Signing Up the Public

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Some 100 residents of this Rust Belt city have been invited to a college auditorium for a 90-minute "town meeting'' on education reform and workforce competitiveness.

The televised session will kick off a six-week campaign sponsored by many of Flint's business, community, and media leaders to improve public understanding of the need to restructure the schools.

If the decade-old message about the need to revamp the nation's schools were getting through, this community would appear to be the perfect place to look for a citizenry demanding change.

Few cities have felt the United States' declining economic competitiveness more than Flint, the birthplace of General Motors and its largest company town.

As G.M.'s fortunes have plummeted, so have Flint's. More than 33,000 jobs have been lost here, contributing to an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent in this community of 140,000.

Despite the flagging economy, the average Flint resident has been slow to make the connection between the loss of well-paying blue-collar jobs and the need to improve education.

To help make that tie-in, civic leaders here brought in the Public Agenda Foundation to try to jolt residents into an awareness that Flint's future is linked to raising the academic performance of its students.

At the televised town meeting, three moderators roam with wireless microphones, À la the "Donahue'' show. The discussion, though, seems less than spontaneous. One person after another touts an educational program or innovation that he or she believes is making progress here and in surrounding Genesee County.

Finally, Roy E. Peterson, the president of the local children's health center and a prominent civic activist, takes a turn at the mike and declares an end to the back-patting.

"This sounds like a love-in,'' Mr. Peterson tells one of the moderators. "There are some big problems out there that we haven't heard [about] yet.''

The Challenge: Bringing the Problem Home

The complacency evident in Flint is symptomatic of broader public attitudes toward the schools. Most communities, it seems, are hesitant, perhaps ill-equipped, to enter into a frank discussion of the hard issues that surround serious school reform.

Repeated warnings about poor student achievement and a growing concern about the nation's ability to compete in the world economy have penetrated on one level: National polls have repeatedly found that Americans believe our schools are in trouble.

But those same polls have found that many people believe that those bad schools are in someone else's neighborhood, certainly not the schools that their own children attend.

"That is obviously a tremendous barrier to change,'' says Gov. Evan Bayh of Indiana, the chairman of the Education Commission of the States and a member of the National Education Goals Panel. "People think we need to change, but 'I'm O.K.' ''

As a result, advocates of education reform--governors, educators, and businesspeople--face a monumental task. They must find ways to dramatize the problem that go beyond slick public relations in an effort to build a deep and broad constituency for reform.

That means reaching, with a sense of urgency, the majority of Americans without children in school. And it requires being clear about just what steps reformers want the public to take to support school change.

So far, it has proved exceedingly difficult to communicate to the public a vision of education that is far different from the rote learning that most Americans experienced when they were in school.

"Although experts tend to stress the kinds of skills required for the 21st-century world of work,'' a 1991 report by the Public Agenda Foundation states, "much of the public seems to yearn for the little red schoolhouse of the 19th century, with its emphasis on basic skills and traditional values.''

Deluding Themselves

While findings from a number of polls indicate that people remain generally satisfied with the quality of their local schools, they also provide evidence that Americans think the nation's education system as a whole must be overhauled to meet the economic challenges of the 1990's.

Two recent polls conducted by Louis Harris and Associates for the magazines Agenda and Business Week found that more than three-quarters of the respondents would be willing to pay more in taxes if there were a guarantee that the money would go to education reform.

Employers and college officials are especially concerned with the need to improve schools. A 1991 Harris survey for the Committee for Economic Development found that these groups have dramatically different views of how the schools are faring than do students and their parents.

Only 33 percent of employers and 41 percent of higher educators reported positively on recent high school students' ability to read. By contrast, 78 percent of high school students who got jobs and 86 percent who enrolled in college gave themselves positive grades in reading. Their parents had similarly positive opinions.

A harshly worded analysis of the findings charged that parents and students were "deluding themselves,'' and needed to be informed about "what employers and higher education expect.''

But business and higher education have not rushed to make the changes in their employment and admissions standards that would bring that message home to students. Many people have argued that, without such changes, students will have little incentive to work hard in school and reform efforts will fail.

Public Agenda Foundation

To many analysts, these polling data are evidence of a "reality gap.'' While politicians, policy experts, and the "consumers'' of the public schools--business and higher education--are convinced that current schools are inadequate and must be improved, the public neither sees the need for radical change nor understands the enormity of the reforms being advocated.

