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Ten Governors' Chiefs of Staff Get Education Policy Lesson from TC's Institute on Education and Government

Chiefs of Staff from across the country came to Teachers College for the first in a series of workshops on education issues for public policymakers by the Institute on Education and Government.

The Institute was established last year to provide support for public officials committed to education. Under the leadership of its director, Gaston Caperton, the former Governor of West Virginia, the Institute is going to undertake a variety of projects. 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 Governor 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 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 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 the New York City Board of Education.

One 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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