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State Leaders Praise Reform Efforts, Urge Action at Local Level

By Anne Bridgman — August 22, 1984 6 min read

St Paul--Governors, legislators, and educators gathered here for the annual meeting of the Education Commission of the States heard praise for the states’ role in last year’s education-reform activity and discussed ways to translate their policy-level moves into changes within school districts.

“One year later, there is a strong and expanding cadre of leaders who have already done great things and show no signs of slackening,” Robert C. Andringa, executive director of ecs, told 12 governors, 100 legislators, and more than 180 education officials earlier this month.

In praising the 46 states that he said have been involved in some type of education reform in the past year, Mr. Andringa called 1984 the ''Year of the Governor” and noted, “No longer are we likely to see education’s destiny shaped outside the political arena.”

(In an unexpected move, Mr. Andringa, who has been with the commission for four years, stepped down from his position the day after the meeting concluded. See related story on this page.)

At the National Governors Association meeting in July, the ecs’s Task Force on Education for Economic Growth released a 64-page overview of the past year’s state education efforts.

The report, which is called “Action in the States” and which updates the panel’s 1983 education study called “Action for Excellence,” notes the existence of more than 240 state-level task forces that have been formed to study education issues. And it urges states to continue their reform actions and to take advantage of the current public focus on education.

As a key to continuing to enact successful education-reform legislation, both educators and legislators stressed the importance of sharing ideas among states.

‘Helping Each Other’

“The idea and the concept of governors helping each other instead of competing with each other is a very important one,” said Gov. Richard W. Riley of South Carolina. “I think, certainly in the South, with Southern governors working closely together on these educational-improvement matters, [such help] has benefited the entire South, and yes, will, and has, benefited the entire nation.”

South Carolina’s $218-million “Education Improvement Act of 1984" was called “the most comprehensive single piece of legislation enacted this year” in a report prepared by the Rand Corporation for release at the ecs meeting.

Institutionalize Reform

In addition to sharing ideas on education reform, conference participants stressed the need to institutionalize in the coming year the reforms that have been approved by state legislatures to date.

“Passing the bill through the legislature is about the equivalent of taking the football on your own goal line and moving it to your own 35-yard line,” said Gov. Robert Graham of Florida. “To get it from the 35-yard line across your opponents’ goal line is the next problem. And that happens in quite a different setting.

“In the legislature, you can bring tremendous public attention to bear,” Governor Graham continued. “It’s much more difficult to get that kind of public focus when the battleground has shifted from the statehouse to some relatively obscure bureaucracy in the department of education or local educational agency.”

In order to translate state actions into changes in local districts, many agreed, the reform agenda must be effectively communicated by those who have contributed to its development.

Local Level

“To make it work, governors and others who carry the spotlights for better or worse around with them are going to need to go local,” said Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

“I’m going to visit every one of our 142 school districts in the next two and a half years in an attempt to encourage [and] reward local public education, put the responsibility where it really ought to go, and to focus on career ladders,” he said.

“In the area of effective schools,” commented Robert Benton, Iowa’s superintendent of public instruction, “the closer the decisions are made to the consumer, the better, the research says.”

In sessions on performance-based teacher-pay, career ladders, and the teaching profession, educators and legislators assessed the actions of the past year and looked ahead.

“There are no panaceas,” said Governor Graham regarding teacher-pay incentives. Florida has recently initiated two performance-based programs, one a state program associated with certification, the other a ''merit-school” concept that recognizes teachers in individual schools.

The Career Ladder

The career ladder, in its various forms, is becoming the most likely way to reward outstanding teaching, Governor Alexander said.

“Over the next three years, the governors especially need to keep their eye on career ladders and we ought to be swapping ideas right3and left,” he said. “There is no reason why Texas should have to go through all of the same problems that we had to go through or that Florida had to go through. It ought to be able to skip a few beats and then solve some problems that we haven’t solved because we think to borrow their solutions.”

Teachers’ Views

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Gary Watts, assistant executive director of the National Education Association, responded to the governors’ reports on state efforts in 1983 and 1984 to institute merit-pay and career-ladder plans.

Noting the “responsibility of everyone involved in public education to ... try to reduce conflict within public education and to try to increase constructive cooperation,"inued on Page XX

State Leaders Praise School-Reform Efforts

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Mr. Shanker told ecs members that the aft has entered into a series of discussions on the issue over the past year and will continue to do so.

The teachers’ unions have characteristically opposed efforts to pay teachers based on performance and have, instead, sought across-the-board pay raises for teachers.

“I think that we have made very considerable progress this year with our constituents in gaining an understanding that the future existence of public education is too important to be sacrificed by a life-and-death battle over questions like pay for performance,” Mr. Shanker said.

But he noted: “It’s worthwhile testing the notion [of career ladders]. But we are proceeding with rather great haste in this area because of political need. ... The response has been a lot of very fast and quick and untested action that can be justified on the basis of the need to maintain an increased political support. It cannot be justified from an educational point of view.”

Mr. Watts of the nea agreed that merit pay and career ladders are untested concepts. “It’s too early yet,” he said. “We don’t know what the results are going to be.”

Other Action

In other action at the annual ecs meeting:

Gov. Charles S. Robb of Virginia was elected chairman of the commission. He replaces Gov. Pierre S. duPont 4th of Delaware.

In a television appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” the day after the conference ended, Governor Robb said Virginia and other states are “willing to bite the bullet” to pay for better public education. “The whole increased emphasis on education is healthy because it is creating awareness of the problem from stem to stem,” he noted.

The District of Columbia was recognized as the 52nd jurisdiction to join the commission. The District was represented at the meeting by The Rev. David Eaton, a school-board member.

A version of this article appeared in the August 22, 1984 edition of Education Week as State Leaders Praise Reform Efforts, Urge Action at Local Level