The gap between public perception and reformers' admonishments for change has led to a number of high-profile efforts in recent years to enlist the citizenry in the cause of school improvement. Most of these, like the work here of the Public Agenda Foundation, have concentrated on public-relations campaigns.

The Public Agenda Foundation, founded in 1975 by the public-opinion analyst Daniel Yankelovich and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, is bent on linking educational improvement to economic competitiveness.

The foundation's "Help Wanted: Crisis in the Work Force'' citizens'-education campaign involves an intensive period of media coverage of economic and education issues to help the public understand the link between inadequate education and training, declining competitiveness, and a lower standard of living.

Scott Swenson, who oversees the Help Wanted project for the foundation, says campaigns in Hartford, Conn.; Indianapolis; Nashville; Phoenix; Seattle; Austin, Tex.; and other cities have significantly increased public understanding of education issues.

"The problem is that leaders have been talking about these issues for years and years,'' Mr. Swenson says. "But they have all this jargon--TQM (total quality management), site-based management, and so forth. The public has to understand the very basic issues.''

The Help Wanted campaign is not designed to push one educational solution over another, he adds, but to get the public "up to speed.''

The campaigns in Hartford, Indianapolis, and Phoenix increased support for extending the school year and giving tax breaks to businesses that upgrade worker skills, according to an evaluation of those campaigns. They also appeared to be effective in persuading members of minority groups that inadequate schools were an economic threat.

But they largely failed to shake middle-class complacency about the local schools.

"Despite intensive media coverage of educational shortcomings,'' the evaluation found, "large numbers of residents in each campaign city continued to rate their local schools very highly.''

Permitting Decisions 'To Move Forward'

It only makes sense that a business-oriented approach to education reform would appeal to Flint leaders.

This city, after all, is still stinging from the filmmaker Michael Moore's darkly comic "Roger & Me,'' which explored GM's role in the decline of his native city. The film, which lampooned the city's bungling economic-development efforts, still evokes strong reaction among Flint boosters.

"We felt done in'' by the movie, says Mr. Peterson of the Mott Children's Health Center. "But in its anger, the community didn't see the truths that were there.''

Determined to remedy Flint's plight, a civic partnership made up of The Flint Journal, WJRT-TV, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Genesee Area Focus Council, and the Flint Roundtable invited the Public Agenda Foundation to wage a campaign here.

To precede the effort, the Mott foundation surveyed Genesee County residents and found that most people remain pessimistic about the area's hopes for improvement, economic or otherwise.

Asked what they believed to be the best things happening today in the county and in Flint, for example, more than two-thirds of the county residents said "nothing'' or "don't know.''

Asked about the state of the public schools in the past three to five years, 17 percent of the respondents said they had improved, 44 percent said they were about the same, and 29 percent said they had gotten worse.

But the survey also showed that the public is not monolithic. Nearly half the minority-group members surveyed in Flint said the public schools had gotten worse in recent years.

Mr. Swenson says such signs of an appetite for change provide an opportunity for frank dialogue.

"If the public is given the opportunity to talk about it,'' he says, "then they will come to the conclusions that will permit political decisions to move forward.''

'Much Ado About Nothing'?

The key here, civic leaders believe, is to give residents a reason to support some of the good things under way by making stronger connections between education and the economy.

The Flint school district, for example, has embraced a number of reforms--including outcome-based education and site-based management--and local industries are working with districts on school-to-work transition programs.

"We don't have any money, so we are forced to think and be creative,'' says Nathel Burtley, the superintendent. "We have asked, 'What should a community school system look like in a community that is downsizing?'''

John Austin, the executive director of the Flint Roundtable, an organization of business and community leaders dedicated to improving the Genesee County public schools, says the public remains "way behind,'' with "an outdated set of perceptions about the global economy.''

In order for reforms to succeed, adds Mr. Peterson, who is also the leader of a children's-advocacy organization called Priority 90s, the public at large must be engaged.

"This community has a history of dependence,'' he says. "We depended on G.M. The workers depended on the [United Auto Workers union]. We have to take it upon ourselves to do more. As Flint goes, so can another 100 communities in this country.''

But some key players here were less than overwhelmed with the Help Wanted campaign. Brian C. Veenhuis, the executive director of United Teachers of Flint, calls the effort "much ado about nothing.''

"I don't think there's been that free and open a discussion about the issues,'' he complains. "I think it has been very guided and very controlled by the Public Agenda Foundation.''

