Bush and Governors May Set Goals a Month Early

By Reagan Walker — December 13, 1989 4 min read

Washington--National education goals could be tentatively set as early as next month to give President Bush the opportunity to include statements on the goals in his State of the Union Message, key Governors and federal officials said last week.

The nation’s Governors and Mr. Bush announced after their education summit in Charlottesville, Va., in September that they had agreed to establish national education goals by the time the Governors convened for their mid-winter meeting in late February.

Last week, however, several participants in the goal-setting process said the White House has recently picked up the pace of negotiations so that the President can talk about specific goals in his speech to the Congress next month.

“The President is intending to have a lot of work done early to allow him to work with his staff on his agenda for the Congress,” said Gov. Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, a co-chairman, along with Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, of the n.g.a. Task Force on Education.

Task force members met briefly with the President here last week to discuss the goals before a daylong series of meetings with educators and other federal officials.

Broad or Specific Goals?

After the panel discussions, where more than 40 representatives of edu4cation and business organizations offered their suggestions and advice on national goals, the Governors met in a closed-door session with several high-ranking federal officials.

The group included Roger B. Porter, the President’s domestic-policy adviser; Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos; and Richard G. Darman, director of the Office ofManagement and Budget.

Gubernatorial staff members at the meeting said draft goals could be circulated among all the Governors as early as this week.

Governor Clinton said the debate among the Governors and the federal officials in the closed-door session centered largely on whether the group should formulate one or two broad goals and designate several specific indicators of progress, or whether they should stick with setting specific goals in the seven areas laid out in the summit agreement.

“If we were doing it today,” Mr. Clinton said after the meeting, “we would stick with the summit goals.”

The goals are to focus on ensuring that all young children are ready for school; improving American student’s performance in international assessments; reducing dropout rates; increasing adult literacy; ensuring a supply of qualified teachers; ensuring that workers are trained for high-tech jobs; and establishing safe, drug-free schools.

Specific Goals Discussed

Some educators at the meeting last week said that one broad, overarching goal or mission statement should be formulated to galvinize the public around the cause of improving education.

But most suggested during the panel discussions or in the nearly 200 written statements submitted to the n.g.a. that five or six goals should be set.

“We should definitely keep the number low in order for the goals to be rallying points,” said Gordon M. Ambach, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Six Goals Recommended

The council recommended six goals that were developed and unanimously agreed to by the group’s board of directors and a special task force of state school chiefs in a process that began at their annual meeting last month. Several other groups followed a similar process.

The chiefs’ goals include creating a challenging and internationally comparable curriculum; becoming internationally competitive in math and science achievement; graduating virturally all students from high school; increasing literacy levels among youths and adults; and ensuring youths and adults have the necessary workplace skills for initial employment and career advancement.

In addition, the chiefs listed as their first goal school readiness--an objective that was stressed by more educators at the meeting than any other.

Assessment Concerns

While most educators expressed optimism that a consensus could be reached on what goals should be set, they said discussions about how to measure those goals would be far more contentious.

Basing goals on international comparisons could be problematic, noted Chester E. Finn Jr., former director of the federal office of educational research and improvement, because “there is no one in the world charged with the responsibility for making those comparisons.”

Marc S. Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, suggested that a goal creating a national graduation examination be set.

And Sue Berryman, director of the Institute on Education and the Economy at Teachers College, Columbia University, suggested that educational indicators similar to economic and labor indicators be developed.

Call for More Funding

Almost all of the educators testifying at last week’s meeting said a significant investment of federal funds and other financial resources is needed to improve the nation’s education-assessment system.

“The whole business of setting measures of success is not cheap,” Mr. Ambach said. “And right now, we have a starvation budget in terms of developing measurement systems.”

But many at the meeting said problems in assessing educational progress should not prevent the nation from setting goals.

“We should not be held hostage by the fact we don’t have the right measures at this time,” said Frank Newman, executive director of the Education Commission of the States. “We should set the goals in such a way to force the system to change.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 1989 edition of Education Week as Bush and Governors May Set Goals a Month Early