  • Provide students with the hands-on experience to develop the knowledge and skills they will need to compete successfully in the workplace;
  • Find and reinforce the best uses of technology that are already found in schools and classrooms and make them the norm;
  • Serve as a driving force for innovation and creativity in order to restructure every aspect of education, raise academic achievement, and increase the efficiency of school administration;
  • Offer teachers access to specialized support, collegial relationships, and professional development to increase their effectiveness with students; and
  • Provide new ways for students to work at their own pace, eliminating the ceiling for those who are already performing well academically, raising the floor, and providing additional assistance to those who need it.

What We Commit To Do

Swift action must be taken to address these issues. While we commend those states and school districts that have provided leadership to improve student performance, we urge greater progress, and for others, increased effort. We believe that standards can be effective only if they represent what parents, employers, educators, and community members believe children should learn and be able to do. However, the current rate of change needs to be accelerated, and no process or time line should deter us from the results. We believe that governors and business leaders must provide powerful and consistent support to ensure that this effort moves forward swiftly and effectively.

This summit is intended to demonstrate--to parents, students, educators, and our constituents--our strong and nonpartisan support of efforts to:

  • Set clear academic standards for what students need to know or be able to do in core subject areas;
  • Assist schools in accurately measuring student progress toward reaching these standards;
  • Make changes to curriculum, teaching techniques, and technology uses based on the results;
  • Assist schools in overcoming the barriers to using new technology; and
  • Hold schools and students accountable for demonstrating real improvement.

What Specific Actions We Will Take

We commit to the following steps to initiate and/or accelerate our efforts to improve student achievement:

Implementing Standards. As governors, we commit to the development and establishment of internationally competitive academic standards, assessments to measure academic achievement, and accountability systems in our states, according to each state's governing structure, within the next two years. For this purpose, we agree to the reallocation of sums sufficient to support implementation of those standards within a clear timetable for a full implementation. Such funds should be available for the essential professional development, infrastructure, and new technologies needed to meet these goals.

Business Practices. As business leaders, we commit to actively support the work of the governors to improve student performance and to develop coalitions of other business leaders in our states to expand this support. As such we will clearly communicate to students, parents, schools, and the community the types and levels of skills necessary to meet the workforce needs of the next century and implement hiring practices within one year that will require applicants to demonstrate academic achievement through school-based records, such as academic transcripts, diplomas, portfolios, certificates of initial mastery, or others as appropriate. We commit to considering the quality of a state's academic standards and student achievement levels as a high-priority factor in determining business-location decisions. We also agree to adopt policies to support parental involvement in their children's education and in improving their local school. Finally, we commit to developing and helping implement compatible, inexpensive, and easy-to-use products, services, and software to support teaching.

Public Reporting. As governors and business leaders, we commit to be held accountable for progress made in our respective states toward improving student achievement in core subject areas. First, we will establish an external, independent, nongovernmental effort to measure and report each state's annual progress in setting standards, improving the quality of teaching, incorporating technology, supporting innovation, and proving student achievement. To review student academic progress, we will explore the use of a reliable benchmarked assessment. Second, we will produce and widely distribute in each of our individual states an annual report showing progress made by both states and businesses in meeting our stated commitments and educating the public on the importance of these issues. Outstanding reports will be recognized annually by the chair of the National Governors' Association at its winter meeting and will be widely disseminated within the states. Third, reports will be released at a high-profile televised media announcement in each state, and we will work to coordinate the release nationally to help focus public awareness on this critical issue.

Information Sharing and Technical Assistance. As governors and business leaders, we recognize that states and communities will need resources and technical assistance to develop and implement standards and assessments, and to ensure these standards and assessments are of high quality and truly world-class, and to ensure that other parts of the education system reflect and reinforce these standards and assessments. Where appropriate and on a voluntary basis, we commit to work together to pool information resources and expertise to move our states forward on this agenda. We also commit to designate an external, independent, nongovernmental entity to facilitate our work together on these issues, and provide guidance, help, and information to interested states and school districts. The summit planning committee within 90 days will design such an entity and present it for adoption by the NGA executive committee, which will then present it for endorsement to the NGA at the 1996 annual meeting. Finally, we commit to giving high priority to promoting professional development of educators, including efforts to improve instructional methods that use new technologies to help students achieve high standards.

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