Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Bush, GHW:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The George H.W. Bush Years: Education Summit

In September 1989, Bush convened the governors of the various states in a national education summit. Though initial plans for the summit proposed to showcase the best examples of educational practice from a number of states, planners decided instead to use the opportunity to engage the governors in a new focus on educational goals. Held in Charlottesville, Virginia, the summit included business leaders, members of the Bush administration, and forty-nine of the fifty governors (Governor Rudy Perpich of Minnesota did not attend). Tellingly, there were no educators or members of Congress in attendance (besides those from Virginia who were helping to host the conference). In welcoming remarks, Bush made clear that the federal government was a supporting and coordinating partner, not a leader of the effort. He said, "There are real problems right now in our educational system, but there is no one Federal solution. The Federal Government, of course, has a very important role to play, which is why I'm here and why so many members of our Cabinet are here. And we're going to work with you to help find answers, but I firmly believe that the key will be found at the State and local levels."

The 1989 summit was the first meeting of the governors and president devoted to education since the Depression. That fact alone made it a noteworthy event. The summit furthered the commitment to a set of "national performance goals" that focused leaders on a set of benchmarks to be achieved by the year 2000. Although the goals were written after the summit, the principles that informed them were discussed and outlined. Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, who had played a leading role at the summit, also led the subsequent effort to create a set of widely supported goals.

The six goals that President Bush shared with the country in his 1990 State of the Union address were that, by the year 2000:


  1. All children in America will start school ready to learn.
  2. The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
  3. American students will leave grades four, eight, and twelve having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography; and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern economy.
  4. U.S. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement.
  5. Every adult American will be literate and possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
  6. Every school in America will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a safe, disciplined environment conducive to learning.


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