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E.C.S. Seeking 'Genuine Input' From Business Executives

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Baltimore--The Education Commission of the States, which traditionally has helped governors, state legislators, and education officials share information about schooling, has opened its doors to a new constituency: big business.

During its annual meeting here last month, the commission's chairman for 1988-89, Gov. Rudy Perpich of Minnesota, announced the creation of a business-education partnership within the organization.

"For the first time," he said, "business leaders will have a chance for genuine input on education policy at high levels."

As many as 50 business leaders who have been heavily involved in school reform at the state level may be asked to become "charter members'' of the partnership, which will serve in an advisory capacity only.

Each participating company, through its chief executive officer, will be asked to make a three-year commitment to the effort and to contribute $10,000 annually. The money will be spent solely on partnership activities.

The business executives are expected to meet at least twice a year to provide their views on education policy at the state level. Their representatives to the partnership will meet more frequently.

Mr. Perpich said the new partnership was particularly appropriate for the ecs The nationwide compact, formed in 1965, is the only national organization that brings government officials and educators together on a regular basis. Big business "was the missing link," the Governor said.

Added Frank Newman, president of the ecs: "It's inevitable that if you get powerful people thinking about education issues, they'll become advocates" for education.

Mr. Newman did not appear troubled by the clashes that sometimes occur between businessmen and educators as a result of differing perspectives on schooling.

"We don't need unanimity," he said. "What we need is involvement and knowledge."

David T. Kearns, chairman and chief executive officer of the Xerox Corporation, said during a panel discussion here that business leaders can no longer allow educators to frame the agenda in school-business partnerships.

Failures in the educational system have put the United States at a "terrible competitive disadvantage," said Mr. Kearns, who is co-author of a recent book on school reform, Winning the Brain Race: A Bold Plan To Make Our Schools Competitive.

The kinds of structural changes that are now needed in education, he said--ranging from year-round schools to a system of controlled choice--"are so structural and often so onerous and difficult that real reform to public education will not come unless pressure is forced from the outside."

In other action, the ecs has launched a new project aimed at hastening the pace of school reform by coordinating the efforts of state policymakers, teachers, and principals.


During the meeting, representatives from five states--Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, New Mexico, and Rhode Island--announced plans to join with the ecs and the Coalition of Essential Schools to redesign the education system "from the school house to the state house." (See Education Week, April 27, 1988.)

The coalition, now in its fifth year, is a consortium of 56 schools nationwide that are trying to increase student achievement by employing the ideas of Theodore R. Sizer, chairman of the education department at Brown University and author of Horace's Compromise.

Each of the five states involved in the new effort, known as "Re:Learning," will try to create an environment in which schools can carry out reforms based on a set of shared assumptions about schooling. These include: actively engaging students in their own education; emphasizing fewer subjects, to allow for greater mastery of each; and reducing teaching loads to enable teachers to know each student personally.

The project has received more than $1 million in private grants to support its work. Participating states and schools are expected to seek their own funding. Estimates are that each school will need about $50,000 a year to get started.

Finding ways in which states can support, rather than hamper, school-based reform was a dominant theme throughout the ecs meeting.

Mr. Newman argued that despite the "significant advances" achieved by the first round of so-called "top-down" reforms, "the capacity of students to think in a more fundamental and critical way has not significantly improved."

For that to occur, he and others suggested, teachers and principals at the school site must become leaders in the reform movement.

"I believe we overregulated the schools," said Gov. Garrey E. Carruthers of New Mexico. "We legislated better, and we're finding out that in legislating better, we may not have gotten better."

Additional Priorities

Governor Perpich identified two other priorities for his year as ecs chairman:

Partners in Learning. This new project, also announced at the meeting, will train college students to serve as mentors for 4th through 9th graders at risk of leaving school. The program will be operated by Campus Compact, an ecs-sponsored coalition of 140 college and university presidents that encourages college students to become involved in community service.

Governor Perpich was expected to make a national announcement about the project this week as part of a teleconference to be aired on more than 250 public-television stations.

The goal of the project, which is currently seeking some $1 million in funding, is to train more than 1 million college mentors over the next three years.

Expanded School Options. Mr. Perpich said he also hopes to increase the number of states and school districts that experiment with public-school choice and other initiatives now being tried in Minnesota.

"I'm convinced that mandates aren't going" to reform the schools, he said. "I'm just convinced that market forces are going to do it." He said he would use his position within the ecs to spread the word about such programs.

During the conference, Gov. John Ashcroft of Missouri, outgoing ecs chairman, released a report on how states and schools can help involve parents in their children's education.

"While the issue of family involvement in the schools will, and should, remain a local concern," he said, "state policymakers must consider ways to promote and support it at the state level."

Copies of the report, Drawing in the Family: Family Involvement in the Schools, No. PI-88-2, are available for $12 each by writing Education Commission of the States, Distribution Center, 1860 Lincoln St., Suite 300, Denver, Colo. 80295, or by calling (303) 830-3692.

Prior to the three-day meeting here, ecs held a "literacy summit" with representatives from business, the media, and education at which current literacy efforts in the workforce and in communities were discussed. Literacy was one of Governor Ashcroft's priority concerns during his tenure as ecs chairman.

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