Lurking beneath the surface of Maryland's impressive pool of technical personnel is a work force gap that threatens the state's ability to compete in national and global markets. With the exception of a few bright spots in affluent areas like Howard and Montgomery counties, many business leaders view the public school system as an inept machine churning out graduates ill-prepared for an increasingly high-skill economy.
This is why business leaders are taking a closer look at the schools that produce the men and women in their factories, plants and offices. What they have found is that what ails education is both a social and a business problem. High school graduates who can't read, write or manipulate numbers coherently require costly remedial training. And it isn't as if employers have a choice. If demographic forecasts pan out, this is the pool they will be forced to draw from.
Something has to change. The Maryland Business Roundtable on Education, a group of 50 corporate executives of some of the state's largest companies, may be part of the solution. This new group has no formal agenda. But its members agree on two crucial points: 1) There are deep and fundamental problems in Maryland's public schools, and 2) the business community needs to get off the fence and get involved.
The roundtable is tossing around a number of ideas. It is looking closely at putting its political clout behind the notion of site-based management for schools, which would bring the power to do and change things to the principal's office and ultimately to teachers and parents. Another focus is figuring out how technology can be used to make teachers more effective and how businesses can better communicate the skills students need to hold down tomorrow's jobs.
Some of these goals will be tougher to reach than others. The forces of complacency will doubtless resist efforts at school reform. A concerted effort to improve education in this state will require a solid commitment of people and time. Still, it is heartening that businesses are willing to step in and roll up their sleeves. The importance of education in this country is defined in social and work force terms. A better-educated work force makes for better, more effective citizens and families. It's not an easy goal to reach but achieving it would produce significant, long-term results.