Michigan Governor John Engler and IBMs Louis V. Gerstner opened the National Education Summit 2001 Tuesday against the backdrop of last months terrorist attacks on New York City. Engler and Gerstner cited the destruction of the World Trade Towers as an urgent new incentive to improve education.
"We are holding this summit at a time of national trial," Engler said. Stressing the need to pursue domestic priorities even as the nation wages war abroad, the Michigan Republican told participants: "The President, when it comes to national defense has a plan for fighting not just an external enemy, but the internal enemies of ignorance and poorly developed skills."
US Education Secretary Rod Paige echoed Engler, saying: "The attacks make the work in reforming our schools more important."
Gerstner focused on the responsibility of states to teach children well.
"Absent a healthy, vital system of free public education you can't have an enlightened electorate, which means you can't sustain a working Democracy; you can't build a competitive workforce, which means you can't envision a more prosperous future," he said
Some 25 of the 50 governors, state education leaders and business CEOs met at IBM's Palisades Executive Conference Center to brainstorm about ways to improve public education. At the last conference, held in 1999, state leaders pinpointed the quality of teaching as a pressing need and promised to support legislation that would improve teacher quality, help students achieve and find ways to hold schools responsible for teaching.
"We can't leave this work undone. Children still need what they needed on the tenth (Sept. 10) a good education," New York State's Commissioner of Education, Richard Mills said.
It appears the public agrees. New York City held a primary last month and despite the attacks, voters said education is the number one policy agenda, said David Gergen of US News & World Report, who chaired a town hall meeting.
There is some opposition to the way states have been reforming schools. Just outside the conference center, a dozen people organized by the Massachusetts-based nonprofit Fair Test (www.fairtest.org) protested education reforms centered on testing.
Maryland Education Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said her state's success with reforms is rooted in sticking with them for over a decade and having good leadership.
"We have done this incrementally. We began with standards, assessment and accountability." Now she says the state is looking at ways to change the way teachers instruct students, narrowing the achievement gap between minority and White and Asian kids, and altering the way the state funds schools to achieve these goals.
Ohio Governor Bob Taft agreed that leadership is key. "Whenever I visit a good school in a low-income area, it is (performing well) because of good leadership."
Texas schools Chief Jim Nelson added that the leadership and reforms need to be consistent. "We did this (reformed our schools) in a methodical way, over the course of three governors (and) three commissioners, but we maintained focus and momentum."
Since the last Education Summit: