Governors Aim To Make Schools ‘2nd to None’

By Reagan Walker — March 07, 1990 8 min read
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Noting that there is some resistance to deregulation on Capital Hill, Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana asked Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley to help them in this cause. Mr. Foley pledged to do what he could.

After months of difficult and delicate negotiations with the Bush Administration, the nation’s governors last week formally adopted national education goals intended to make “America’s educational performance second to none in the 21st century.”

The consensus reached by the White House and the National Governors’ Association was hailed by many as a historic occasion—the first time that all 50 governors and the President have set a joint agenda to improve the nation’s schools.

President Bush called the event a “dramatic turning point for this country.”

“Never before have we as a nation set such goals for education,” he said following a luncheon meeting with the governors. “Never before have the nation’s leaders stepped forward to say we’re willing to be held accountable for this process.”

The nga, at its mid-winter meeting here, also adopted two policy resolutions designed to buttress efforts to help reach those goals.

Under the first resolution, the governors agreed that the goals should be disseminated to “all groups interested in improving education.” The second resolution suggests that some of any “peace dividend” that becomes available through a reduction in federal defense spending be directed to education.

The national goals are the result of a pledge between Mr. Bush and the chief state executives made at the historic education summit in Charlottesville, Va., last fall. (See Education Week, Oct. 4, 1989.)

Many issues remain to be resolved, including how to pay for the changes needed to reach the goals, how to measure progress toward the goals, and who should be responsible for such oversight.

Though many observers here characterized the goals as challenging—some even described them as unattainable—Govs. Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, co-chairmen of the Continued on Page 17

In ‘Turning Point,’ Governors Adopt

Goals for U.S. Education by Year 2000

NGA education task force, maintained that the targets can be met if changes are made in the system.

“We can’t go from where we are to these goals without making some fundamental changes,” Mr. Clinton said. “It is going to take an effort by every state to significantly restructure the school system.”

Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa, chairman of the NGA, stressed that the President and governors can lead the effort, but that, to succeed, “it will take the involvement of the stakeholders—the teachers, administrators, parents, and kids.”

In the coming months, the NGA has pledged to work with the White House and other groups to begin developing strategies and assessment procedures. The group is expected to adopt a document on such issues at its summer meeting in Mobile, Ala.

The governors will also work with the White House on forming a panel to oversee progress toward the goals and on seeking flexibility in federal laws and regulations that govern education funds.

Governor Clinton said the governors are committed to holding themselves accountable for progress, and hope to have the first “report card’’ ready next year.

21 ‘Objectives’ Included

The document was the result of months of tough negotiations between key White House officials, led by Roger B. Porter, the President’s domestic-policy adviser, and the NGA, led by Governors Clinton and Campbell.

Along with the six goals, which President Bush first announced in his State of the Union Message in January, the governors adopted a total of 21 “objectives” related to the six target areas.

In addition, the goals statement includes sections on the changes needed in the education system to attain the goals and on assessment concerns. (See text on pages 16-17.)

Several observers described the statement last week as a victory for the governors, many of whom had argued that the document needed to include more than the six goals that the White House had initially proposed.

One of the most notable aspects of the document is the repeated references to the needs and achievement of minority and disadvantaged students, an issue that had been prevalent in the governors’ early drafts, but virtually ignored by the White House.

Though both parties had agreed to the document before the nga meeting, the governors did make a few alterations in the statement during their conference, including a revision in the goal on student achievement.

Language adopted by the governors last week retained the White House emphasis on some sort of student assessment in grades 4, 8, and 12 in key subject areas. But it broadened the goal to focus on the ability of students to use their minds well, so they can be prepared for “responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment.”

Governor Clinton said he offered the amendment because some educators worried that the White House version seemed too narrow and would imply a national curriculum. Also, he said, some viewed the goal as concentrating on minimum competency, not on maximum achievement.

The governors also amended language under the school-readiness goal to call for access to preschool for all disadvantaged and disabled children, not just disadvantaged 4-year-olds.

