Follow Through on School Reform

EDUCATION reform has been a major American issue for nearly a decade. In the 1980s, political and business leaders made a critical connection between ailing schools and uninterested students, and the future of American competitiveness overseas. State and local officials, engaging in considerable soul-searching, raised teacher salaries by 60 percent and set in motion a number of changes - from starting special magnet schools to textbook reform. Last fall President Bush got into the act during his ``education summit'' with the nation's 50 governors in Charlottesville, Va. This was an important effort to ward off education-reform fatigue. Last February, the White House and the governors agreed to six national education goals: drug-free schools, a 90 percent graduation rate, universal literacy, world preeminence in math and science, adequate pre-school preparation for every child by the year 2000, and regular assessment of student performance in critical subjects.

And if their recent meeting in Mobile, Ala., is any indication, it appears state governors will continue to take education reform seriously in the 1990s. This is important for two reasons. First, state governors and their chief state school officers have unique leverage in the reform process.

Second, reform of something as vast and problematic as public education takes time. One sobers when looking as massive school bureaucracies, uncaring parents, and difficult kids.

In Mobile, the governors agreed to monitor progress on the six goals. It's crucial that such follow up take place - that more than papers get shuffled. There are governors races in 36 states next fall. The incoming politicians need to sign onto the reforms. Thankfully, Washington's Gov. Booth Gardner, a leader in state school reform who is not captive to education lobbies, will now be heading not only the National Governors' Association, but the Education Commission of the States as well.

Financing reform still nags. Imagine the kind of schools possible for half the cost of the savings-and- loan bailout. Still needed are better goals on learning about civic consciousness, democracy, and history. The next generation's still at risk.

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