Xerox Executive Exhorts Candidates To Focus on Schools
In an unusually hard-hitting speech prepared for delivery this week, one of the country's top business executives calls on Presidential candidates to endorse a six-point "education recovery plan" that would force public schools to compete for students and to meet high new standards of accountability.
Public schools need "a total restructuring from the bottom up," says David T. Kearns, chairman and chief executive officer of the Xerox Corporation, in the text of a speech that was to be given Oct. 26 at the Economic Club of Detroit.
Mr. Kearns was named this month to the new National Board for Professional Teaching Standards established by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy. He is also a member of the Education Commission of the States and of the Committee for Economic Development.
Although the corporate executive has made a number of speeches focused on the problems in education over the past few years, "this one is really a solutions speech," said Thomas C. Abbott, manager of public relations for the Xerox Corporation. According to Mr. Abbott, the Detroit speech is a "natural progression" from Mr. Kearns's earlier remarks about the breadth and depth of the public-school dilemma.
In the speech, Mr. Kearns contends that public education "has put this country at a terrible competitive disadvantage," by producing millions of workers whose basic skills "are simply not good enough for the United States to compete in a world economy."
He charges that public education consumes nearly 7 percent of the gross national product but has produced few positive results.
"What other sector of American society has absorbed more money by serving fewer people with steadily declining service?" he asks.
"Education is supposed to be a priority issue" in the 1988 Presidential campaign, he says, but "so far, we've learned more about the candidates' personal lives and their college transcripts than we have about their views on education."
"Business can't let the candidates off the hook," he asserts. "Business will have to force the agenda, or we'll have to set it ourselves."
Mr. Kearns has sent a letter describing his proposals to each Presidential candidate. He is also advocating that his six-point plan become a major component of both the Democratic and Republican Presidential platforms next year.
The reform agenda that he outlines in the Detroit speech includes the following:
Choice. According to Mr. Kearns, the current public-school system is a "failed monopoly--bureaucratic, rigid, and in unsteady control of dissatisfied captive markets."
States, he says, should direct funds to individual students, not schools, and allow students and their parents to decide which public school is best for them. States should make annual reports on how each school's students perform on standardized tests, he adds, so that parents can compare schools.
Restructuring. Schools should adopt "lean structures and flat organizations" that shift decisionmaking to lower levels in the organization, the corporate leader asserts.
Every school district with 2,500 or more children should reorganize itself into a "year-round universal magnet system," he says.
Flexible, year-round calendars, he argues, would enable students to combine work with school, break out of the "lockstep" grade structure, and complete their education at their own pace. Individual schools would also be able to emphasize particular subjects, learning methods, or teaching styles.
District offices, Mr. Kearns adds, should become "service centers--helping schools, instead of dictating to them." Decisions about what equipment and textbooks schools need and where to buy services would be made by each school's principal and teachers.
In exchange for this freedom, according to Mr. Kearns, states should require schools to meet minimum levels of competence and close down schools whose performance is unacceptable.
Professionalism. Licensing requirements for teachers should emphasize academic knowledge over methodology, he argues.
Teachers should be required to earn degrees in the subject areas they will teach, and to complete a fifth year of professional preparation that would stress classroom experience, under the guidance of a master teacher.
In the new "education free market," he says, teachers whose specialties were in short supply or who were successful would be rewarded with higher pay, and unsuccessful teachers would be disciplined.
Standards. All students--without exception--should master a core curriculum equivalent to college-entrance requirements, Mr. Kearns states, and no one should be promoted without performance.
"College prep for the favored few has to go," he argues. "Every student has a right to learn the common core of information and skills required by a modern economy and a democratic society."
Values. "Exclude values from the schools," according to Mr. Kearns, "and you teach that values aren't important."
Schools, he states, should emphasize ethical considerations, moral precepts, and the responsibilities of citizenship.
Federal responsibility. The federal government should create a $40-million "venture capital" fund to help finance innovative experiments in teaching and school reorganization, Mr. Kearns says.
In addition, he states, the government should triple its education-research effort, from $100 million to $300 million; increase funding for the National Assessment of Educational Progress to $26 million a year; fully fund Head Start and Chapter 1; provide forgivable college loans to student-teachers who specialize in critically needed subjects or who agree to teach in hardship areas; and make $50,000 in federal matching funds available to any school district that agrees to design a magnet-school system.