Governors Link US Future to Broad Education Reform to Help Students Achieve Top Scores in Math and Science, State Leaders Seek Support from Congress, White House

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THE nation's governors, worried that America is lagging behind other countries, are trying to invent a new education system for the 21st century.

By the year 2000, reforms being launched this week by the governors could affect every school child in the country.

Gathered here for the 82nd annual meeting of the National Governors' Association, the governors warn that sweeping reforms are essential because America's schools are failing badly. Too many children are dropping out before graduation.

Pupils' skills in math, science, and writing are falling behind those of Japan and Europe.

Gov. Bill Clinton (D) of Arkansas says: "Despite all the efforts that have been made in ... the '80s to invest more money, raise standards, and start new programs in education, we still face a crisis."

Governor Clinton says many Americans doubt that the United States can meet the new challenges of global competition. They believe America's educational potential is limited by its racial and cultural diversity, low incomes, or regional problems.

"We still have too many people today who are running up against the limits of their attitudes long before they run up against the limits of their aptitudes," Clinton says.

The meeting here is building on progress made in February when President Bush and the governors agreed on six national education goals - including one that calls for making American students "first in the world in math and science" by the year 2000.

The states can't do that job alone, however, so the governors hope to draw the White House and Congress into the task.

By September 1991, they promise to begin issuing regular education report cards on all 50 states - monitoring progress or failure in a wide range of subjects.

Governor after governor here emphasizes that they got into the debate over education because the nation's prosperity depends on it.

Gov. Terry Branstad (R) of Iowa, chairman of the Governors' Association, calls education "the cornerstone of the future."

Education reform was a popular topic in the 1980s. But it was the educational summit between the governors and Mr. Bush in Charlottesville, Va., in September 1989, that gave reformers real momentum. That was followed by the February agreement on six goals.

Besides world leadership in math and science, those goals include boosting the high school graduation rate to 90 percent, improving early childhood education, improving competence in English, history, and geography, increasing adult literacy, and ridding schools of drugs and violence. …