Reconfigured Goals Panel Will Be Bipartisan, Give Lawmakers a Vote

By Robert Rothman — January 08, 1992 9 min read

WASHINGTON--The panel monitoring progress toward the national education goals would be reconfigured so that Congressional representatives would have voting power and the membership of the panel would be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, under a plan approved here last month.

The agreement, expected to be put into effect this month, was a key part of a broader accord aimed at creating a method for overseeing the development of national standards and a national system of assessments.

Under the plan, approved by the National Council on Education Standards and Testing, the reconstituted goals panel would appoint a 21-member council of state and local officials, educators, and representatives of the general public, which would coordinate the development of standards in school subjects and the creation of a system of assessments to match them.

The council would then certify standards and assessments as “world class,” subject to approval by the goals panel.

The plan is expected to be included in the report of the standards council, which is scheduled to be released later this month. The council last month adopted in principle the language of the report, which will strongly urge that the United States move toward national standards in school subjects and a system of assessments to measure student performance against the standards.

Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, the co-chairman of the council, described the proposal as a dramatic departure for American education. “This was a fairly historic session,” he said of the council’s work. “This group said we are on the way to national standards and assessments.”

‘Force Behind It’

Mr. Romer said the new oversight mechanism would ensure that the drive to create national standards and assessments “really has force behind it.”

In addition to monitoring progress on the goals, the revamped goals panel “will be assisting the nation in accomplishing the goals,” he said. “What reinforces the value of the goals.” The council’s other co-chairman, Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. of South Carolina, added that keeping the nation’s top policymakers involved in the process would “assure the fact that education remains on the front burner.”

“If we can’t keep it there, we won’t have success,” he said. “We’d have lost some of the momentum we had.” Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, at a breakfast meeting with reporters after the council meeting, added his support for the plan. “Hopefully, it’s a good compromise that everyone will accept,” he said.

But some critics warned that the proposed governance structure may amount to a cumbersome bureaucracy that could impose standards and assessments on states and local districts.

“I was left scratching my head,” said Michael H. Kean, the director of public and governmental affairs for C.T.B. Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, a major private testing firm. “It seems to me what they are proposing is top-down, rather than bottom-up; national, rather than local; and a huge bureaucracy, rather than a streamlined effort.”

But Mr. Kean added that he would await the council’s report before rendering a final judgment on the agreement.

“One of the effects of [the meeting here] was to raise more questions than it answers,” he said.

Correcting a ‘Mistake’

Created in 1990 by the National Governors’ Association and the Administration, the National Education Goals Panel was charged with developing a system for measuring progress on the six national education goals adopted earlier that year. It issued its first “report card” on the goals in September.

The panel has drawn fire, however, from educators and some members of the Congress, who have argued that it is too heavily weighted with elected officials and members of the current Administration.

In its present form, the panel consists of four Republican members of the Administration and six governors, three from each party. Four Congressional representatives--the Republican and Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate--serve in an ex-officio capacity.

Senator Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat from New Mexico, has sponsored legislation to create a separate panel, independent of the states and the federal government, to monitor progress toward the goals.

Several panel members also have argued that the Congressional representatives should be voting members. Governor Romer, for example, has said not including them was “a mistake,” and Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Senate majority leader, declined to sign the 1991 report card because he did not participate in the panel’s deliberations.

The issue of the goals panel’s composition arose again last month, when the council on standards and testing--which was created by the panel and by the Congress to determine the desirability and feasibility of national standards and assessments-began to debate a governance structure for the proposed national system. (See Education Week, Dec. 11, 1991.)

Several council members, including Governor Campbell, argued that the goals panel was the proper entity to oversee the development of national standards and assessments.

But Governor Romer and others warned that the panel was inappropriate for the task, because it was viewed as a political body tilted toward the Republican Party.

“I have had a lot of water I have had to carry” on behalf of the panel, said Governor Romer, the panel’s former chairman, “and often times I came up against this wall.”

