Less Rhetoric and More Structure Needed for Industry-School Ties
While many industry efforts--such as the sponsorship of field trips, speakers' bureaus, careers days, and other similar short-term programs--are useful secondary or supplemental activities that serve a limited student audience, they do not have a significant impact on the total school program.
Industry's major concern should be curriculum change through staff development. Industry can play a major role in assisting schools to plan and implement comprehensive, intensive, and continuing staff development for school personnel in mathematics, science, career, economic, consumer, and vocational education and other areas of the curriculum. But cooperation on this level requires time, patience, discipline, thorough planning, evaluation, and intensity of effort.
School staff members also need industry's help in learning how to effectively find and use community resources in education.
To unify industry-school efforts, a centralized, cost effective community-based structure is required, one that strengthens existing school-advisory committees and involves key private and public decisionmakers. Unfortunately, the interaction between the schools and the employment community continues to be conducted, for the most part, on a fragmented, uncoordinated, duplicative, and ad hoc basis.
An industry-education council is such a community-based power structure. These groups--made up of business, school, labor, government, and professional-community representatives--are in place in Michigan, Georgia, Colorado, California, Wisconsin, New York, Arizona, and Alabama. The emphasis, again, is on organizing the clout of the community to stimulate the improvement of the total academic and vocational program. If education is to play a significant role in a community's economic development, it needs to work closely with the level of decisionmakers represented in these councils.
There is also a need to significantly improve industry-education coordination at the state level. Chief state school officers are becoming more involved in economic development and are seeking to improve the quality of state education-department relationships with external agencies such as state chambers of commerce, state departments of commerce, industrial-development agencies, labor unions, advisory groups, and key business organizations.
In Alabama, for example, Wayne Teague, superintendent of education, appointed Anita Barber as industry-education director for the state department of education last spring to further cooperation between industry and the schools. And in October, business and education leaders in Mississippi met to discuss the establishment of advisory coucils to encourage cooperation between industry and the state's schools.
At the national level, the National Association of Industry-Education Cooperation has promoted industry involvement in the schools at the state and local level since 1964, primarily as an information clearinghouse and as a provider of technical assistance.
Let's stop the rhetoric calling for more "dialogue" and "communication" between industry and schools. We don't need more policy statements and research studies on the "merits" of "collaboration." There is no doubt that the volunteer resources of industry can contribute significantly to the improvement of the nation's schools.
But these resources must be used to make fundamental, long-term changes in school curricula, changes that better prepare students for the needs of an evolving workplace. And such changes can be made only when an effective industry-school organization is in place to see them through.
Vol. 02, Issue 15, Page 16