Gov. William Donald Schaefer has challenged Maryland's business community "to mix it up" with the state's politicians to improve Maryland's ailing public school system.
The challenge came yesterday at the State House in Annapolis as the governor and the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education launched a joint venture by the corporate community and the state to improve education.
The Roundtable is under the auspices of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and Maryland Economic Development Associates, a quasi-public economic development group more commonly known as MEGA.
After urging the roomful of business leader to actively support politicians campaigning for educational reform, the governor said:
"This is the greatest opportunity we have. Nancy Grasmick [the state superintendent of schools] can do it, but you have to help her. You have the power."
The state and the Roundtable, more than 50 representatives from some of Maryland's largest firms, have agreed on ways in which corporate expertise in management and technology can be used to improve school management and teaching instruction on a statewide basis.
For such partnership programs to improve public education, said David Kearns, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and former chief executive officer of the Xerox Corp., they must lead to systemic changes in a public educational system that is hostile to change.
Among the recommended priorities would be to use corporate expertise to improve mathematics and science instruction and to provide management training to principals to improve school-based management.
"This is a way of bringing people [in education] into the business world to tell us what's needed in education," said Norman R. Augustine, co-chairman of the Roundtable and chairman and chief executive officer of Martin-Marietta. "There is already a lot going on . . . [but] those in the trenches know the problem better than those observing from afar."
Any statewide programs created by the partnership will work toward reaching the educational standards set for the state by Maryland's educational reform initiative "Schools for Success" and by the national educational reform initiative "America 2000," officials said.
Because Maryland corporations hire graduates of the Maryland public school system, businesses must help to create a top-notch public school system, Augustine said.
"Higher education and business are spending more on remedial education, and remedial education is [now] becoming institutionalized," Kearns said. "For example, one can get college credit for remedial courses."
Some members of the Roundtable characterized the public education systems of some Asian and European countries as superior to American education. They linked improvement of public education in Maryland with the ability of Maryland businesses to compete in a global economy.
Members of the partnership's working committee, composed of Roundtable members and state education officials who will be setting the partnership agenda this year, are telling corporations to urge their employees to participate in mentoring programs at public schools and to start playing an active role in their children's schools.
Augustine said the Baltimore schools that are not close to corporate offices or well attended by children of corporate executives still could benefit from these programs.
Donald P. Hutchinson, president of MEGA, said the partnership programs will be equally accessible across the state since it is working toward sponsoring training programs in which teachers could participate statewide.
In a speech, June Streckfus, director of educational and governmental affairs for MEGA, imitated cartoon character Elmer Fudd and the CEOs erupted in laughter, but they were silent when the floor was opened up to their suggestions.
Augustine said this did not reflect their skittishness. Roundtable members have been discussing issues concerning the partnership within the Roundtable's working committee, he said.