State Chiefs Fail To Reach Accord On School Goals

By Reagan Walker — November 22, 1989 6 min read

Oklahoma City--In a lively discussion on the effort to set national performance goals for education, state school chiefs meeting here last week failed to reach agreement on exactly what the goals should be and how progress toward those goals should be measured.

Instead, the Council of Chief State School Officers decided to appoint seven of its members to prepare a consensus statement for presentation at a Dec. 7 hearing sponsored by the National Governors’ Association.

The meeting will be the first public follow-up to the education summit convened by President Bush with the nation’s governors in September. At the summit, the participants signed a joint statement agreeing to establish national goals and to work for more flexibility in federal education funding.

Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, a lead governor in the goal-setting process, advised the group to formulate clear and specific testimony for the December meeting. The council must be able to justify any exact numbers and timetables outlined in its proposed goals, he added.

Ted Sanders, the U.S. Undersecretary of Education, encouraged the chiefs to consider all possible areas where goals might be set, not just the seven in the summit statement.

[The joint statement released at the close of the summit said the goals will continued on page 6

Continued from page 1
focus on ensuring that all young children are ready to start school; improving American students’ performance in international assessments; reducing dropout rates; increasing adult literacy; ensuring a supply of qualified teachers by improving training and their working environment; ensuring that workers are trained for today’s high-tech jobs; and establishing safe, drug-free schools.]

In response, Gordon M. Ambach, the council’s executive director, said he was confident the group would reach a consensus. “We aren’t going to let Dec. 7 go by without having a very strong statement,” he said.

Goal-Setting Difficult

The chiefs’ inability to arrive at a consensus on national goals was seen at the Oklahoma City meeting as underscoring how difficult the overall goal-setting task will be.

The state superintendents reached agreement on only one concept--that all students should be tested in reading, writing, and mathematics. And that agreement became apparent only after Bill Honig, the state school chief in California, asked for a show of hands in favor of the idea.

Richard P. Mills, the commissioner of education in Vermont, recommended that a single goal--or only a few goals--be set to focus the public’s attention clearly on the task of educational improvement.

“People remember Kennedy’s challenge to go to the moon, but no one remembers Wilson’s 14 Points,” Mr. Mills said. “The goals should provide a vision of the future that guides the public.”

In echoing Mr. Mills’s idea, Ruth Randall, Minnesota’s school chief, argued that one broad mission statement should be established, but that several subgoals should then be set.

Ms. Randall suggested that the broad goal be “that America becomes pre-eminent in academic learning for all learners by the year 2000.”

She defined “pre-eminent” as being first in international comparisons and “all learners” as every child and youth and every adult who is not already functionally literate.

Mr. Ambach warned that the goals not encourage competition among the states. “If goal-setting is really for the purpose of driving reform,’' he said, “then let’s make sure the goals help states pull together, rather than becoming a way to divide.”

‘Educational Dow Jones’

Mr. Honig proposed that an “educational Dow Jones Index” be created. The index, which would establish a system of weighted measures of progress in different areas of assessment and for different groups of students, would result in an overall indicator of a state’s or school’s performance.

He argued that the goals should be set in such a way as to make it possible to gear them down to the state and local levels, “so that a school will know exactly how many students it needs to raise above a certain reading level in order to do its part in meeting the goal.”

But Mr. Mills objected to such a number-driven approach, saying that it would force schools to focus on “meeting the numbers” rather than on long-term improvement.

“I think we are in love with numbers, and that is the wrong end to grab,” Mr. Mills said.

Mr. Honig and Mr. Mills will work with William Lepley of Iowa, Betty Castor of Florida, Donald Bemis of Michigan, James Moss of Utah, and Gerald Tirozzi of Connecticut to draft the council’s statement.

Although the chiefs disagreed on how much attention should be focused on meeting specific goals, almost everyone at the conference agreed that the U.S. Education Department’s annual “wall chart” should not used to measure state achievement.

They said the chart does not accurately reflect state progress, and they objected to the use of college-entrance tests as the principal measure.

Richard Boyd, the state school chief in Mississippi, said he hoped that, “someday, all the chiefs can gather and burn the wall chart like a church would burn its mortgage once it is paid off.”

Mr. Ambach said in an interview that the department should abandon the chart and focus its resources on devising a new assessment system.

Teacher Recruitment

In addition to the national goal-setting effort, another key topic at the conference was the recruitment of minority teachers.

The council endorsed a plan to combine several studies and surveys conducted by the council into an overall report to be released next year.

A state survey on teacher supply and demand and minority recruitment conducted by council will be the report’s keystone.

According to an executive summary provided at the meeting, the survey found that 38 states are currently reporting teacher shortages and that 40 expect shortages.

The survey cannot provide a particularly clear picture on the issue because of the lack of uniform reporting and because of the dearth of basic information in some states, the summary said.

The executive summary recommends that the federal government underwrite a competitive grant program to support minority candidates in teaching programs at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. In addition, it proposes, a program should be developed to encourage minorities to go into teaching.

It also calls on the federal government to develop research initiatives on effective recruitment and retention strategies and on establishing a data-base system.

At the state level, the summary suggests that data collection be beefed up, and that campaigns to enhance the status of teaching be undertaken.

Local districts are encouraged to assess teacher working conditions affecting recruitment and retention, support multi-cultural training for teachers, and provide financial support to minorities with leadership potential to pursue further education.

Other Action

In other action, the council:

bulletAdopted a policy statement and report outlining a set of broad principles designed to guide state policymakers’ efforts in school restructuring. (See Education Week, Nov. 18, 1989.)

  • Approved a report on state family-education initiatives that focuses on the need for comprehensive family and child policies.
  • Released a statement supporting school-based community-service programs.
  • Elected William Keene of Delaware as president; Herbert Grover of Wisconsin, president-elect; and Jerry Evans of Idaho, vice president.
  • A version of this article appeared in the November 22, 1989 edition of Education Week as State Chiefs Fail To Reach Accord On School Goals