Skepticism and Support

As the Help Wanted campaign unfolded, it entailed dozens of coffee klatsches, civic meetings, newspaper articles, television reports, and citizen surveys. The ensuing debates highlighted some of the skepticism that greets the push for better schools.

At a meeting in a UAW union hall, one activist sums up a concern that many residents here have when they discuss the need for increased skills.

"If they've got problems with the way the American workforce is educated, then why are the industries looking to move to Mexico?'' he asks. "I can't believe the people there are better educated. That's cheaper labor, though.''

Before the campaign ended last month, thousands of residents of the Flint area filled out "ballots'' asking whether they favored such proposals as lengthening the school year or requiring math and science during all grades for all students.

A sampling of reader comments published in The Flint Journal showed a range of opinion. One wrote, "We should move faster on improving our schools. The year 2000 is not soon enough.''

But another was doubting: "No society will ever educate its society to the level these so-called experts expect.''

Communicating the Message 'In Human Terms'

There's no doubt that public-relations campaigns do have their limits in moving people to embrace needed educational reforms. Some educators have expressed resentment, for example, at the economic orientation of these efforts, arguing that there are compelling intellectual, social, and moral reasons to improve the schools.

Nonetheless, such campaigns remain a popular strategy in trying to mold public attitudes. One reason is that educators see them as a way to spread their message quickly and broadly. Another is that business groups have the high profiles and the money to mount such efforts.

For example, the Business Roundtable--an organization of chief executive officers of some 200 large national corporations that has made a 10-year commitment to systemic education reform--has spearheaded the development of a major five-year public-service advertising campaign devoted to the issue.

The "Keep the Promise'' campaign, unveiled last year, involves free ads on television and in newspapers evoking the theme that the nation has promised each child a future, and schools must improve to follow through on that obligation.

Margaret Mark, the executive vice president for research at Young & Rubicam, says the advertising agency was at first skeptical that a public-service ad campaign could shift attitudes on an issue such as school reform.

"We concluded it would be very hard to get the majority of Americans to care about education reform,'' she says. "But it would not be hard to get them to care about children. We had to humanize the issue.''

The first television spot focuses on Baby Jessica, the young girl whose rescue from a well in Texas captivated the nation. "No country comes to the aid of a child the way we do,'' says the spot. "Imagine if the same effort that went into saving that little child in Texas went into keeping the promise that every child in America gets the best education.''

'Too Generic, Too General'

Another high-profile effort--President Bush's America 2000 strategy--is still alive in a number of cities and states. Even with the change in administrations, the new Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley, is encouraging communities to keep up their efforts. In fact, Mr. Riley, who has given the effort the name Goals 2000, has himself participated in several satellite "town meetings'' on school reform.

"America 2000 was a very important forum to get people involved,'' Mr. Riley said recently. "We are going to take that and try not to miss a beat.''

Members of the National Education Goals Panel are also well aware of the need to educate more of the general public about the six education goals whose progress it is monitoring.

The problem, says Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, a member of the goals panel, is that it is difficult for the average person to understand the concept of educational standards--a key point, since new performance standards are at the heart of the goals and the education reform process.

When Mr. Romer was attempting to explain what a standard was to a group of legislators in his home state, he made copies of an exercise from a book, Measuring Up, that demonstrated what math a 4th grader should be able to do.

When they were done, the Governor says, "Every legislator took it and put it in his pocket because it is a concrete example.''

Education-reform advocates, he charges, have failed to discuss such concepts in terms that the average parent can understand. "We have been too generic and too general about the language we use,'' he says. "We are not communicating it in human terms.''

Providing New Images of 'Learning by Doing'

The best way to get the message about improved student learning across, some educators suggest, is to show people what that learning looks like and to make them feel welcome in the schools.

Doug Tuthill, the president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association and a member of a Florida school-reform panel, uses a 15-minute videotape that shows students "learning by doing.''

He has shown the tape to people all over Pinellas County, including women in their 70's who belong to the local League of Women Voters.

Watching students doing meaningful work, he says, leads naturally into more abstract discussions of world-class standards and making learning relevant.

"If you start with student learning,'' he says, "the pieces fit in.''

The real challenge, he maintains, is not in convincing people that children should be well educated, but in helping them to see how they can become meaningfully involved in insuring that happens.

In Florida, where there are site-based management committees and spinoff subcommittees in each school, there are plenty of ways that the public can help out.

In Pinellas County, schools that are serious about involving local citizens have come up with a variety of common-sense strategies to make that possible: paying taxi fare for people who don't drive, providing on-site child care, meeting in local churches.

