Governors Given 'Action Plan' for Uniting Education, Industry
Washington--Adapting educational programs to prepare students for an economy increasingly dominated by high technology and service industries was one of the principal themes of the National Governors' Association meeting here last week.
At a session of the association's committee on human resources, Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. presented a nine-point "action plan" for improving economic productivity through education, which he urged the governors to adopt.
The plan was based on preliminary recommendations of the Task Force on Education for Economic Growth, a 35-member panel established by the Education Commission of the States (ecs).
Members of the task force will hold three regional meetings and one general meeting before voting on May 4 on a list of final recommendations.
Task Force Recommendations
The task force recommends that the governors:
Establish similar task forces at the state level to determine educational needs, educate the public, and develop statewide programs to improve education.
Promote "working partnerships" among leaders from industry, business, labor, and education.
Adjust teacher-certification requirements and set deadlines by which all teachers must be certified in their fields of instruction.
Create committees to review curricula and student-testing policies.
Establish a "scholars" program and academic competitions to recognize top students; begin summer institutes where all students may receive instruction in "particular areas of need"; and create specialized schools for higher-level study.
The task force's draft report also included recommendations for actions by chief state school officers and industry officials.
"The business and industrial lead-ership of this country is really tied in [to education]," Mr. Hunt, a Democrat who chairs the task force, told the governors.
Speakers at a meeting of the ecs panel held in conjunction with the governors' meeting expressed similar sentiments, saying schools and businesses should stop considering themselves as separate and unrelated sectors of society.
Said Republican Gov. Pierre S. du Pont 4th of Delaware: "We've got to retrain 10 to 20 million Americans for the workforce, and I don't think business can do it all. Isn't it time to stop building barriers between education and business?"
Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell told the group that the growth of the service sector requires new initiatives by government, education, and business to enhance America's competitiveness in the world economy.
"Human resources have replaced natural resources as a source of growth, at least to a great extent," Mr. Bell said. "The Japanese [economy] tells us that we have to become a more productive people."
Mr. Bell also said that, as educators prepare students for an increasingly complex economy, they should be careful not to abandon programs to help the disadvantaged and the handicapped.
During another session of the governors' meeting, on the subject of economic revitalization, Republican Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh of Pennsylvania said he wanted to dispel "some myths and misunderstandings."
Some people believe that "we should write off the manufacturing base and switch to a high-technology mode--that it is an either-or situation," he said. "What we really should do," the Governor added, is "take advantage of the new technology to add to the existing technological and manufacturing base."
Because a majority of the workforce is still employed in jobs with manufacturing industries, Governor Thornburgh said, it is important for the nation's governors to recognize that the new technology will produce jobs that existing workers can be retrained for. Many of the new high-technology jobs will not require advanced-skills training, he noted. Training and retraining programs for an industry's "displaced workers" will offer economic stability, Mr. Thornburgh added.
He leveled criticism at existing vocational-education programs for their "regimented" focus on traditional occupations regardless of whether jobs are available. It would be more practical, he said, to "customize" training programs with the assistance of industry for jobs that actually exist.
"Industry is interested in participating at the front end of the process," he added.
Other governors described their efforts to introduce changes in statewide education systems.
Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a Republican, told his colleagues of his legislative initiative to introduce a merit-pay system for the state's teachers. "Right now, there's no curve of opportunity, so we are not keeping our best teachers," he said.
Governor Alexander said he was surprised to find that no other states had merit-pay plans. Mr. Bell quick-ly responded: "You're going to have a tough time getting it there."
Gov. William F. Winter of Mississippi, a Democrat, described the widely reported initiatives his state has undertaken to strengthen schools. Although achievement of satisfactory skills in reading, writing, and mathematics will not necessarily result in being hired for high-technology jobs in the future, he said, such skills will at least ensure that graduates are able to compete in the marketplace.
Students must have basic literacy skills in order to achieve computer literacy, Governor Winter said. "Even in the most remote areas [of the state], there is a growing concern that this generation of youngsters be competitive," he said. "There's a growing realization that the students have not been competitive in economic terms."
In addition to increasing achievement in basic skills, Mississippi is attempting to alleviate a situation in which "we were training in vocational-technical areas for declining fields or fields that no longer existed," the Governor said. To correct that problem, Governor Winter has appointed a new state board for vocational education that is made up entirely of representatives from the business community.
Gov. Joe Frank Harris of Georgia, a Democrat, said his state has "made great strides toward building a network" of business, education, and government leaders, although problems such as outdated vocational equipment and varying local priorities still exist.
For the next several months, according to Governor Harris, Georgia's high-technology advisory council will be reviewing the problem and attempting to redirect vocational-education governance.
In Massachusetts, according to its governor, officials are revising educational standards to include computer literacy for all public-chool students.
"In this rush to technology, we are out there running as hard as we can," said Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, a Democrat. "But we can't forget that the vast number of citizens continue to be employed in traditional businesses and industries and that [such companies] are just as important as technological firms."
"It's important that we not go the way of Sputnik at the [expense] of the liberal arts; we don't want to go completely overboard," he added. But he cautioned nonetheless that all students should be literate in the new technology, regardless of whether they go on to college.