During the meeting, the governors adopted stronger language in support of full funding for early-intervention programs, but fell short of explicitly calling for full federal funding of Head Start.

In the assessment section of the document, an earlier draft written by Mr. Clinton included a suggestion that a national assessment of school readiness be developed, but that recommendation was omitted from the final document.

In addition, the governors dropped from the goals statement any broad call to increase the supply of qualified teachers and to update the use of technology—areas they had agreed to work on in Charlottesville.

Although the two issues are discussed in the “necessary changes” section of the document, their handling still upset some governors.

“There has been some discussion about what happened to the technology language from the summit statement,” Governor Wallace G. Wilkinson of Kentucky said. “It seems to have disappeared.”

Mr. Wilkinson theorized that “maybe everyone was afraid they would have to pay for it.”

Funding Questions

Many Democratic governors attempted throughout the four-day meeting to get a more direct commitment from the federal government on funding issues.

But just how strongly the document should state the federal role and the need for federal funding was a constant debate.

“I’m worried about this being a hollow exercise if education continues to be only 2 percent of your budget,” Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado told Richard G. Darman, director of the Office of Management and Budget. “You’ve got the tax base, we’ve got the problem. And we won’t meet the goals unless we get education on the table competing with other priorities.”

The “peace-dividend resolution,” drafted by Mr. Romer and Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York, states that the governors want any such dividend dedicated “in a balanced manner among the federal budget deficit, education, and other productivity investments.”

Mr. Darman pointed out, however, that it still is not clear how much of a peace dividend will be available.

Asked how the education goals might be factored into the federal budget, Mr. Darman said, “I don’t think there are any necessary conclusions, but there is a set of likely connections.”

He pointed to Head Start, research-and-development activities, and science and math initiatives—three areas slated for increases in the budget now before the Congress—as the most likely beneficiaries of federal increases.

And in an interview, Mr. Porter said, “There’s not going to be any fight over the issue of money. If it’s going to take more money, we’re going to support that. But we’re not looking to change the fundamental balance regarding the respective roles of state and local and federal governments.”

Still, at the end of the meeting, many Democratic governors were not happy with the message from the Bush Administration on funding.

“I think our national leaders are being too timid in terms of the budget,” Gov. James J. Blanchard of Michigan said. “It’s nice to have an A for attention, but we need an A for results.”

Gov. Richard F. Celeste of Ohio agreed. “I am just dismayed that the President is not willing to say on a contingency basis that, if more funding is available, we’ll use it for education,” he said after the governors’ private meeting with the President on Monday.

Mr. Bush said after the meeting, however, that he would support state and local initiatives designed to improve education.

According to Mr. Clinton, the President told the governors that “if a tax increase is necessary to meet the education goals and is clearly tied to meeting the goals, he would be supportive.”

Oversight Role

The final language on what type of group will oversee efforts and progress toward the goals was loose and leaves many details to be fleshed out.

The original language proposed a “bipartisan, blue-ribbon group including distinguished political, education, business, and civic leaders appointed by the President, the governors, and the Congress to preside over the process and keep it before the American public.”

But a consensus could not be reached after it became clear that White House officials and many governors had different opinions about who should appoint the panel, who should be on it, and to whom the panel should report.

The final resolution states: “The President and the governors agree that while we do not need a new data-gathering agency, we do need a bipartisan group to oversee the process of determining and developing appropriate measurements and reporting on the progress toward meeting the goals.”

In addition to working out what type of group will oversee the implementation and assessment of the goals, the governors and the Bush Administration pledged to work together on seeking flexibility in the use of federal funds.

The White House has pledged to direct the OMB to review education and related programs to determine if regulations can be eliminated or revised to gain more flexibility.

The NGA task force plans to identify those areas of flexibility that would require legislative changes in the Congress.

Noting that there is some resistance to deregulation on Capital Hill, Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana asked Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley to help them in this cause. Mr. Foley pledged to do what he could.

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 1990 edition of Education Week as Governors Aim To Make Schools ‘2nd to None’


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