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Dialogue Is Key to School Partnerships, Businessmen Told

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Washington--Though education was high on the agenda at the National Alliance of Business's annual conference here last week, there were few educators among the more than 2,400 participants.

And that, said some, was an illustration of why reality often does not match rhetoric when it comes to building local business-school partnerships.

"Here we are talking about partnerships," said Janet Reingold, a consultant to the nab, "but we have missed reaching a whole group of people that should be involved."

Collaboration between business and education was discussed time and again here as a means of achieving the interrelated goals of school reform and economic competitiveness. In particular, conference speakers said business-school partnerships offered new hope for meeting the needs of at-risk students.

But at one session, one of the few educators in attendance gave voice to underlying tensions between the two communities that many here said complicated the partnership ideal:

"It becomes very apparent to me in discussions between educators4and business people," she said, "that business people don't understand what the business of education is."

"You won't find many of us who have been in education very long who believe that our higher mission is to produce workers."

On the other side of the argument, George Anderson, a private-industry-council member in West Palm Beach, Fla., spoke for many business leaders when he said that "the problem is, we aren't able to turn the education community around to accept new ideas, new technologies, and new training."

"If we can't address that," Mr. Anderson said, "then the business community will be applying Band-Aids forever."

Others in the audience of business executives, job-training specialists, and government representatives said they had met resistance when they tried to form partnerships with the local schools.

But they and the educators present said that despite the frictions that exist, successful cooperative programs such as the Boston Compact are pointing the way to a more effective use by schools of available resources.

In addition to education, the participants discussed a range of economic issues, including job training and welfare reform.

President Reagan, making a surprise appearance, used his speech to the group to announce new developments in the arms-reduction talks with the Soviet Union and advance his "Economic Bill of Rights." Other speakers included Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Gov. John Sununu of New Hampshire, and Secretary of Labor William E. Brock.

Education 'Needs' Business

A third of the conference sessions and one of its three major forums were devoted to education and youth issues.

At the forum, a panel of educators told conference participants that the education community needs the assistance of the business sector to make education reforms work.

"We need a strong external voice from business on education reform,'' said Frank Newman, president of the Education Commission of the States."But we need real involvement, not just patronizing adopt-a-school programs."

Mr. Newman said business leaders had been effective in setting the partnership agenda at the state and national level, but that more was needed at the local level.

Lee Etta Powell, superintendent of schools in Cincinnati, agreed. "Partnerships have to engage and enroll at the grass-roots level," she said. Although the business community has worked well with the academically inclined students, Ms.Powell added, more emphasis on at-risk students is needed.

"We need to move beyond the rhetoric and really get to know the world and life of the students we talk about when we say at-risk," she said.

Ms. Powell said that mentoring programs for elementary-school children are a good way to start early and let children know "there is something at the end of the rainbow."

Sol Hurwitz, vice president of the Committee for Economic Development, also urged the formation of partnerships that stress early involvement and focus on at-risk youths. The need for such early-childhood intervention is a main theme of the ced's new report, "Children in Need: Investment Strategies for the Educationally Disadvantaged." (See Education Week, Sept. 16, 1987.)

According to Gordon Ambach, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, the reform movement has shifted from a period of top-down mandates from the state and district levels to one in which progress will be made on a building-by-building basis. That makes the assistance of local business partnerships even more crucial, he said.

Mr. Ambach suggested that one way business leaders could facilitate education reform is by serving on local school boards. He joined other panelists in saying that often the services and support that business partnerships provide are more important than money alone.

But many conference participants, particulary those from smaller communities, said that their desire to help local schools was often misinterpreted.

"Every time we approach a local educator about a particular program or idea, the discussion gets defensive and it seems that our help is not wanted," said a private-industry-council member.

Another business official, commenting on the seeming ineffectiveness of many schools, noted that "a business or corporation that would operate today the same way it did 40 years ago would not be in business.''

"I don't think that most teachers realize they are responsible for turning out a product that is work-ready," he concluded.

Mr. Newman told the group to urge their school boards and superintendents "to go hunting for principals who will welcome your involvement."

Promoting Partnerships

The nab plans to begin the task of bringing more educators and business people together this year. Its officials expect to release soon a report calling on businesses to assist schools in preparing graduates for the working world.

"The Fourth R: Workforce Readiness" will stress the mutual benefits of business-school partnerships and will offer a guide to establishing various types of partnerships.

The organization is also currently sponsoring partnership projects, modeled after the Boston Compact, in eight cities.

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