Year Later, Progress Since Summit Questioned

By Millicent Lawton — April 02, 1997 4 min read


On the first anniversary of the national education summit, governors and business leaders reported last week that they are beginning to fulfill the promises they made at that event to improve K-12 education.

But some observers question the effectiveness of some of those activities, and the summit participants are still in search of an executive director for Achieve, the independent national clearinghouse for education reform that is a centerpiece of their agenda.

At last year’s summit, convened by the National Governors’ Association and IBM and held at the business giant’s conference center in Palisades, N.Y., 40 governors and 49 invited corporate chief executives agreed to pursue higher academic standards, related assessments of student learning, and technological innovations in the nation’s schools. (“Summit Accord Calls for Focus on Standards,” and “Summit Garners Mixed Reviews From Pundits, Practitioners,” April 3, 1996.)

Following the summit, participants created Achieve to help carry out the commitments they made in New York.

But they have been unsuccessful in finding an executive director to push and oversee the initiatives.

Achieve’s board of directors offered the director’s job to an unidentified candidate, but the person turned it down for another opportunity, said Patricia F. Sullivan, the National Governors’ Association’s director of education legislation, who has been working with Achieve. She said a confidentiality agreement prevented her from revealing the name.

A search is ongoing, and within the next few weeks, the board hopes to narrow the field to five or six names from which to make a selection, Achieve’s co-chairman, Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin, told reporters at a press conference here last week.

Marking the Movement

Among the other commitments made at the summit, governors pledged that their states would, within two years, set internationally competitive academic standards, assessments to measure progress toward those standards, and systems for holding educators accountable. Business leaders, meanwhile, agreed to implement, within one year, hiring practices that would require applicants to demonstrate academic achievement through school records such as transcripts and portfolios.

According to a 111-page report released last week that tracks summit leaders’ education reform activities since the event, 32 states have reported “new activity and progress toward developing higher academic standards and/or new or improved tests.”

How much effect the summit had on state policymakers, though, is unclear because most of the states had been moving ahead on setting standards long before the conclave.

The report shows a mixed record on summit attendees’ commitment to establish hiring practices based partially on academic records. Of the corporations at the summit, 22 have or are planning to set hiring policies using academic records to some extent. Five had done so before the summit, seven adopted such policies as a result of the summit, and 10 say they are in the process of revising their policies.

Business leaders at the summit had also promised to consider the quality of a state’s academic standards and student-achievement levels when locating their businesses. The status report found that “generally, business location decisions take years of careful research and planning, and few such decisions have been made in the year since the summit.”

Achieve produced the report and intends to follow with annual reports tracking the achievements of the original summit group.

Achieve’s board of directors is made up of six governors and six chief executive officers who were at the summit--virtually all of them members of the event’s planning committee. Its co-chairmen are the summit’s two hosts, Mr. Thompson and Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the chairman and chief executive officer of the International Business Machines Corp.

The group appears to be getting close to realizing one of its objectives. Last week, Mr. Thompson highlighted the creation of Achieve’s World Wide Web page, which will, when completed, carry the standards of about 30 states.

The Web site is to have a searchable database so that a user can find out, for instance, in what grade most states first offer algebra. Such a feature would set it apart from other Web pages that simply provide links to standards documents, Ms. Sullivan said.

The database will be up and running as soon as she gets clearance from each of the states’ attorneys general, Ms. Sullivan said. Achieve can be found on the Web at

Underwhelming Progress?

The summit’s anniversary report reflects positive, if underwhelming, progress, said Patte Barth, a senior associate at the Education Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit group that promotes high academic standards from kindergarten through college.

“Many of those things that they’re citing as accomplishments are good things that should happen,” she said. “How much of a good thing they are, I think could be questioned, and certainly there is a lot more to be done.”

Another of Achieve’s missions is to offer states the chance to benchmark their standards, assessments, and accountability systems against those of high-performing districts, states, and countries.

Largely because of that charge, Ms. Barth said, the still-ongoing search for an executive director is a liability. “They are reducing [Achieve’s] usefulness, because once it does get up and running, they’re going to be reviewing standards and assessments after the fact because the states are going ahead; they’re moving forward.”

“Frankly,” she said of Achieve’s role as a resource center, “it was something that was needed probably four or five years ago.”

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