The Education Task

PRESIDENT Bush's educational goals, including bringing high-school graduation rates up to 90 percent by the end of the decade and making American children the world's best in science and math, are admirable. Few would argue with their thrust. But many are questioning the realism of his assignment, particularly since the administration's 1991 budget would increase educational funding by barely 2 percent. The danger exists that cynicism could set in before anyone really gets down to plotting out just how the country might move toward these lofty goals.

That danger can be averted. The Feb. 25-27 meeting of the National Governors' Association may help put some doubts to rest. US governors were the president's partners in drawing up the goals, and their task force on education promises to spell them out in more detail. We'll be listening.

Other cynicism-defying steps are being taken by states, cities, and towns. Chicago's much-publicized move to decentralize management of schools entails risks, as well as the possibility of breakthroughs. The same is true for Minnesota's statewide school-choice program. And for the innovations in Rochester, N.Y., where local corporations are supporting efforts to increase the professional standing of teachers, as well as their accountability for the performance of students.

This local vitality has to be preserved even as a national strategy, sketched by the Bush goals, takes shape. The unanswered question is, who will take the lead in fleshing out and implementing such a strategy.

The magnitude of the work ahead is hard to overstate. Concerning the math and science goal, a survey for the National Science Teachers Association found that science is not the primary field of 80 percent of the people who teach it in US high schools. Major regearing will be needed to prepare teachers in fields long neglected by US public education.

Yet a decade is ample time vigorously to take up the assignment given by Mr. Bush and the governors. The goals must be a spur to action, not an excuse for moaning over how far we have to go.

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