Land-Grant Model Seen as Key to High-Technology Training
New England could return to a pre-eminent position in the area of high-technology training by developing a new version of the legislation that launched the nation's land-grant colleges, according to the authors of a new book about the future of U.S. technology.
Their idea--which they say would require a billion-dollar federal, state, and private commitment--was unveiled for discussion at a recent two-day conference for education leaders from the region, which has been concerned with the educational quality of its secondary schools and colleges and their role in revitalizing the economy.
The book, Global Stakes: The Future of High Technology in America, calls for the enactment of a new "Morrill Act," the landmark legislation that in the 19th century established a national college and university system for the study of agriculture and mechanical arts. James W. Botkin, Dan Dimancescu, and Ray Stata, the Massachusetts-based technologists who collaborated on the book, contend that such national legislation is necessary because of the current shortage of trained workers in high-technology fields.
Under their proposal, the money authorized in the legislation would be used to update equipment in secondary schools and colleges and to support scholarships and research in mathematics and science. Half of the $1-billion allocation would come from the federal government; $300 million from the states; and $200 million from business and industry.
The conference, sponsored by the New England Board of Higher Education (nebhe), brought together--for the first time--commissioners of elementary and secondary education and higher education from the six-state region.
'A Fundamental Weakening'
The joint meeting was a follow-up to the release of a report last March that blamed the deterioration in quality of New England's colleges and universities on "a fundamental weakening" of public schools that has resulted in students who are unable to "think critically." (See Education Week, April 7, 1982.)
The report, "Threat to Excellence: The Preliminary Report of the Commission on Higher Education and the Economy of New England" further charged that the "erosion" of student achievement and academic standards at the secondary and college levels threatens the economic stability of the New England region.
Mr. Stata, a member of the Massachusetts Board of Regents for Higher Education and president of a high-technology firm, served on the commission that issued the critical report on education and the economy. Mr. Dimancescu and Mr. Botkin are both consultants with Technology and Strategy Group of Cambridge, Mass.
During the conference, the book's authors said that New England's traditional edge in the area of higher education is being diminished by the acceleration of spending on colleges and universities by "energy rich" states in the South and Southwest and by competition from institutions in Japan and West Germany, according to David N. Giguere, the board's spokesman.
Mr. Giguere said the conference was an attempt to bring together state education leaders from the secondary and college levels to discuss topics of mutual concern. "We didn't waste our time discussing history," he said, referring to the critical report. "We think [the problems] have already been defined."
"We are concerned with finding creative and innovative concepts to address the problems," Mr. Giguere said, "or a negotiating basis so we don't get crossed by narrow interests and state lines."
The concept of legislation modeled after the Morrill Act offers one such a solution, according to Mr. Giguere. He said that if such legislation were enacted at the federal level, high-school and college officials would be able to purchase equipment and upgrade faculty salaries so that they are more competitive with wages paid in the private sector.
Mr. Giguere said the New England Board of Higher Education has agreed to join with the New England Legislative Caucus to push for regional legislation that might "raise the public consciousness" and serve as a catalyst for federal legislation.
Vermont's commissioner of education, Stephen S. Kagan, termed the discussions of possible aid programs "invaluable." But he added that the economic problems in his state "span the whole industrial base" and not just the area of high technology.
Mr. Kagan said he agreed with some of the criticism raised in the commission report--particularly that which addressed teacher evaluations and the preparation of mathematics and science teachers. But he said he did not interpret the report's 19 recommendations for solving current problems literally.
The commission's recommendations included: involving high-technology specialists in reviewing and remodeling high-school curricula; reassessing certification standards for secondary-school teachers; and increasing the flexibility of standards to permit people with experience apart from formal classroom training to teach. In addition, the commission proposed that secondary-school faculty be provided part-time work in industry to lessen the disparity between the salaries of mathematics and science teachers and their counterparts in the private sector.
Paul B. Kilmister, spokesman for New Hampshire's commissioner of education, Robert L. Brunelle, said the conference helped the participants better understand the problems addressed in the report.
On the other hand, John H. Lawson, commissioner of education in Massachusetts, described the proposals affecting secondary education as "very general." He criticized one proposal, discussed during the meeting, that called for the development of a differential pay scale for mathematics and science teachers.
"I think we have a problem in public education overall, where we don't pay any of our teachers adequately," Mr. Lawson said, and he questioned how such a differential pay scale would be accomplished.
Mr. Lawson said he would prefer to support national legislation that "focused attention on the need for education at all levels." Nevertheless, he said, the meeting was beneficial because it made discussion possible within the region on how schools and colleges could help each other.
The recommendations of the commission on education and the economy, however, should not be given extraordinary consideration simply because "some in higher education point out their perception of a problem" in the public schools, according to Mr. Lawson.
He said that the meeting concluded with the agreement that all the proposals presented would be considered at a later date.