Governors Draft 5-Year Blueprint To Press Reforms

By Lynn Olson — May 09, 2017 13 min read

The nation’s governors have issued a dramatic challenge to educators: If schools will accept more accountability for their results, they can expect less regulation from above. That tradeoff lies at the heart of a 173- page document, Time for Results: The Governors’ 1991 Report on Education, released here Aug. 23 on the eve of the governors’ annual meeting.

In issuing the report, characterized by U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett as the most important event in American education in the past five years, the governors vowed to keep education on the front burner in their states.

In choosing the “1991 report” title, the governors pledged to use the document as a standard against which they would measure state progress in education reform over the next five years.

Their comprehensive agenda for change includes several recommendations likely to spark controversy within the education community, including ones to establish a national board to certify teachers; increase pay for teaching well; provide parents with greater choice among public schools; open school buildings year-round; and allow states to take over and reorganize schools and school districts that are “academically,” rather than financially, bankrupt.

“The governors are ready for some old-fashioned horse-trading,” said Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, outgoing chairman of the governors’ association and chairman of the yearlong N.G.A. initiative. “We’ll I regulate less, if schools and school districts will produce better results.”

The report does not place a price tag on its recommendations. Mr. Alexander insisted that voters will be willing to pay for real improvements in public education, but there was not universal agreement on that topic.

Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, i who along with Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey served as co-chairmen of the project, is scheduled to serve as chairman of the N.G.A. and the Education Commission of the States this year. Governor Kean - just completed his term as chairman of the E.C.S.

Each of the nation’s governors served on one of seven gubernatorial task forces that examined questions regarding teaching, school leadership and management, parental involvement and school choice, school readiness, technology in the schools, school facilities, and college quality.

Many of the governors’ findings and recommendations echo those expressed by other national groups, including the Carnegie Task Fbree on Teaching as a Profession, the Committee for Economic Development, and the Holmes Group. On the last day of their meeting, the governors approved a resolution endorsing the Carnegie report, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century, which was released in May.

“Our agenda has become their agenda,” said Marc Tucker, executive director of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy. “I don’t think anybody sitting through this meeting and reading that report, listening to the press conference and everything that’s happened here, could come to another conclusion.”

Governors/ Initiative

What makes this report different from others, according to those gathered here, was that the governors themselves, who are in the best position of anyone to push for reform, have taken the initiative.

At the first plenary session, Secretary Bennett told the governors, “You are in charge of schools in your states, and when you decide to act, you can act.”

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, noted that if the governors had ignored earlier reform documents that would have been a signal that the major reform proposals would not be enacted.”

“This is a signal that they will be,” he said, “or they have a chance of being, in a large number of states.”

At a meeting often dominated in previous years by discussions of state-federal relations, more than 40 of the country’s political leaders spent three days intensively focused on education and their responsibility to foment change.

The report was done with the idea that Washington’s pot is full,” Mr. Alexander said, “and basically they’re broke. We assume it’s our responsibility, and we’re prepared to do most of it on our own.

“I don’t think we ever want to say to Washington that we don’t want your money if you have it,” he added, “but I think this report will help to give governors a good strong taste of what it’s like when governors act like governors instead of trying to act like senators.”

Economic Sense

Most governors here gave two reasons for their collective interest in schooling. First, education accounts for a rising proportion of most state budgets. Second, the public is making the connection between better schools and the ability of their state and the nation to compete economically.

“It’s something every family understands at the dinner table,” Mr. Alexander said. “Is Daddy or is Mommy or will I when I grow up have a good salary, or will the Japanese have all the money? Now that’s pretty basic.”

“And the only solution anybody can think of to that right now is better schools,” he said.

Governor Kean added: “Education is good politics. Nobody is able to run for governor this year without an education agenda in either party.”

Not a Consensus

Mr. Alexander stressed that the report does not represent a consensus of the governors’ views, but is “our best advice to each other.”

Those governors interviewed said they supported the bulk of the report, although some had reservations about particular sections. Both Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts and Gov. Richard W. Riley of South Carolina, for example, expressed reservations about allowing parental choice among public schools without careful safeguards.

