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Institute on Education and Government Hands Out Awards and Advice to State Lawmakers and Public Policy Leaders

The Institute on Education and Government was created to fulfill an important part of TC's mission-to place information about education and the impact of public policy in the hands of lawmakers and their staffs.

Teachers College President Arthur Levine said: "The reality is that the states are under tremendous pressure to deal with the education agenda." The goal of the Institute is to alleviate some of that pressure by providing lawmakers with information and role models to guide them.

Under the leadership of its director, Gaston Caperton, the former governor of West Virginia, the Institute is undertaking a variety of projects to help state lawmakers make sound decisions about education reform. Programs sponsored by the Institute will include seminars and issuing background papers on key issues, such as the use of technology in the classroom.

Caperton agreed to head the Institute because he wants to ensure that governors and their staffs aren't forced to develop education policies by trial and error. That was the method employed by Caperton, and some of his contemporaries, in the early 1990s.

Today, that's no longer necessary. "There are a lot of wonderful examples of good governors. And it doesn't have anything to do with whether they are Democrats or Republicans," said Caperton, who is a Democrat.

Caperton and the chairman of the Institute's board, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, a Republican, are leading a bipartisan effort by the Institute to provide sound advice on education policy to governors, their staffs, and other elected officials.

The first official event held by the Institute was the presentation of the Thomas H. Kean Governor of the Year Awards in Milbank Chapel in April. "The responsibility of improving education is with the states and the states do not move without the leadership of the governor," said Kean, who is an honorary TC Trustee and president of Drew University.

The recipients of the new award are "two magnificent examples of governors," he said. Children for generations to come will benefit from Zell Miller's work in Georgia and Tommy Thompson is one of the most innovative governors in the nation. "Nobody could be more worthy than these two men," Kean said.

Gov. Miller pioneered the HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Scholarship, which has helped open the higher education door for more than 300,000 students in Georgia. Every student who graduates high school in Georgia with a B average can receive a scholarship to attend a private or public college in the state.

Although Gov. Thompson is best known for welfare reform, education has been a top priority for him. Under his leadership, Wisconsin initiated the first parental choice program and it was among the first states to implement school-to-work and youth apprentice programs.

The Institute also played host to ten Chiefs of Staff from across the country who came to Teachers College for the first in a series of workshops on education issues for public policymakers.

The three-day workshop was held at Columbia University's Low Library and was co-sponsored by the National Governors' Association. The program was organized by Gibran Majdalany, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Organization and Leadership and a special assistant to the Institute.

The speakers included James A. Kelly, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; Henry Levin, the Julius and Rosa Sachs Lecturer at Teachers College and a Visiting Professor from Stanford University; Seymour Papert, LEGO Professor of Learning Research and Epistemology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Lewis H. Spence, deputy chancellor for operations for New York City Board of Education.

In some ways, the biggest challenge urban school districts face isn't recruiting top teachers, said Spence. "The deepest most fundamental problem is that the schools contribute to the environment of low expectations," he said. "How do we move from the nice statement that all children can learn to actually believing it? That is the work we're trying to do."

That attitude is at the heart of Professor Levin's approach to education. Levin is the father of the Accelerated School-an educational philosophy that says that the way to help to at-risk students improve is to intellectually stimulate them, not remediate them.

"Our goal is to accelerate the growth and development of these kids," Levin said. "The current system takes children who are not middle-class and assumes that they are defective because they haven't had the experiences that lead to success."

He said that "drill and kill" exercises don't work, nor does placing children in remedial classes. "The longer they're in school, the farther they're behind," he said. "The kinds of schools we want for at-risk children is the dream school for our own children."

Children should be in schools that supplement academic coursework with community art projects, field trips, outside speakers and the like.

For example, he said that P.S. 108 in Harlem turned around the performance of its children by revamping its curriculum to follow the Accelerated Schools model. In the 1992-93 academic year, only one third of the students were at or above grade level. Four years later, after adopting the Accelerated Schools model, two thirds of the students test at or above grade level in reading and mathematics, Levin said, noting that 94 per cent of the children at the school receive free or subsidized lunches.

"Our view is that we need to create accelerated schools for all children," Levin said.

Another session that struck a nerve with participants was on the politics of converting an idea into law. Paul Lackey, Chief of Staff to the governor of Oklahoma asked: "How do you promote change without being labeled anti-education?"

Margaret Porfido, Chief of Staff to the governor of Colorado, wanted to know: "How do you promote change without alienating your friends or marginalizing an idea?"

Kean, who was governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990, told them: "You can't make change in education without breaking eggs." Instead, he said they should focus on a strategy to move ahead with their reforms.

For example, when he was governor, Kean proposed that standards be applied to schools. Under his proposed law, any school that failed to meet the standards for three years in a row could be taken over by the state. The idea caused such an uproar that "the press said the bill was dead on arrival," Kean said.

But that did not stop him. He took the plan on the road, talking to teachers and parents. The parents in urban districts with low-performing schools were delighted. Kean said: "Letters and petitions poured in saying ‘take my school first.' And the urban legislators moved from opposition to support."

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