For First Time, Educators Play Prominent Role at National Summit

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One of the most significant features of the third National Education Summit was the guest list. For the first time, educators were invited to the table.

"This is a partnership," said Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin, a co-chairman of the summit, "and we can't succeed without everybody being involved."

Tom Mooney

The governors invited nearly 20 chief state school officers to the event, along with a handful of other state education officials. In addition, 26 other education leaders--such as Benjamin Canada, the superintendent of the Portland, Ore., public schools, and Tom Mooney, the president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers--attended the summit at the invitation of the co-sponsoring groups. And about a dozen educators served as resource people for summit participants during the breakout sessions.

Educators also worked on drafts of the summit's "action statement" before the event.

The document was reviewed and revised by a steering committee that included representatives from all the organizations that helped sponsor the summit, including the Council of the Great City Schools and the Learning First Alliance. The latter group represents a dozen of the nation's largest education groups, including the two national teachers' unions.

"People were willing to make a serious commitment to substantive issues," said Judy Wurtzel, the executive director of the alliance, "but I think only because they were part of the give-and-take process."

"Folks are really united now," she added. "We did a lot of work with our organizations."

Era of Cooperation?

That spirit of collaboration among education groups and between educators, governors, and business leaders was noticeably absent during the two earlier summits. Some educators wondered how such a gathering could be held without any of their ilk being players.

"For the first time, the education community is united, and that was not the case in 1989 or 1996," said Susan Traiman, the director of the Business Roundtable's education initiative. "You have the organizations united around a few key areas of agreement that they all have resolved."

Said Mr.Mooney, the president of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate in Cincinnati: "I came away very encouraged from this first conversation that there is a growing consensus that standards have to be the foundation for improvement.

"Frankly, I came with a little more skepticism."

Part of what's changed is that states have moved from setting standards to making them come alive in classrooms and helping students meet them. Without the involvement and support of teachers and other educators, that will never happen.

"What's particularly heartening to me about what's happening here is this growing understanding that you really have to build in organized support for the teachers to do this, and then you have to provide what the kids need," said Sandra Feldman, the president of the AFT.

"It can't be sink or swim."

Whether that spirit of cooperation will last beyond this month's event, and whether the education leaders gathered here will be able to sell the ideas incorporated in the action statement to their own members, remains to be seen.

"I'm hopeful that the kind of interaction that takes place between these three entities here will broaden and deepen to achieve results," said Don Cameron, the executive director of the National Education Association.

"Instead of just standing on our rhetoric," he added, "we're all trying to open our minds."

Even some of those who had been skeptical in the past seemed heartened by what they had witnessed.

"I'm pleasantly surprised at the discussion, and would give most of the governors and business folks high marks for the progress since the last summit," said Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.

The attendees, however, did not include some of the more vocal critics of the standards movement.

Vol. 19, Issue 6, Pages 1, 21

Published in Print: October 6, 1999, as For First Time, Educators Play Prominent Role at National Summit
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