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Schools, Businesses Should Be 'Partners' In Economic Push

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Research Triangle Park, NC--America's public schools are failing to adequately prepare students for the demands of a competitive, technology-based economy, a task force of 41 elected officials, corporate and labor leaders, and educators concluded in a report released last week.

"We have expected too little of our schools over the past two decades--and we have gotten too little. The result is that our schools are not doing an adequate job of educating for today's requirements in the workplace, much less tomorrow's," concludes the report of the National Task Force on Education for Economic Growth.

The task force, which was created by the Education Commission of the States (ecs), a consortium of state political and education officials, was chaired by Gov. James B. Hunt of North Carolina. The group met last week in Raleigh, North Carolina's capital, and approved the substance of the report, which is to be released in final form next month.

The tone of the document echoes that of the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, the federally sponsored panel that warned late last month of a "rising tide of mediocrity" in American education.

The ecs task force, noting that its members held "a conviction that a real emergency is upon us" due to international competition, called for "deep and lasting change" in the schools.

The report included the following recommendations:

Governors and state education leaders should develop an "action plan'' for improving education in kindergarten through grade 12.

Educators must make "better use of existing resources," because "no consensus for increased investment in education can be built unless citizens are convinced that the schools are sufficiently productive."

Schools and business leaders should develop "partnerships" to advance school improvement.

State officials should "drastically overhaul" their procedures for recruiting, training, and paying teachers; innovations should include merit pay.

The practice of granting lifetime tenure to educators should be "examined and changed, where necessary, to insure more effective teaching in the public schools."

State legislators should lengthen the school day and the school year.

School officials should set "firm, explicit and demanding" requirements in discipline, attendance, homework, and grades. Social promotion should be eliminated.

Principals should concentrate on improving instruction in the classroom and be freed from some of their administrative responsibilities.

Each state should look for ways to reduce absenteeism and its dropout rate.

As the ecs task force met to consider its report, Governor Hunt praised the Excellence Commission's report, which he said was successful in getting the "attention of the American people."

"The question now is, what are we going to do about it?" he said.

The Governor also emphasized that he expects business and labor leaders to play a key role in taking the recommendations to the nation and convincing elected officals and educators that reforms are needed.

"When employers say education is important to jobs and to the strength of the economy, that carries a weight that none of us in government has," he said.

Gov. Pierre S. DuPont IV of Delaware, a co-chairman of the task force, said the members should make sure their recommendations are carried out.

"We sit around the table, prepare a report, and tell each other what a good job we've done," he said. "But the real job is to market and merchandise these ideas, to enlist support on the local level."

Higher Salaries

During the discussion that followed, teacher pay and tenure issues drew the longest debate. Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, one of 13 governors on the task force and an advocate for merit pay, argued for higher salaries for the best teachers. "There is no statewide public-school system that pays one teacher one penny more for doing a good job of teaching," he said.

The Governor contended that business leaders should work with teachers to develop models for awarding merit pay.

Base Pay Should Be Raised

Glenn E. Watts, president of the Communications Workers of America, said the base pay of all teachers should be raised. That would be a way to attract the best people into the profession, he said.

But Frank T. Cary, chairman of the board of the International Business Machines Corporation and a co-chairman of the task force, disagreed. "While we have a lot of gifted teachers underpaid, we've got a lot of teachers out there who are overpaid. The system has deteriorated so much, there are people out there who don't deserve more pay."

Some members expressed concern that, because the report included so many negative comments, it might alienate educators to the extent that they would disregard the recommendations. But members who supported the report's strong language outnumbered them.

Said Mr. DuPont: "You don't start off saying there's an emergency and then talk about the good things."

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