“I’m for as much choice as we can possibly provide parents and children,” Mr. Dukakis said. “I just want to make sure that in doing that we don’t end up with a school system where all of the bright, highly motivated kids are in one place, and the poor kids are left behind.”

On other questions, the task forces themselves failed to reach a decision. Mr. Clinton said his task force on school leadership and management, for instance, could not agree on whether school leaders needed an education background or could come from other management positions in the public and private sector.

Staft members for the task-force chairmen said the level of involvement among governors and their aides varied widely. The final report bears the strong imprimatur of Governor Alexander, who chose the seven questions to be addressed.

‘A New Compact’

The governors also used the meeting to signal their willingness to cooperate with the nation’s educators

“Tho many of us have spent too much time during the last few years battling with educators to secure real reforms,” Governor Alexander said.

“The battles were necessary,” he said. “But they took time that could have been spent working with educators to develop even better strategies and even more support. Governors want a new compact with professional educators in America, so we can lead a coalition of everyone interested in better schools.”

Over the past year, each task force convened a series of public hearings nationwide to seek educators’ advice in formulating their report. More than 1,000 teachers, administrators, researchers, parents, students, and citizens testified or submitted written remarks to the task forces.

“I think the governors are very serious,” Mr. Tucker of Camegie said. “I think the governors are saying to professional educators, ‘What we’re talking about here is terribly important to us. We are prepared to compromise with you. We are prepared to work with you.’ I think the unstated message is, ‘But if you don’t, we’re going to go ahead anyway.’ And I hope the educators heard that.”

High Marks

Leaders of several education organizations who were invited to participate in the governors’ meeting gave Time for Results high marks.

Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, described the report as “a very strong and a very positive set of reports.”

“The N.E.A. and the state affiliates that we have throughout the nation stand ready to work with you,” she pledged. “We’re going to tell you upfront where we have a problem,” she cautioned. “We’re willing to sit down with you to try to address those problems, and hopefully we will be able to come up with compromises.”

Ms. Futrell said she will send the report to every state president of the N.E.A., every board member, and every executive director and encourage them to meet with their governors.

When questioned by Mr. Alexander, however, Ms. Futrell did not back down from the union’s traditional stance against career ladders and other differential-pay plans. But she said the union is in the process of re-examining those issues. I “Whether we will be able to come up with something, I really can’t tell you at this time,” she said.

In an interview later, Mr. Alexander said he was “very pleased with the attitude Mary Futrell is taking.”

“She is having a constructive response, and they are obviously rethinking their position on paying more for teaching well. I can’t ask for any more than that,” he said, calling it a “dramatic change.”

Mr. Shanker said of the report, “There’s nothing in here that I couldn’t live with in some form. About 98 percent of what’s in here I can really embrace.”

Not All Positive

Not all of the educators’ comments, however, were so positive.

Earl Ferguson, president of the American Association of School Administrators, said the report paid too little attention to mechanisms that would enable teachers to carry their certification and pension benefits across state lines.

And he told the governors they would have to take a “hard look” at ways to make compromises in states with strong collective-bargaining and teacher-tenure laws.

Nellie Weil, president of the National School Boards Association, said school boards “are ready to sit down and put a pencil to every mandate that we have, to assess the costs, and see where we can come up with some innovative ideas.”

But she cautioned that court orders leave many districts with “little latitude to do some of the things that we are talking about,” and reiterated concerns about the recommendations to provide greater public-school choice.

Franklin B. Walter, president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said governors should be cautious in their attempts to take over “academically bankrupt” school districts.

“The state does not have any expertise generally that the local district’s board of education does not have,” he said, adding that “very often [districts’] bankruptcy is a result of conditions over which they have no control.”



The governors recommended that schools and school districts that are successful in educating their students be substantially exempted from state rules and regulations. Mr. Alexander contended that the deregulation of schools “would have to be done district by district, school by school” as a reward for academic progress.

Mr. Tucker of Carnegie said he favored greatly increasing the autonomy of all schools, and then replacing the leadership in those schools that consistently fail to educate their students.

