WASHINGTON — THE following are excerpts from an interview with Bill Clinton (D) of Arkansas, co-chairman of the Governors' Task Force on Education. Why is education foremost on the governors' minds these days?
The future of the country is at stake. ... [We are in a] global economy, and if we want to maintain our standard of living and generate opportunities for our people, we have to generate jobs ... that are worth something in the global economy. The average 18-year-old will change jobs seven times in a lifetime, so in this economy it's ... not only what you know, but what you are capable of learning.
Some of your goals, such as a 90 percent graduation rate for public schools, seem almost too ambitious. Only Minnesota achieves that now.
We went for 90 percent because that seems to be the international standard. That is roughly where the Germans and Japanese are.
Several governors have talked about radical changes in education. What do they mean?
Putting much more responsibility on the schools and principals and teachers. They will be given much greater flexibility to pick textbooks, to organize the school day, to organize the way courses are taught.
Bringing control of schools right into the classroom?
Absolutely. When the [superior] performance is there - when they are producing results - then we'll provide them with the flexibility they need from state rules and federal rules to do their job. There will also be a system of accountability for people who fail. This is one of the few systems in the world where ... persistent mediocrity or persistent failure is [allowed].
If this were the year 2000, what would be a major difference in the way schools operate?
You might see [high school] classes that last two to three hours, with two or three teachers.... You might have a history, a social studies, and an English literature class all meeting together, and instead of people listening to teachers give lectures, there will be conversations going on integrating all these fields. That will give us much higher levels of reasoning.