Hope and Dissent Blend In Education Conference
By BERNARD WEINRAUB and SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK TIMESSEPT. 28, 1989
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President Bush opened his education conference with the nation's governors today in an atmosphere of hope tinged with division and uncertainty over how best to improve the nation's ailing schools.
Many of the Democratic governors and some of the Republicans distributed a document listing ''summit objectives'' and intended to serve as their own framework for the meeting.
Among the goals for the Federal Government and states in the memorandum were seeing that ''by the year 2000, all children will be ready for the first grade,'' largely by assuring that every eligible poor child is enrolled in Head Start, a Federal preschool program. Experts say Head Start now serves only about 20 percent of those eligible.
Another goal was to raise American student achievement ''to internationally competitive levels, especially in math and science,'' where tests show the United States generally lags far behind many other nations. Staking Out Turf
The memorandum on goals, while not announced, seemed to be an attempt by the governors to assert themselves in what has been a White House show. Nearly all of the nation's governors are attending the two-day conference at the University of Virginia.
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Perhaps the sharpest criticism of Mr. Bush came tonight from Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York. While other Democratic governors generally refrained from publicly criticizing Mr. Bush's approach, which seeks to restrain Federal spending on education, Mr. Cuomo was unabashed in his criticism.
Mr. Cuomo said tonight: ''You can't do it with poetry. You need a little prose. You can't do it with garnish. You need a little meat and potatoes. You can't build a University of Virginia with a speech. It takes bricks, that means dollars and cents and let's be honest. If you really are for these things, you really are going to have to start producing resources.''
Mr. Bush, from his arrival at midday on the leafy campus ablaze with autumn colors until a dinner tonight in Monticello with the governors, proclaimed that the nation's schools were lagging and that ''measurable national goals'' were crucial. 'Get On With It'
''Accountability, flexibility, tougher standards and a results-oriented system - all of these have got to be on the table,'' Mr. Bush told the governors shortly after his arrival by helicopter from Washington. ''What I'm seeking at this summit is not just dialogue but a new sense of direction.
''We've got to challenge the education system if we're to meet the challenge of educational excellence,'' Mr. Bush said. ''It's time to stop debating over commissions and studies and set priorities, and it's time to get on with it.''
As Mr. Bush spoke in a packed 970-seat auditorium in Old Cabell Hall, the governors applauded unevenly. Also attending were most of President Bush's Cabinet.
Although some governors insisted that more Federal education aid was essential, Democrats generally refrained from calling for more money.
Two Southerners Comment ''What is needed most critically from the President and the Federal Government in the area of education is leadership,'' said Gov. Joe Frank Harris, Democrat of Georgia.
''Federal funding is not the major issue,'' said Gov. Bill Clinton, Democrat of Arkansas, one of the organizers of the event. ''It is not the main subject and is only a small part of what we want to achieve.''
Mr. Clinton said accountability to taxpayers on how education money was spent was a more important topic. Besides, he told an opening news conference, the bulk of the more than $350 billion spent annually on education comes from state and local sources, not from Washington.
The governors' document listing objectives mentioned these goals:
* ''Disparities in achievment levels of students of different races and economic backgrounds will be dramatically reduced.''
* ''The dropout rate will be reduced dramatically.''
* ''The percentage of high school graduates going on to some form of post-secondary education will be increased to a point sufficient to give them opportunities to get good jobs.''
* ''Illiteracy among adult Americans will be virtually eliminated.''
By inviting the governors to Charlottesville, Mr. Bush has drawn attention to the education issue - an issue he highlighted in the Presidential campaign, when he said he would become the ''education President'' and pledged to tackle such problems as school drop-out rates, adult illiteracy and many students' ignorance of geography, mathematics and science.
A version of this article appears in print on September 28, 1989, on Page B00013 of the National edition with the headline: Hope and Dissent Blend In Education Conference. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe
The joint communiqué then listed the four areas of agreement reached at the summit:
The President and the nation’s Governors have agreed at this summit to:
■ Establish a process for setting national education goals;
■ Seek greater flexibility and enhanced accountability in the use of Federal resources to meet the goals, through both regulatory and legislative changes;
■ Undertake a major state-by-state effort to restructure our education system; and
■ Report annually on progress in achieving our goals.