Stateline Story

Governors Want More Say in School Policy

When it comes to educating America's children, governors don't want to see themselves sidelined while Congress debates President Bush's education plan,which is embedded in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), participants in the biennial Education Summit said.

Shortly before the Oct. 9-10 summit began in Palisades, N.Y., the National Governors' Association complained in a letter to Congress that state leaders were being left out of some very important education policy decisions that they are going to have to implement.

Michigan Gov.John Engler, a summit participant who chairs the NGA,joked:"they (Congress) could never consult governors too much." He then reiterated: "don't leave governors on the sidelines. More than 90 percent of funding for education comes from the state and localities - not Washington. We would prefer to be making 90 percent of the decisions."

The NGA letter followed a harsher letter from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which represents many of the 7,000 state lawmakers. NCSL criticized portions of the bill that are costly and chip away at state authority over schools.

"Governors cross all lines and philosophical divisions on education. The one thing we agree on is to increase our flexibility so we are freed up to target federal dollars," Engler said.

Fifteen governors and about 55 school chiefs and business leaders attending the summit voted to raise the bar on what students are learning and close the performance gap between low-achieving students and white and Asian kids. They said they would do this by testing for results, tightening accountability and beefing up teacher quality.

IBM CEO and Summit co-chair Louis Gerstner warned policymakers and business leaders not to take this agreement lightly. "This document lays out a real challenge for everyone who has a stake in our public school system - which is everybody in this country."

Nearly every state has set up a testing system to find out if students are learning what they are expected to learn. States use the information to make better decisions on their schools and focus resources on the most needy students.

But some parents blame schools for not teaching students well when they are held back or aren't allowed to graduate. Some politicans worry that public support may crumble as students fail to reach the goals set by states, so they agreed to work on improving reforms in several areas.

The governors promised to develope quality tests that are tied to classroom work, let the pubic see what is on the tests, use the test results to fix classroom instruction, find a way to compare each student's improvement from year-to-year and break down the testing data by race and income to show how all groups of students are progressing.

Because tests are expensive, Engler suggested that states collaborate and share information. "There are costs and concerns about testing, that is why we've talked about collaborating." Engler added that all the states are concerned about revenues during this economic downturn, but he urged them not to sacrifice schools. "We just have to do better,"he said. ssing.

Because quality tests are expensive Gov. Engler suggested that states collaborate and share information. "There are costs and concerns about testing, that is why we've talked about collaborating." Engler added that all the states are concerned about revenues during this economic downturn, but he urged them not to sacrifice schools, "we just have to do better,"he said.

The Summit participants also agreed to ensure that policies put in place to hold schools and districts accountable for student performance remain firm and fair.

"Even in our best districts there is room to improve,"Gov.Engler said.

To do this they agreed to phase in changes over time so that students have a chance to learn new class materials, target assistance to low performing schools and make sure tutoring, summer schools and preschools are available to students. Principals, teachers, policymakers and students should all be held accountable, and states should take over chronically failing schools,according to the statement.

Lastly, policymakers commited to improving the quality of teaching with recruitment programs, professional development and on-job support for new teachers and better pay.

Tags: Education