State Journal: No gripe sessions; Learning from America

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Sitting around a horseshoe-shaped table in an Atlanta hotel, state education commissioners met this month to consider an agenda devoted to such topics as youth apprenticeship, student assessment, and technology.

But more informal discussions at the annual meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers often shifted to an uneasy common concern: budget cuts.

"I think that frustration is just under the surface with most everyone," said Werner Rogers of Georgia, the group's new president.

"I don't think you've heard much discussion about it in the meetings, because we're talking about looking forward," he said. "We're trying to look over the horizon."

While many of the chiefs were planning for better days, several of those unable to attend attributed their absence to budget woes.

In the face of tough times, said Gordon Ambach, executive director of the organization, the business-as-usual atmosphere of the meeting in many ways offered the state administrators a chance to focus on education policy--a needed respite from cuts forced by economic problems.

"All of the chiefs here have got big troubles back home," Mr. Ambach said. "The economy is down all over the country, and budgets are being pushed in the way of social services rather than education. With all that trouble, they come to this meeting to focus on the future."

'"These are not gripe sessions," he added.

Focusing on preparing students for the increasingly technological workplace championed by Japanese industry, the state chiefs were eager for advice or information from a sizable delegation of Japanese administrators at the meeting as part of an exchange agreement.

The foreign guests carried a message, however, that surprised some of their hosts.

"Schools have been instrumental in helping to develop many brilliant people," said Kouichi Sakamoto of Tokyo, president of the Association of Prefectural Boards of Education Superintendents in Japan.

But Mr. Sakamoto went on to say that Japanese educators and corporate leaders are eager to move toward the American model of schooling.

"We must now strongly advocate the principle of placing importance on individuality," he said. "We must attempt these reforms in a society where a person is evaluated not by individual aptitude and ability, but by an academic clique or by the name of the school he or she graduated from."

"It is on this point, I am convinced, that we can learn many things from your nation," Mr. Sakamoto added.--L.H.

Vol. 11, Issue 12, Page 22

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