Education 'Compacts' Urged To Demand Systemic Change
Washington--Business leaders involved in the creation of comprehensive school partnerships similar to the Boston Compact said last week that such endeavors should move beyond "fuzzy altruism" to push for systemic change.
Their calls for greater business involvement in school-reform efforts came at a conference here sponsored by the National Alliance of Business and the Institute for Educational Leadership.
The pioneering Boston Compact, which provides a guarantee of jobs or further education to high-school graduates in the city, was the focus of much of the conference. Boston business leaders recently renegotiated the terms of the compact to require the Boston schools to show greater progress in meeting specific reform goals. (See story on previous page.)
Many of the conference partici4pants were from the 12 cities that are part of an nab-sponsored project to replicate the Boston Compact concept.
William Kolberg, president of the nab, said one of the early lessons of the compact project had been the realization that past collaborative efforts, such as the adopt-a-school movement and "other public relations-oriented partnerships," had not had a significant impact on the quality of education.
"Something quite different is required of future partnerships," he said.
Boston Moves Toward Change
Ferdinand Colloredo-Mansfeld, chairman of the board of the Boston Private Industry Council, said the renegotiation of that city's compact had shown that such undertakings "can push for real reform."
"The problem with the school system is the highly centralized bureaucracy," Mr. Colloredo-Mansfeld said here last week. "That bureaucratic structure has lost sight of the mission--the children."
The Boston business community has advocated such changes in the system as site-based management, in which teachers and administrators at the school level would be given greater autonomy, and a student-assignment plan that allows parents some choice among schools.
The new compact agreement approved by a steering committee of business leaders and accepted last week by the Boston School Committee includes such measures.
Catalyst for Change
Tom Smith, an associate of the Philadelphia-based research organization Public/Private Ventures, said the potential that compact agreements hold as "a catalyst for change and improvement" is what drives the interest in such programs nationwide.
Mr. Smith and other p/pv researchers have been assessing the results of the nab replication project in seven of the 12 cities.
Typically, he said, it takes business and education leaders more than a year to agree on common goals and sign an agreement. These documents usually pledge that the school district will improve attendance, achievement, and retention rates in exchange for guarantees from the business community to hire graduates.
But so far, Mr. Smith said, such agreements have tended to concentrate on the desired end results--not on how to achieve them.
Focusing on the means--the necessary changes that will bring about improvements--is the next step in the partnership movement, he and others agreed.
But they cautioned that reform advocacy was not without risk.
"It is highly risky to go for issues such as taxation and systemic change," said John A. Cairns, coun4sel to the Minnesota Business Partnership. "But we've got to take the chance. We have to get in the swamp and get dirty."
Mr. Cairns stressed that the business community has to make a long-term commitment and take that commitment to the state level. "If you are not a player at the state level, then you are not a player," he said.
'1,000 Points of Light'
Participants also heard from Christopher Kingsley, research associate at the Center for Human Resources at Brandeis University, who said compact agreements could pave the way for interagency agreements that would allow schools to work more effectively with social-service institutions in meeting the multiple needs of the children most at risk.
In a brief speech to the conference, Roger B. Porter, President Bush's chief domestic-policy adviser, outlined the Administration's education proposals, including the creation of national science scholarships and programs to honor teachers and reward schools that show academic improvement.
Mr. Porter told the participants that their involvement in the schools was part of "what is captured by a thousand points of light."
He said the emphasis in education should shift from "inputs to outcomes." The country already spends a great deal of money on education, Mr. Porter said, adding that "despite rumors that you may have heard, federal spending [for education] in real terms is up over the last eight years."
That view, however, is contradicted by several studies, including one by researchers at the University of Virginia, which show that, once inflation is taken into account, federal education spending has dropped by about 11 percent since 1981.