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Governors Appear Set To Propose School Reforms

By J. R. Sirkin — July 03, 2019 5 min read


Performance-based pay raises for teachers, greater choice among public schools, and the decentralization of school authority are among the ideas the nation’s governors appear ready to endorse in their continuing project, ''The Governors’ Report on U.S. Education, 1991.”

The forthcoming report has been billed as a possible blueprint for a “second wave” of education reform. But the governors who gathered here last week for their annual winter meeting apparently have decided to present their proposals in nonprescriptive terms, declaring that states will not be “graded” on whether they implement the suggested reforms.

Rather than tell states what to do, the task-force reports will “have room for everyone’s views,” including the pros and cons of each policy option, said Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the chairman of the National Governors’ Association. But Mr. Alexander, a Republican, predicted that the governors’ report would unleash another torrent of reform proposals in the states, noting that “governors with big ideas are hard to handle.”

Mr. Alexander launched the education initiative last summer.

Aides stressed here last week that the governors have not yet formally approved or refined their reform proposals. The final reports of the seven gubernatorial task forces that are developing the project’s central themes are not due until August.

But interviews with governors and their aides and written updates presented at a Sunday morning meeting that attracted about half of the nation’s governors suggest that the task-force chairmen and vice chairmen have agreed to endorse:

  • Expanded parental choice within public-school systems and a mechanism for interdistrict transfers;
  • Large pay increases for teachers, tied to “some kind of staff and salary differentiation";
  • Greater authority for schoolbased administrators and teachers;
  • Incentives for public colleges to assess how much their students are learning;
  • Efforts to encourage college to alter their tenure procedures to reward good teaching;
  • Early-childhood-education programs, especially for disadvantaged children;
  • Special programs to help at-risk youths meet recently raised educational standards;
  • An emphasis on broad-based planning in the construction of new schools, including the possibility of building schools that can easily be enlarged or converted for use by other segments of the community.

While it remains to be seen whether the other governors serving on the task forces will support these recommendations, the ideas are almost certain to be included in their final report, because task-force chairmen and vice chairmen will file their own separate recommendations, independent of their task forces.

Hearings Concluded

Two of the seven task forces—those investigating choice and school facilities—have concluded their hearings. Thus, the chairmen of these panels and their aides could describe likely recommendations with more certainty than others.

And the task forces on assessment, teaching, and readiness also have apparently put all but the finishing touches on their work.

In an interview, Gov. Richard D. Lamm of Colorado, the Democratic chairman of the choice task force, confirmed that his group would recommend some form of public-school choice.

Acknowledging that “some people see public-school choice as the camel’s nose” that will lead ultimately to a program including private schools, Steven WeIchert, an aide to Governor Lamm, said the panel’s “next step” would be to develop safeguards to prevent that from happening.

He said the task force was still studying the issue of who should pay for transportation costs associated with a choice program. He said the task force would recommend a mechanism for interdistrict transfers, noting that “we have to do that if we recommend some form of choice.”

Pay for Performance

Richard P. Mills, the education aide to Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, said the recommendations regarding teaching were “certainly not a done deed,” but he added that “it would take a lot to convince the Governor otherwise at this stage.”

In presenting his update to the governors, Governor Kean, the chairman of the teaching task force, asserted that “governors have become the recruiters of teachers.”

“Talented people will hear us only to the extent that we make teaching competitive” with other professions, he said. “That’s the foundation.”

But he added that what he called the “second wave of teacher reform” would have some “different themes” from the first, including greater empowerment of teachers and “really significant” pay increases tied to performance.

“Teachers are the ones in the classroom,” he said. ''They should have more say in what goes on.”

According to Mr. Mills, ''All or virtually all of these themes will be in the final report, although Governor Kean will expand on them. He’s saying governors have pushed as hard as they can. They now need allies in the teaching profession.”

Assessment a Certainty

In his presentation to the governors, Gov. John Ashcroft of Missouri, a Republican, left little doubt about the recommendations of the college-quality task force.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that the key is assessment,” Governor Ashcroft said. ''We need to find ways to assess what students are learning, for the sake of quality and accountability.”

“Clearly, we’ll be recommending that the governors and the states take some form of action to see how well students are learning,” said Tom Duncan, Governor Ashcroft’s education aide. ''We’re going to encourage the governors to encourage assessment.”

But Mr. Duncan said he doubted the task force would recommend state-mandated assessments. He said it was more likely that the panel would suggest “financial incentives” to encourage colleges to “get into the assessment business.”

Mr. Duncan also said the task force would probably encourage universities to alter their tenure procedures to take teaching more into account, because ''there’s some question whether they’re taking that part of their mission seriously.”

Primer for Governors

Governor Alexander, who said last summer that the governors’ education initiative would “set the American education agenda for the next five years,” described the effort here as essentially a primer for governors.

“Governors are not interested in a big report,” Mr. Alexander said. “Basically, this will be a report by governors to governors ... so that if I fall into a hole, the governor of North Carolina, for example, doesn’t have to fall in the same hole.”

The report will say to governors, “Here are some options to consider and here’s what it might cost,” Mr. Alexander added.

But he turned aside suggestions that the “even-handed” approach he had proposed for the task-force reports would dilute the power of their recommendations.

“We’re asking the right questions and we’re educating all 50 governors,” he said. “That’s like turning loose an army.”

Governor Alexander also said that while the task-force topics are “not the only important education issues by a long hot,” they nonetheless represent “seven that education groups are not as interested in as we are.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 05, 1986 edition of Education Week


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