"It's not glamorous,'' Mr. Tuthill says. "It's grunt work. But that's the kind of thing that people who are committed to [public involvement] are doing.''

In Vermont, residents are invited to "school report night''--a sort of town meeting focused on student performance--to see what children have been doing in school. These kinds of meetings are easier to have in Vermont, because the students in the 4th and 8th grades are collecting their work in portfolios.

Farmers fresh from milking their cows tromp through school gymnasiums in their muddy boots and ponder the student work that is plastered on the walls. Confronted with evidence that their children are capable of creative, complex work, people can more easily support reforms to enable that kind of learning, Richard P. Mills, the state education commissioner, says.

"They are wild,'' he says. "You go into a gymnasium, and it is jammed with people, and you see student portfolios everywhere.''

'A Civic Movement'

In Kentucky, the sweeping reform of the entire state education system has redefined the public's relationship to the schools.

The 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act, known as KERA, mandated that parents be included on site-based management councils that are being phased in to every public school in the state. Schools currently forming such councils are trying to overcome low election turnout.

"Implementing this reform is not something the schools can do themselves,'' says Robert F. Sexton, the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. "The bottom line is getting the individual parent and business person engaged. We are really talking about a civic movement, not just an education movement.''

His group is helping to organize citizens' committees in every school district and is building awareness about the law through conferences and publications. Working with a statewide radio network, the committee has begun producing regular one-minute updates on school reform called "Today in Education.''

A number of the state's leading businesses that have committed themselves to the successful implementation of the law are also focusing on involving their employees in schools.

Ashland Oil Inc., for example, sponsored KERA fairs at its facilities, stuffed information about the law in paycheck envelopes, and touted the reforms on its company electronic mail system.

Many educators are becoming convinced, in fact, that finding ways to reach people where they live and work is an essential first step to deeper involvement in school reform.

To invite the public to participate in the development of curriculum frameworks, South Carolina officials printed thousands of copies of draft frameworks for math, foreign languages, and the visual and performing arts.

Barbara S. Nielsen, the state superintendent of education, "insisted we send copies to every church, every neighborhood association, every beauty salon in the state,'' explains Dennis Bartels, a special assistant to the superintendent.

"The superintendent said, 'We are going to market these things,''' he adds. "We actually got responses back from hair salons.''

A review panel is now incorporating the more than 3,400 responses to the frameworks into the final product.

"This made me realize you really do have to market reform,'' Mr. Bartels says. "Just as a business creates a demand for its products, you have to create a demand for change.''

Regaining Credibility With the Public

While it is true that educators and policymakers must become more adept at communicating their ideas, they must also become better listeners if they truly expect the public to be a positive partner for change.

Crises of confidence in the public schools are not uncommon. In many communities, members of the public have become vocal in their beliefs that districts are poorly managed, inefficient, and unable to respond to their concerns.

In Minneapolis, outraged constituents forced the school board to suspend the superintendent in February, after an audit alleged several financial missteps. In making their decision, the board members cited an "erosion of public confidence'' in the district's administration.

Certainly, many school officials learn to be better listeners after voters reject tax increases they don't believe are needed.

In Cincinnati, disgruntled taxpayers who complained that the public schools were performing poorly and were too top heavy with administrators forced the district into bankruptcy in 1990 by refusing to approve a tax-levy increase.

After the district promised to go along with the recommendations of a high-powered business group on streamlining the administration, the tide turned. Voters approved a levy, and, in return, the district slashed its administration by $16 million.

J. Michael Brandt, the Cincinnati superintendent, says the district had "lost credibility with the public.''

Now, Cincinnati educators hope that they have restored a measure of faith and will be able to turn to questions of improving students' performance.

Governor Romer has also heard the public's discontent, loud and clear. Last year, he unsuccessfully backed a ballot initiative that would have raised the state sales tax by one penny, with the funds committed to education.

Voters rejected the initiative and, at the same time, approved Amendment 1, a tax-limitation measure that has forced districts across the state to slash their budgets.

Realizing that they had better pay closer attention to voters' ideas, state officials have set up interactive computers at several shopping malls, where residents can give their opinions on a survey about state budget priorities.

The survey asks Coloradans, for example, whether they would support eliminating kindergarten or charging fees for foreign languages or sports.

"With the passage of Amendment 1 in November, the people of the state made it clear they want to be more involved in government decisionmaking,'' Governor Romer tells participants in an introduction to the computerized budget survey.

