At Presummit Meetings, Governors Seek Advice on School Goals

By Reagan Walker — September 27, 1989 4 min read

Wilmington, Del--At a meeting here last week that was the pinnacle of presummit preparations for many governors, former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell urged a dozen Southern governors to “make education an obsession.”

The governors, attending a meeting of the Southern Governors’ Association, asked Mr. Bell and others for advice on what they should hope to accomplish at this week’s education summit with President Bush.

Mr. Bell--who was Secretary of Education when A Nation At Risk, the federal report that sparked reform efforts in many states, was released in 1983--said the most important result that could come of the summit is an emphasis on education performance standards.

“I’m convinced when performance is measured, performance improves,” he said.

For many governors here, the Wilmington meeting was one of several they had attended in the past couple weeks--in their states and elsewhere--to prepare for the summit.

Those meetings, they said, have made it clear that two outcomes can already be attributed to the summit--the opening of what is hoped to be a continuing dialogue between educators and their state and national officials, and an increase in media attention to education.

“We are already seeing benefits of this summit in the level of activity in the states,” Gov. Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina said earlier this month. Mr. Campbell, along with Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, is spearheading summit plans for the governors.

Since President Bush issued his summit invitation six weeks ago, governors, state education officials, and even the President have asked educators and business leaders across the nation to share their views on education reform.

A Renewed Energy

Almost all of the nation’s gover4nors have put some focus on education in their states.

At least half have held “mini-summits,” visited schools, conducted town forums, or given speeches focusing on education.

In many cases, the summit and the state meetings have given a new sense of urgency and energy to education reform.

Several governors have said the state meetings have not only prepared them for the summit, but have also helped them set a course for reform in their states.

Gov. Guy Hunt of Alabama pledged a renewed commitment to education when he announced a series of seven meetings with teachers and principals in schools around the state.

“Our drive for quality education in Alabama begins anew,” Mr. Hunt said.

In South Dakota, Gov. George Mickelson said at a statewide summit, “We are poised in this state to make a tremendous difference in education.”

Local educators have used their unusual access to top government officials to stress what they think is needed to improve education in their states.

Earlier this month, Brian Cram, superintendent of the Clark County School District in Nevada, told Gov. Bob Miller and state education officials that federal funds should be tied to educational improvement. He also suggested mandatory kindergarten be instituted in his state.

In Arkansas, Butch Murray, a teacher attending one of 16 simulta8neous state education forums chaired by Governor Clinton and state education officials, suggested teachers need more time to teach.

Educators in South Dakota stressed that the needs of rural schools have often taken a back seat to their urban counterparts.

Nationally recognized educators, business leaders, and government officials have also been asked for advice.

At the Southern governors’ meeting, Mr. Bell shared the podium with Theodore R. Sizer, chairman of the Coalition of Essential Schools; William Kolberg, president of the National Alliance of Business; and Pierre S. duPont 4th, a former governor of Delaware.

Mr. Sizer stressed the need for reorganization of the school day and the way students are taught, while Mr. duPont argued for choice and educational vouchers.

Mr. Kolberg announced that the business alliance, the Committee for Economic Development, and five other top business organizations have formed the Business Education Coalition for Education Reform to keep the business community focused on such educational issues as early childhood education.

‘Building a National Consensus’

Along with the flurry of state activity has come heightened media attention to education.

Dozens of local news organizations have covered the state meetings and interviewed their governors about education and the summit, while reporters from national print and broadcast media have crowded events that normally attract a handful of education reporters.

For example, a large group of reporters showed up for the release of Results in Education: 1989, the latest of a series of reports on education reform by the National Governors’ Association.

At that event, Terry E. Branstad, Governor of Iowa and current chairman of the n.g.a., was asked why the President should get involved in a summit if most change happens on the state and local levels.

The Presidency adds visibility to the cause, Mr. Branstad said, pointing out to the crowd of reporters that “the involvement of the President is what made all of you attend this press conference today.”

When Governor Campbell left the Southern governors’ session, national network reporters ambushed him with questions about national goal-setting and the summit.

Both Mr. Campbell and Mr. Branstad have said the media attention and the state activities are as much a part of the process of “building a national consensus” as the summit itself.

A version of this article appeared in the September 27, 1989 edition of Education Week as At Presummit Meetings, Governors Seek Advice on School Goals