NGA Lists Strategies for Achieving National Goals

By Lynn Olson — August 01, 1990 6 min read

Achieving national education goals by the year 2000 will require a fundamental restructuring of America’s schools, from preschool through adult education, according to a report scheduled to be released this week at the annual meeting of the National Governors’ Association.

The report, “Educating America: State Strategies for Achieving the National Education Goals,” was prepared by the governors’ task force on education, chaired by Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. of South Carolina.

It was scheduled to be unveiled at a press conference on the first day of the governors’ July 28-31 meeting in Mobile, Ala.

During the meeting, the governors were also hoping to approve the structure for a national panel to monitor progress toward achieving the six national education goals they adopted in February.

A compromise proposal, which the education task force was expected to consider July 29, called for a panel composed of Administration, gubernatorial, and Congressional leaders.

A separate advisory committee would include leaders from the education, business, and civic communities.

An alternative plan to create a “national report card” through Congressional action is still being considered in the Senate. The bill, S. 2034, sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, would create a 12-member commission of educators and assessment experts that would not include elected officials.

Existing System ‘Obsolete’

Whatever structure the panel takes, however, meeting the national goals will depend primarily on the national, state, and local strategies embraced for achieving them.

The governors’ report argues that technological and economic changes throughout the world, as well as social and demographic shifts in this country, have rendered the current education system “obsolete.”

“Most of the recent reforms have not significantly altered the fundamentals of how students are taught,” said Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa, chairman of the NGA.

“We need dramatic and fundamental changes in the way we design and structure education if we are to compete globally and achieve economic success,” he said.

The governors’ recommendations fall into three broad categories: getting children ready for school; restructuring the K-12 system; and developing a comprehensive system of adult education and training.

Most of their recommendations focus on steps that could be taken by individual states, rather than on federal or national action.

In general, they stress the need to move toward an outcome-driven system of education that would provide stronger incentives for improvement, greater flexibility to meet individual needs, a stronger investment in staff development, and clearer rewards for success and consequences for failure.

Some of the recommendations in the K-12 area include:

  • Enabling new providers to create and operate public schools within school-district boundaries.
  • Challenging educators to eliminate ability-grouping and tracking.
  • Developing an outcome-based system for the preparation and licensure of teachers that would hold colleges and universities accountable for the pass rates on licensure exams.
  • Creating a new competency-based credential to certify the skills students have mastered in high school.

Assessments a ‘Top Priority’

The report urges states to make the development of new student-assessment tools a top priority.

But it adds that “holding schools accountable for student outcomes cannot wait” until such assessments are available. States must devise interim strategies for school accountability, it asserts.

The report also urges states to design incentives that would encourage schools to boost student achievement and districts to decentralize school management and governance.

In addition, it argues, states should re-examine the incentive structures built into school-finance formulas, “which often reward mediocrity and ignore productivity.”

Similarly, the report suggests that states review their regulatory system to focus on results. “No regulation should be retained unless it is consistent with an outcome-based system,” the report asserts. “The task is to remove barriers to improvement, not to make marginal improvements in the regulations or to provide waivers on a case-by-case basis.”

A National Role

Although the report focuses on state and local actions, it concedes that national leadership is necessary in a number of areas.

These include the development of a new, competency-based credential to complement the high-school diploma; the creation of new student-assessment tools; and the design and development of appropriate accountability systems.

In addition, the report notes, federal programs “must support state efforts to create outcome-oriented systems by incorporating performance standards, strong accountability provisions, and sufficient flexibility to meet the performance standards.”

The report includes a separate section on strategies for making U.S. students first in the world in math and science achievement by the year 2000. For example, it recommends creating a mathematics and science “teacher corps” that could go into understaffed areas.

Its recommendations for the preschool years include expanding access to prenatal and well-child care; equipping parents to support their children’s learning and development; and increasing access to affordable, high-quality preschool programs.

The report also includes a number of recommendations to create a more coherent and productive adult-learning system. These include:

  • Identifying measurable performance objectives for adult education and training programs.
  • Establishing a national, competency-based credentialing system that would help employers and educational institutions screen people into programs and jobs.
  • Monitoring student participation and completion rates by institution and by minority-group status.

‘Game Plan’ Needed

At a press conference in Washington on July 26, the Council of Chief State School Officers unveiled its own, eight-point strategy for achieving the national education goals, based on its concern that there was, as yet, no “game plan” for providing national or federal leadership.

“You cannot do this job by just fiddling around state to state,” said Gordon Ambach, executive director of the council. “There are jobs to be done nationally and you’d better get at them.”

Among its suggestions, the chiefs’ group recommends transferring military expenditures and resources to education and economic development; creating a “Nationwide Project Mathematics” to draw together federal and national resources to attain the mathematics goals; and holding a National Summit Conference on Education in the spring of 1991.

The conference would convene 200 legislative, administrative, education, business, and community leaders to review the status of implementation strategies and set directions for coordinated local, state, and federal actions.

The chiefs also advocate developing national policies to strengthen the school-to-work transition, including publicly funded access to high-school study for people of any age.

And they call for enactment of the omnibus education bill passed by the House, as well as national child-care legislation now being considered in conference. They also advocate full funding of Chapter 1 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and expansion of Head Start.

Bill Honig, superintendent of public instruction in California and co-chairman of the task force that produced the report, said a more detailed document will be available in the fall, spelling out specific steps for achieving each of the six national goals.

“The President and governors must demonstrate to the American public that the statement of goals leads to direct and coordinated nationwide action,” said William Keene, superintendent of education in Delaware and president of the ccsso The task force’s co-chairman was William Lepley, superintendent of education in Iowa.

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1990 edition of Education Week as N.G.A. Lists Strategies for Achieving National Goals