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Panel Links School Reform to Economic Health

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A task force of 27 corporate and university presidents last week submitted to President Reagan and members of the Congress a report asserting that if the United States is to improve its ability to compete economically with other advanced industrial nations, the Administration must take "decisive steps" to encourage educational reform, spur technological innovation, and reduce the federal deficit.

In its report "The Second Term," the task force of the Business Higher-Education Forum expands many of the themes and recommendations put forth in the forum's May 1983 report calling for stronger federal support for mathematics and science education in the schools and for new tax incentives to stimulate investments by industry in education. (See Education Week, May 25, 1983.)

The forum is an 85-member group founded in 1978 by corporate chief executives in conjunction with the American Council on Education, the umbrella group representing the nation's 3,200 colleges and universities. The forum's chairman is the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame.

'Serious Challenges' Remain

The new report says policymakers and the public at large should not be satisfied with educational improvements made in public education over the past few years.

Meeting the "serious challenges" raised by recent national studies on the quality of education "will take years of sustained commitment before real progress can be measured," the report says.

School reform and adequate support for education are not "ends in themselves," the panel stresses, but provide "the means of training the students who will either conduct the pioneering research needed by industry, operate the technology, market the products and processes that come off the drawing boards, or teach the next generation of students."

Broad-Based Improvements

While the group's 1983 report targeted mathematics and science education as areas demanding particular attention, the report issued last week says that "to focus education too early on only scientific and technological areas would ultimately weaken the very areas that must be strengthened."

School curricula should remain broad-based to provide students with the "basic abilities to communicate, acquire and integrate information, perform a variety of tasks and respond to nonroutine situations," according to the corporate and education leaders.

Their report cites numerous educational problem areas, including high functional-illiteracy rates, particularly among minority groups; the inability of many students to use higher-order thinking skills; shortages of teachers, engineers, and engineering faculty; a decline in support for graduate fellowships; outdated research facilities at colleges and universities; and reductions in federal funding for research and development.

The report also charges that an overemphasis on defense and space research is currently depriving the nation of the sustained support for educational programs that ultimately benefit industry.

While the U.S. government devotes only 1 percent of its research funds to "promoting industrial growth," the report says, West Germany spends 14 percent, Japan 13 percent, and France 8 percent on that function. Moreover, efforts of corporations to combine their research initiatives are inhibited by federal antitrust laws.

Major Recommendations

The panel calls for revising federal antitrust, patent, and regulatory policies; extending tax incentives to corporations that donate equipment to universities; and reducing the federal deficit by cutting defense spending and considering major tax reforms.

It also urges full funding for financial-aid programs that the President has sought to cut or eliminate; development of a comprehensive system for awarding additional graduate fellowships to students through federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and relaxation of laws restricting the free flow of ideas and technology to and from foreign nations.

The forum expects to release a report on the the quality of business-mangement education in May and one on federal export controls this summer, according to Don M. Blandin, associate director of the forum.

Co-chairmen of the Task Force on Challenges to America are Edward Donley, chairman of Air Products and Chemicals Inc., and Howard R. Swearer, president of Brown University.

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