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Consortium To Scrutinize Productivity of Education

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An Illinois philanthropy has created a consortium to examine the productivity of the nation's schools.

The group, funded with a $500,000 grant from the Ball Foundation of Glen Ellyn, Ill., will be led by Sue E. Berryman, director of the Institute on Education and the Economy at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York. It will pay particular attention to the structural problems of schools.

"The consortium will be unique because it will treat education as an industry, analyze it as a whole system, and hold it accountable for productivity improvements,'' said P. Michael Timpane, president of Columbia.

He added that schools "cannot be sheltered from questions we are raising to shift other industries from lagging to high performance.''

Officials said the consortium was established as a result of the slow response of educators to changing economic demands and technologies.

"If an auto worker, a medical doctor, a textile worker, a soldier, and a teacher from the 1920's were to rejoin the workforce today, only the teacher could resume work without missing a beat,'' says a background paper on the new panel. "The knowledge base, technologies, and organization of work have changed dramatically in other fields, but not in the $325-billion education industry.''

Mr. Timpane will serve as a cochairman of the consortium's board of directors along with G. Carl Ball, chairman of Geo. J. Ball Inc., a leading garden and agriculture firm, and chairman of the Ball Foundation.

'The Whole Elephant'

The consortium will name eight researchers specializing in business management, public finance, education policy, and nonprofit ventures to study the productivity problem and develop responses.

"The consortium will not concentrate on distinct parts of the system as other groups have done,'' said Mr. Ball. "We're looking at the whole elephant.''

The group, however, says no aspect of the education arena is immune from its inquiry.

Noting that corporate improvements in efficiency and structure have required a host of changes throughout the chain of command, consortium officials say they anticipate its work will identify changes necessary across the school spectrum.

"The education system has many pieces and relationship--from financing arrangements to the textbook 'supplier industry' to governance structures to teacher retraining patterns,'' the group said. "No part of education will be off limits to examination and critique--school boards, teacher unions, central district offices, local tax-base financing, teacher-preparation programs, or federal and state regulatory roles.''

"Our goal will be to develop spectacular gains in learning for a broader group of students using more efficient resources,'' noted Mr. Timpane.

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