'Grassroots Organizing'

When things get bad enough, public uprisings can shake the foundations of a system.

In Chicago, parents, taxpayers, business leaders, and education advocates fed up with years of labor strife and abysmal test scores persuaded the Illinois legislature to restructure the Chicago public schools. The public is now running the city's 540 schools--hiring and firing principals and tending to the leaking roofs and chronic supply shortages that the bureaucracy was unable to fix.

The Chicago example is an extreme form of public involvement, but many educators who are trying to build bridges to their communities note that what they are doing is trying to create a political constituency for change.

"This is really old-fashioned, grassroots organizing,'' Mr. Tuthill says.

Jonathan Kozol, the author of the influential book Savage Inequalities, points out that parents and other citizens have to be empowered politically to develop their own lists of educational goals.

"I don't think we need to organize parents around a list of goals we have created,'' he says. "We have to educate parents in the political skills of making change. That is a very dangerous thing, because they might decide to get rid of us.''

As Theodore Sizer, the chairman of the Coalition of Essential Schools, notes, parents and the public often have more prosaic but valid concerns than do reform-minded educators. Parents, he says, want to know that their children are safe at school and have caring, competent teachers. Without addressing these basic issues, he warns, schools are unlikely to be able to sign up the public for more ambitious reforms.

Indeed, advocates of public education have increasingly become concerned simply with keeping the public as a client.

An organization called Parents for Public Schools, which began in Jackson, Miss., has had some success at reversing the white flight that accompanied desegregation in that city.

The group has spawned a number of chapters across Mississippi and the nation. They try to spread the word that public schools have good things to offer, and that children need to learn in integrated classrooms to prepare for the workplace.

Potholes and Protests: The Risks of Reform

The price a district ends up paying for not signing up the public as an advocate of the schools can be even costlier when an ambitious reform agenda is on the line.

When a community or school starts down the road to restructuring, it inevitably encounters potholes. The current system, after all, has vocal constituents who are satisfied with things as they are.

When a school starts changing such practices as ability grouping, grading systems, schedules, and teaching methods, it can run into heavy public resistance.

In many locales, parents of children served by gifted and talented programs have protested efforts to mix children of all abilities in classrooms, arguing that their children would lose out.

While many educators say they welcome public involvement, once the debate over reform begins, it can create unexpected pressure to produce immediate results.

In Rochester, N.Y., a series of high-profile reforms that dramatically boosted teachers' salaries have created a public backlash, with many residents arguing that teachers are not accountable. The backdrop to these discussions, as in many urban areas, is the poor academic performance of many minority students.

For the past several years, the public has loudly demanded proof that the higher salaries and reforms, like career ladders and site-based management, are working.

One local newspaper columnist summed up the mood this way: "The city school district does not exist to give well-paying jobs to... teachers. And neither is its purpose to be a test lab for school-reform theorists. The good people of Rochester pay school taxes so their kids will get an education. And right now, that just isn't happening for enough students.''

Even in Princeton, N.J., a wealthy suburb known for its high-quality public schools, a parents' coalition has demanded that the district close the achievement gap for minority students by, among other things, including them in more advanced classes. The parents also have fielded several school board candidates.

The nature of the reforms that are being advocated--teaching children to think critically, de-emphasizing the teacher as the font of all knowledge, and meshing schools with social services--also can offend deeply held beliefs.

One of the major goals of the Odyssey Project in Gaston County, N.C., was to increase parent and community involvement in schools.

But the project, which received a coveted $2.1 million grant from the New American Schools Development Corporation, has instead stirred significant opposition from conservative community members who say the program subverts their religious beliefs.

Educators in the blue-collar, textile community say they never anticipated such protests, and concede that they may have added to the confusion by using educational jargon, rather than explaining their goals in more common language.

A major point of contention is the project's focus on student outcomes, which some community members charge was an attempt to teach values at the expense of core academic subjects.

Inviting the Public In

The National Alliance for Restructuring Education, a partnership of states and school districts that won another of the sought-after grants, is well aware of the risks in significantly changing education.

The group, says Andy Plattner of the National Center on Education and the Economy, one of the alliance partners, has identified securing public support as a key element in its success.

Many of the alliance's previous efforts over the past two years have been threatened, he says, because "the public was not on board.''

The public often does not understand what a school district is trying to accomplish by restructuring, he explains, or doesn't feel "invited in'' to the process.