The logjam began to break, according to Mr. Romer, when Governor Campbell said at that meeting that he would agree to dividing the goals panel evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

“If that’s somebody’s hangup, make it 50-50,” Governor Campbell said. “That doesn’t bother me a bit.”

System of Oversight

After further negotiation, the members of the standards council agreed to a compromise calling for a complex system of overseeing the proposed standards and assessment system.

Under their plan, the goals panel would be reconfigured to be politically balanced. It would include: two members of the Administration; eight governors, only three of whom could be from the President’s own party; and four members of the Congress, appointed by the majority and minority leaders of the House and the Senate.

In addition, the goals panel would appoint a separate, 21-member body, known as the National Standards and Assessment Council, that would serve as a “catalyst and provide oversight and leadership” for the standards-setting and assessment activity.

The goals panel could take such actions itself--it is expected to vote on its reconfiguration at its meeting this month--and could raise private funds for the new activities. Even so, the council agreed that “it is desirable” that the Congress codify the revamped panel and the new council and that the new body be eligible for federal funds.

In outlining the functions of the oversight body, the council agreed that it should adopt guidelines for evaluating the content standards that are being developed by subject-matter organizations. Those in history, for example, are currently being prepared under a new grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Education Department. (See related story, page 25.)

The oversight body would also review standards for student and school performance, as well as school-delivery standards that are developed by states.

In addition, the new council would be responsible for evaluating states’, districts’, and private firms’ assessments to ensure that they match the standards and that they are comparable to one another.

Political Control?

Several members of the national council argued that the new panel should have the authority to certify the standards and assessments as “world class” and as part of the new system, rather than just to approve them subject to review by the goals panel.

Without such independent authority, said Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, few distinguished professionals would be willing to serve on the council.

Moreover, said Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, granting the goals panel the final say in certifying the standards and assessments still smacks of political control over the process.

“It takes everything we have done here and taints it,” he said. “It really stinks.”

But Governor Romer argued that the members of the goals panel must have a role in the certification process to ensure that the standards and assessments are credible to the public.

“People in the nation can feel confident about the fact that policymakers give a certification to [the standards],” he said. ‘What sends a signal to the nation that this is important work, good work, work of quality.”

As a compromise, the national council agreed that the goals panel would certify standards and the criteria for approving assessments, but that the independent council would have the authority to approve individual assessments.

Members also agreed that, if the council rejects a set of standards, such a decision could not be appealed to the goals panel.

‘Baking the Pie’

In addition to evaluating the work done by other groups, the new council should be able to commission research on new forms of assessments and to spur groups to develop new standards, Governor Romer said.

“There’s no way the job can get done if you wait to coordinate something that gets to you,” he said.

Governor Campbell warned, however, that such activities could duplicate and possibly usurp the research being conducted by other agencies and organizations. “I saw them giving a ‘Good Housekeeping seal of approval,’” Mr. Campbell said. “I didn’t see them baking the pie.”

But Marshall S. Smith, the dean of the graduate school of education at Stanford University, noted that even Good Housekeeping conducts research to determine how to evaluate the products it judges.

And Lauren B. Resnick, the director of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, cautioned that it is difficult to say in advance what type of activities might duplicate existing efforts.

“To define now what might imply duplication is to prejudge the range of things the council can do,” she said. “There could be multiple forms of research and development.”

To permit such flexibility, the group agreed to allow the council to have grantmaking authority and to be able to approach foundations and other funders to encourage them to support new activities.

Despite that authority, the council’s role would be more passive than that originally envisioned by Governor Romer.

Under his leadership, the standards council in August tentatively agreed that the first assessments should be available by the 1993-94 school year in at least two subjects. The council later backed off that position, though, after heating objections from the Congressional members of the panel.

Mr. Romer acknowledged after the meeting that the council’s final position represents a shift from his original plan, but added that it is stronger because it represents a broad consensus.

A version of this article appeared in the January 08, 1992 edition of Education Week as Reconfigured Goals Panel Will Be Bipartisan, Give Lawmakers a Vote