Bush's Community Program Finds Home in Clinton Reform Plan

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WASHINGTON--For local activists who accepted President Bush's challenge to create "America 2000 communities,'' the good news is that the Clinton Administration has kept the community-based part of the Bush education strategy virtually intact.

The new Administration simply rechristened the effort "Goals 2000,'' linking it to the education-reform bill of the same name that is pending in Congress, and altered the rhetoric issued from Washington to tout "systemic reform'' rather than school choice and "break the mold'' schools.

"From our point of view, Goals 2000 is America 2000 with a different name,'' said Harvey B. Cox, the executive director of San Antonio 2000.

There is also bad news, however. More than two years after America 2000 was launched amid a blaze of publicity, the initiative has not spurred dramatic changes in local schools, even in the areas where organizing efforts are the most advanced.

Still, Clinton Administration officials seem committed to the idea.

"It's a long-term project,'' said Mary Ann Schmitt, the senior director of intergovernmental and interagency affairs for the Education Department. "This is not going to happen overnight.''

"The fact that groups are together and continuing to work for change is important in itself,'' said Ms. Schmitt, who is the top official in charge of Goals 2000.

Raising Local Consciousness

One example of the uneven pace of local efforts is San Antonio, where community leaders adopted a strategic plan in the fall of 1992 with great fanfare. But, Mr. Cox admitted, none of the objectives in the plan has been implemented, although "each objective now has a team leader and a completion date.''

In Memphis, a set of recommendations was adopted last December, and a new school superintendent included many of them in her own strategic plan. But they too have yet to be implemented, said Nancy Bogatin, a leader of Memphis 2000.

"We have been able to bring in a lot of people who weren't working in the public schools but are volunteering now,'' she said.

In Omaha, a steering committee is expected to vote soon on an "action plan'' based partially on a survey of local residents, said Connie Spellman, the vice president for education of the Omaha chamber of commerce and the coordinator of the Omaha 2000 steering committee.

A similar survey done in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley led to a list of about 200 recommendations, according to John T. Kauffman and Edward Donley, retired business executives who serve on the board of directors of Lehigh Valley 2000.

"Most of [the proposals] have been set in motion to a greater or lesser degree,'' Mr. Donley said, without identifying specific changes that have take place in local schools.

But organizers expressed optimism that their efforts would eventually have an impact on the schools.

"What we need in this country more than anything else is a community activity that brings people together at the grassroots level so their consciousness is raised,'' said Mr. Kauffman. "What's news is that this issue is being discussed in the media and in local Rotary Clubs.''

Moreover, some communities have scored victories outside the classroom that have important educational implications, according to Leslye A. Arsht, who was an adviser to former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and is the current president of the America 2000 Coalition, a national effort to link businesses and social-service organizations to local school-reform efforts.

"There are a majority of communities that are working where they recognize that the changes that need to occur to strengthen support for education occur outside the classroom,'' Ms. Arsht said. "If you're going to talk readiness, you have to talk about prenatal care and neonatal care and support for parents.''

Outside the Classroom

"Communities have begun to focus on organizations that haven't been connected in any real sense to educational outcomes,'' she said.

Indeed, Mr. Cox said San Antonio 2000's "first major victory was a child-care victory'' after successful lobbying to increase city funding for child care for the working poor.

In the Lehigh Valley, Mr. Donley said, local businesses are increasingly willing to give parents time off work to attend school meetings.

Although most America 2000 efforts were led by business people, the pace of tangible change in schools may pick up when educators become more deeply involved, suggested John McGrath, a public-affairs specialist in the Education Department.

Mr. McGrath cited as an example Independence, Mo., where school officials asked the city council to declare the city an America 2000 community. The designation was "an imprimatur, a vehicle that enabled us to pull together various things we were doing,'' said Jim Caccamo, an assistant superintendent of schools.

Mr. Caccamo listed an array of changes, ranging from a new community college to expanded school-based health care, that would have been more difficult without the "Independence 2000'' moniker.

"We have the chamber of commerce involved; we have a level of awareness in the community that wasn't there before,'' he said.

Unlike other Goals 2000 efforts cited by national officials, however, Independence 2000 is a concept rather than an organization. It has no board of directors and no neatly bound strategic plan.

"I think there may be a lesson there,'' Mr. Caccamo said.

A Bipartisan Commitment

Clinton Administration officials say they never seriously considered abandoning their predecessors' community-based initiative.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley "was very clear about building on the work of the previous Administration,'' said Ms. Schmitt. "The incoming and outgoing administrations were equally committed to insuring that community-based reform efforts would continue.''

The new players changed the program's name to Goals 2000 and created a new logo. But most of the infrastructure is intact, including a newsletter, a toll-free telephone line, and satellite broadcasts co-sponsored with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But while a Chamber spokesman said the organization had no problem working with the new Administration, a hint of antagonism can be detected in the decision by the America 2000 Coalition, which has close ties to the Chamber, to retain the old name and logo and to develop a computer bulletin board and data base separate from those being developed by the Education Department.

"This was always seen as a packaging problem,'' one Education Department official said. "You want some continuity, you don't want the communities to have to change the names of their local organizations, but America 2000 was just too closely identified with the Republicans and the choice issue.''

People involved in local 2000 efforts said they only perceive one major difference: The Clinton Administration has not continued the public-relations blitz Mr. Alexander mounted on behalf of America 2000. Like Mr. Alexander, Mr. Riley drops a reference to Goals 2000 into every speech and virtually every news release. But he has not held a single event focused on the program, while Mr. Alexander visited an America 2000 community nearly every week.

'Moral Support'

"It wasn't like [the Bush Administration] did anything for us really, but you felt like you were part of a team,'' said Ms. Bogatin in Memphis. "It was kind of like moral support from Washington.''

Ms. Schmitt said Mr. Riley has concentrated on getting the "goals 2000: educate America act'' passed, and will engage in more publicity later on.

"To get this kind of program off the ground involves a lot of pomp and circumstance and promotional effort, trying to create a sense of movement,'' Ms. Schmitt said. "We're trying to put meat on the bones.''

"Fundamentally,'' she said, "we don't see it as a public-relations tool.''

The rhetoric emanating from the Education Department has changed as well. Officials hope to tie existing community-based efforts to the new legislation. The measure would spur development of state educational standards and assessments and support the implementation of state and local reform plans.

"There's probably more Washington news in the newsletters,'' Mr. McGrath said. "The old regime did not want this to be perceived as a Washington program.''

"There used to be a lot of anti-school rhetoric and talk about people taking back the schools--the idea that the community was separate from the schools,'' he said.

"The big difference is between the philosophy of systemic reform and the 'lighthouse' philosophy that you do something good and market forces will force other schools to go along,'' Mr. McGrath said. "Secretary Riley says change has to come in all schools, all at once, and that's the message we're sending out.''

Vol. 13, Issue 05

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