For its project, the alliance will attempt two public-support initiatives. It is negotiating to have the Public Agenda Foundation lead a Help Wanted campaign in Vermont, Kentucky, and Rochester.

It has also asked Ernesto Cortes Jr., a Texas-based community organizer, to develop a handbook for the participating sites.

Mr. Cortes and the Texas Interfaith Education Fund have developed a well-regarded model for helping low-income parents become involved with schools. Their project, now in some 55 schools in Texas and Arizona, uses trained coordinators who canvass the community, visiting parents at home to encourage them to visit the schools and to participate in sessions in which they learn about reform strategies.

"The focus is on developing a constituency for reform, and teaching parents and leaders that they have a stake in it,'' says Mr. Cortes, the director of the Texas Interfaith Education Fund.

"It is basically just a matter of teaching parents to understand the budget process and the bureaucratic process,'' he explains. "We try to get parents to understand the collaborative role they can play.''

Last year, the Texas Education Agency formed a partnership with the organization to help 32 schools develop educational plans.

The Texas Interfaith Education Fund's philosophies and practices were developed in Fort Worth, in conjunction with a local organization called Allied Communities of Tarrant.

In 1986, the local group established a pilot parent-involvement project at Morningside Middle School, where the police were called to settle disturbances two or three times a day. Despite the problems, a meeting called to talk about solutions drew only two parents.

After the project began, test scores improved, violence decreased, and a core group of about 25 to 30 parents became involved in every major aspect of the school. Parents started attending workshops on standardized testing and how to help their children continue learning during the summer.

"We are seeing the difference,'' says Morningside's principal, Odessa Ravin.

The 'Twilight-Zone Beat'

In trying to get across sophisticated new ideas about teaching, learning, and the nature of schooling for the 21st century, educators and their partners have not had much help from the media.

Although media coverage of education issues has improved in recent years--and newspapers in Chicago and Kentucky contributed to the momentum for reform--covering schools still remains the "twilight-zone beat,'' says a 1991 study in the Gannett Center Journal.

Bill Blakemore, an education correspondent for ABC News, reports on reform issues and on promising programs in "American Agenda'' segments. By focusing on solutions, he notes, he is forced to do a better job of reporting what is wrong with schools.

But generally, Mr. Blakemore says, "the broadcast media have missed the boat.''

Part of the problem is that education is not perceived as important by assignment editors--because they, in turn, don't think the public is interested.

"Ten years into the reform era, the reporter who covers the schools has what is still considered one of the lesser assignments on a typical family newspaper or TV station,'' writes George R. Kaplan, a longtime observer of the media's coverage of education. "Editors believe, with some justification, that their readers and viewers are not poised breathlessly to receive the latest word on how the 6th graders of William Howard Taft Middle School made out on their reading tests.''

'In the Hands of Millions'

The cynicism of the press notwithstanding, however, many have concluded that the public may now be willing and able to take on the serious challenge of improving the nation's schools for all children.

For starters, the public's anti-tax mood and desire to have a new role in government decisionmaking appear to provide a receptive climate for the open back-and-forth discussions that must occur.

The nation's governors, stung by a series of defeats of tax increases and reform packages, are particularly aware of the need to reach out to the public.

"We are in an era when the public is hesitant to put dollars forward for reform unless it can be shown to have a clear effect,'' says Paul Goren, a senior policy analyst with the National Governors' Association.

Besides the Colorado defeat, a tax-and-reform package pushed by Gov. John Ashcroft of Missouri, a fiscally conservative Republican, was soundly defeated in 1991. But that same year, voters in Oklahoma rejected a proposed repeal of a sweeping education reform law that included additional taxes.

After their experience with ballot initiatives, Mr. Goren says, officials from states where voters rejected their proposals recommended pursuing legislation, rather than taking issues directly to the people.

Now, the governors' association is preparing a manual for state officials on how to attract and sustain public support for the national educational goals and state reform initiatives.

Such political leadership, starting at the top with President Clinton, will be a key ingredient if the American public is to be mobilized to support real improvement in education.

But no amount of inspiration and exhortation from the top will be sufficient to get the massive job done. It's a task that requires the support, involvement, and commitment of all Americans.

"The power to make these changes,'' Mr. Mills, the Vermont commissioner, says, "is in the hands of millions of people.''

Vol. 12, Issue 28, Pages 9-14

Published in Print: April 7, 1993, as From Risk to Renewal: Signing Up the Public
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