Washington--President Bush used a gathering of the nation’s leading business executives to announce last week that he intends to appoint an education advisory committee to offer him continuing counsel on the newest and best ideas for reforming the education system.
The panel would be the first such advisory body he has appointed, Mr. Bush said. But he gave no indication of when the group would be convened or who would serve on it.
“I’ll call on this committee to bring me innovative ideas--to bring together leaders from business and labor, educators at every level, state and local government officials, and the media in a partnership to improve our schools,” the President said.
He made his announcement in remarks here to the Business Roundtable, a group of 200 leaders of top U.S. corporations. It was the Roundtable’s first annual meeting to be devoted entirely to a single topic--education--and the guest list had been expanded to include an additional 200 corporate executives.
Mr. Bush’s proposed advisory committee will have between 12 and 20 members, a White House press officer said after the speech, and will meet quarterly to examine education reform in the context of “innovation, accountability, and flexibility.” The panelists will not be paid for serving on the committee.
In an interview, Roger B. Porter, President Bush’s domestic-policy adviser, made a distinction between the advisory body and the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which was appointed in 1983 by President Reagan and disbanded after issuing the landmark report “A Nation At Risk.”
“The notion is that there will be a continuing stream of recommendations,” Mr. Porter said, “rather than a single report.”
He said no decision had been made on who would be asked to serve on the committee or when the appointments would be made.
An Education Department official said the White House had conferred with the department on the advisory council’s creation and that department officials had greeted the idea with “enthusiasm.”
Challenge to Business
Both the President and Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos sounded familiar themes in their remarks to the business leaders, stressing parental choice and accountability. Both also called for more business involvement in upgrading precollegiate education.
“I challenge every c.e.o. in this room today to get involved--personally involved--with the schools in your community,” Mr. Bush said. “I want to see all of America’s corporations involved in a truly common effort.”
The annual meeting, usually a potpourri of topical discussions in such areas as tort reform, tax law, and trade imbalances, had been turned into a media event for this first-of-a-kind examination of an issue many said had transcendent importance to the business world.
The group assembled a panel of big-name players in the education-reform debate and chose as its moderator the ABC News journalist Ted Koppel. Panelists included Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, and Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas.
A recurring theme in both Mr. Bush’s speech and the panel discussion was the need for an overarching national strategy for reform.
“Improving our schools is going to take a national effort,” Mr. Bush said, echoing a call from Mr. Boyer earlier in the day for a “nationalstrategy for school reform.”
“The problem is that our efforts have been more fragmented than coherent,” Mr. Boyer said. “There’s a growing conviction that the nation’s 83,000 schools, 16,000 districts, and 50 states cannot, without coordination, meet the challenge.”
John L. Clendenin, chairman of the BellSouth Corporation, augmented this theme. “Incremental improvements here and there won’t do anymore,” he said. “We need reform, restructuring. Call it what you will, we need fundamental change.”
The challenge in developing a national strategy, Mr. Boyer pointed out, will be balancing this need for coordination with the need for more school-based innovations.
“America is moving in fits and starts, toward a national view of education. But how can we achieve more coherence without sacrificing vitality at the local level?” he asked.
“It’s a new challenge,” the Carnegie chief said, “something we’ve never seriously faced before. And our response surely will shape education in this country for years to come.”
Urging the President and the business community to be the voices that issue “an urgent call to action,” Mr. Boyer suggested that a national plan for education have the magnitude of the Marshall Plan embarked on after World War II.
“Let’s commit ourselves to rebuild the nation’s schools, just as the Marshall Plan helped rebuild a devastated world,” he said.
Such an undertaking would focus on serving the disadvantaged, upgrading the teaching profession, and shifting decisionmaking to the school site, he said.
Need for Measurement
Governor Clinton and Mr. Shanker joined the foundation leader in calling for some type of national yardstick to gauge school performance.
“We don’t have an authoritative way to monitor adequately the nation’s education health,” said Mr. Boyer. He proposed the creation of a National Council on Education Trends.
“It’s like an industry that’s unclear about its product, and thus is hopelessly confused about quality control,” he said.
All of the panelists urged the business community to continue its involvement with schools at the local level and its support for policy revisions at the state and national levels.
Mr. Clendenin of BellSouth applauded those members of the Roundtable already involved in education partnerships, but said he also would like “to apply a touch of the lash” to encourage them to exert more pressure for school improvements.
The executive noted that 186 of the group’s 200 members have school-partnership programs outlined in a report released at the conference, ''Business Means Business About Education.”
Copies of that report, which details the activities of each company and lists a contact person, are available at no cost from the public-information department of The Business Roundtable, 200 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10166.
A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 1989 edition of Education Week as Bush To Appoint Group To Proffer Education Ideas