Business Roundtable Assessing State Progress on Reforms
Two years after launching its national education initiative, the Business Roundtable has begun an effort to identify the gaps between what each state has done and what it still must do to conform to the group's ambitious school-reform agenda.
The roundtable--made up of the chief executive officers of 218 of the nation's largest corporations--sees the state-by-state analyses as a way of keeping education reform on track in difficult economic times and of drafting road maps for legislative action on the group's nine-point agenda.
The studies plot what education legislation and programs are in place in each state and what specifically is needed to complete the reforms sought by the roundtable. Because the reports examine the disparity between the present and the roundtable's vision of the future, they have been dubbed "gap analyses."
"These aren't just more propositions," said the education consultant David W. Hornbeck, who crafted the gap-analysis idea. "These are public-policy agendas .... templates with which to craft comprehensive legislative plans."
So far, Iowa and Connecticut have completed gap analyses, while Missouri and Ohio are near completion. Nine other states either have begun their own studies or have agreed to begin them soon, according to Christopher Cross, the roundtable's director of educational programs.
All will be structured around the roundtable's nine-point program, which calls for high expectations for all students; outcome-based education; strong and complex assessments; rewards and penalties for schools; greater school-based decisionmaking; an emphasis on staff development; establishment of high-quality prekindergarten programs; provision of adequate health and social services; and use of technology.
The completed gap analyses contain detailed recommendations for change. Both Connecticut and Iowa, for instance, call for a program to provide teachers with staff-development vouchers of $25 per student, to be phased-in over the next several years. Full implementation would cost $13 million in Iowa, according to that state's analysis.
Connecticut's report calls for the abolition of grade differentials through 4th grade and the aggressive limitation of tracking and ability grouping.
It also demands that 4th and 6th graders be tested in reading, writing, and mathematics, and that 8th and 10th graders be tested in those subjects, science, and social studies.
All test results should be reported at the school, district, and state lev- els, the report says, with rewards doled out to successful schools and penalties applied to schools with continuing failure.
Similar demands are put forth by the Iowa study, which also advises providing the equivalent of 60 days of extended instructional time for one-third of the state's students, at a cost of $3.35 million per day.
Other costly proposals include pre-kindergarten for all disadvantaged 4- year-olds by 1992 and the creation of family-and-youth-resource centers in or near each school with 20 percent or more low-income students.
Trashcans or Transformation?
The response to the reports so far has been mixed, however, and shows how difficult restructuring will be, business leaders admit. In both states, the public and the education community were unenthusiastic or hostile, say those who worked on the projects.
In Connecticut, moreover, the ambitious analysis was quickly blown aside by the fury of the state's bitter budget battles. "In Connecticut, the political community hasn't paid much attention to it at all, and I don't expect it will until the dust clears," admitted Mr. Hornbeck, who drafted the analysis.
In Iowa, educators' concerns about the reward and penalty provisions threatened to render the gap analysis moribund, according to William Sherman, a spokesman for the Iowa State Education Association.
'When this thing came out, I could see either a lot of trashcans in its future ... or I could see it becoming a powerful voice for school transformation," said Jamie Robert Vollmer, director of operations for the Iowa Business and Education Roundtable.
To assure the report took the latter route, Mr. Vollmer traveled extensively on its behalf, logging 26,000 miles within the state speaking to civic, education, and business groups.
Such efforts have begun to bear fruit, according to Mavis Kelley, special assistant to State Director of Education William L. Lepley.
The state board of education this week is expected to adopt a five-year strategic plan that will be heavily influenced by the roundtable's initiative, Ms. Kelley said. Curriculum reform based on high-achievement expectations will be included, she said, and the state will enter the assessment arena for the first time.
"It is truly amazing how opinion has changed over the last year," Ms. Kelley commented. "People who said, 'I think I'll file this report away,' are now saying, this is the right agenda for Iowa.'"