“I’m not sure that what you want is to have states taking over schools,” he said. “I think you want to have the right people doing the right job who are right there. Exempting educators from all these rules and regulations isn’t a reward, it’s recognition that that’s a necessary condition for professionals to do their best work.”

Mr. Shanker said it would be “almost impossible” to deregulate education on a school-by-school basis. “I think that some patterns have to be set up-maybe two, three, four, five-a limited number of patterns that have a reasonable chance of succeeding,” he said.

The emphasis in the report on relieving schools and school districts from regulations runs almost directly counter to the first phase of school reform, which relied heavily on state-level mandates.

But governors and educators here insisted that the new move to decentralize authority is not a reversal of the first round of reform, or an admission that it has failed.

“The education reforms of the last few years were very important,” said Governor Clinton. “But these sorts of reforms, while they are very successful in lifting the bottom, if you will, cannot do much to promote excellence.” That, he said, can only occur when educators at individual schools are given the freedom and incentives to experiment.

Open Question

Educators and others also questioned how the governors will pay for their recommendations. Almost no mention of funding was made in the report, and, because conditions “vary dramatically from state to state,” Governor Clinton argued that it would be almost impossible to predict the proposals’ costs.

Financial analyses were done for the governors by the National Association of State Budget Officers, but staff members said they were not available to the public.

“The American public will pay for real improvements,” said Gov. John H. Sununu, chairman of the task force on technology and the new vice chairman of the N.G.A., in explaining the discrepancy, “but they are going to be awfully critical, and they are not going to back a pig-in-a-poke.”

Donald Thomas, deputy superintendent for public accountability in the South Carolina Education Department noted that “most of the states already have enacted into law more reform measures than they can fund with the incoming revenue.” If governors do not support what is already in law, he cautioned, “there will be an erosion in the reform effort.”


Governor Alexander also noted that while governors are willing to listen more to educators, educators as a group are “not very cohesive at all.”

During a roundtable discussion with the governors, for example, representatives of the teachers’ and administrators’ groups argued about whether the administrative costs of running schools have swallowed up an increasing portion of school budgets in recent years.

Secretary Bennett cautioned the governors, “There will be those who will want to carp about your report and take exception to it .. .. I hope you will listen patiently and not brook any nonsense and in the end proceed to act.”

“Educators are very defensive,” Mr. Shanker said. “And I think what’s needed now is not defensiveness. I think what are needed are some very intelligent innovations.”

The success of the governors’ efforts will also depend on the commitment of the incoming round of governors to education reform. Governor Clinton noted that at least 19 new governors will be elected into office this November-a minimum of a 40 percent turnover.

“We’re losing a lot of our lions,” he said, “a lot of governors who really care a great deal about education are retiring.”

One of the purposes of Time for Results, he added, “was to create a system which would guarantee the continued importance of education reform beyond the tenure of any individual governor and beyond the tenure of Lamar Alexander or Bill Clinton as chairman of the National Governors’ Association. If this whole focus ever gets tied down to one person, we’re in trouble anyway.”

To keep the focus on education, the governors’ association has committed itself to work with the E.C.S. and the Council of Chief State School Officers for the next five years to produce an annual progress report on what each state is doing to carry out the recommendations in its 1991 report.

At its winter meeting, Mr. Alexander made clear that the N.G.A. will not rate states from 1 to 50, but will instead provide them with useful information on innovations that have and have not worked.

But he admitted that by keeping track of what states are doing, the N.G.A. will be putting pressure on states to forge ahead.

New Initiative

Mr. Clinton also announced the creation of five task forces to deal with major barriers to employment that should help keep education on the governors’ reform agenda. The task forces will focus on welfare reform, teen-age pregnancy, school dropouts, adult illiteracy, and alcohol and drug-abuse prevention.

The N.G.A. will publish a report in August 1987 on what states have already done in these areas and what they still need to do.

Mr. Tucker also said that the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy will be putting into place this fall a “technical-assistance capacity” to help the governors carry out their education agenda, working through their own organizations.

A version of this article appeared in the September 10, 1986 edition of Education Week as Governors Draft 5-Year Blueprint To Press Reforms

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

7796 - Director of EAL (K-12) - August '21
Dubai, UAE
GEMS Education
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read