Report Charts Slow Movement on Governors' Reform Plans
Washington--In a candid report, the nation's governors have conceded that progress toward carrying out the sweeping agenda for education reform they set four years ago has been slower and more uneven than they would have liked.
The report released this month, "Results in Education: 1990," is the fourth in a series that the governors have produced to chart their efforts to implement the reforms proposed in their landmark 1986 document, Time for Results.
"Although some states are moving toward deregulation and greater flexibility," states former Gov. Garrey E. Carruthers of New Mexico in the preface to the new report, "comprehensive change has not occurred and student achievement remains at a standstill."
"Are schools better than in 1986?" asked Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado in releasing the 1990 report. "I can say that there is a clear movement in this country toward innovation in education."
But Mr. Romer cautioned that progress has not been "fast enough" and that the nation is unlikely to meet the six education goals adopted by the governors and President Bush for the year 2000.
The 1986 document, put together under the leadership of then-Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Mr. Bush's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, committed the states to a five-year agenda in seven areas.
The reform goals were: creating a more professional teaching force; strengthening school leadership and management; promoting greater parental involvement and choice; helping at-risk children meet higher educational standards; making more effective use of technology in schools; using school facilities more efficiently; and strengthening the mission and effectiveness of colleges and universities.
States have made significant gains in some of those areas, the report indicates.
For example, many states have raised teachers' salaries, enlarged the pool of prospective educators, and enabled parents to exercise more choice about the schools their children will attend.
In addition, nearly every state has developed programs to improve the academic achievement of at-risk students. And the number of states with college-assessment policies has grown from a mere handful to 31.
But the document points to a number of areas in which progress has been slow or uneven.
Few states, for example, have developed comprehensive strategies to improve the caliber of school principals.
Moreover, while most states have raised teaching standards, "[t]he Time for Results agenda for improving the teaching profession remains largely unfinished," the report maintains.
In particular, the report notes, a teacher's performance still has little or no effect on his or her pay and responsibilities. And most teachers' jobs change little from their first day in the classroom until their last.
The report advocates that states develop an "outcome based" system for teacher preparation and licensure. It also recommends making professional development a routine part of a teacher's job and encouraging greater experimentation with different staffing patterns in schools.
The report credits the states with developing a number of programs to address the needs of at-risk youths. But it adds that most efforts "promote marginal rather than systemic improvement" in the schools.
"Even the best programs have not been institutionalized," it notes. "And states still have not found an effective way to disseminate information about model and exemplary programs from one school district to another so that their use can become widespread."
Similarly, while most states have embraced the use of distance learning and other new technologies in schools, "technology's potential to transform and customize American classrooms remains largely unreal' according to the report.
"Most school districts still do not turn to technology to expand and diel10lversify; nor has technology been integrated into the instructional practices of most classrooms," it cautions. "In short, little progress has been made toward the central recommendation of the task force--to use state powers to help schools reorganize, using technology and other means, so that they become more effective and efficient."
In his preface to the report, Mr. Carruthers, who had served as the nga's "lead governor" on education in 1989-90, argues that the "most valuable legacy" of Time for Results "may be that it set the stage for the next and most critical level of reform--total restructuring of the educational system."
Mr. Romer also noted that the experience has taught the governors as much about "what doesn't work" as about what does.
Although the governors' earlier status reports were based on 50-state surveys, this year's document was intended to summarize what states have accomplished collectively since 1986.
From now on, tracking progress on achieving the six national education goals adopted by the governors and Mr. Bush last February will take precedence over monitoring the seven areas spelled out in Time for Results.
Mr. Romer, who chairs the national panel that will monitor progress on the goals, said he expects the first of those reports to be released in September.
Vol. 10, Issue 17