A GROWING part of the business of business in Maryland is education.
Maryland businesses have hundreds of partnerships with public schools, providing everything from toilet paper to management training.
Maryland's largest corporations have endorsed the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) -- and become its most enthusiastic cheerleaders.
Dozens of business people sit on improvement teams as schools across Maryland move to "site-based management."
Perdue Farms, the Salisbury chicken giant, has trained more than 350 superintendents, principals, board members and teachers in "team-building" skills.
The force behind much of this involvement is the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, a business group of 75 companies.
Last week, Education Beat interviewed June E. Streckfus, the Roundtable's executive director since its establishment in 1992.
What's the rationale of the Business Roundtable?
We are businesses first and foremost, and we're involved in the improvement of education because we want a strong work force. We want well-educated people working for us, and we want people earning at higher levels who will buy our products. The quality of life in Maryland is important for all of our business people, and quality of life is greatly determined by the education level of the citizenry. So we're after the higher good, but we can't deny that we have selfish motives, too.
What have been your primary accomplishments?
When we started in 1992, there was no statewide plan for technology in the schools, so we put one together with the help of a lot of people. Governor Glendening embraced the plan and made it a cornerstone of his budget proposal. This isn't one of those plans that will sit on the shelf.
We're also doing a lot more training than we ever did. For example, most of the 1,265 schools in the state are going to site-based management. The statewide principals association came to us and said: "We're not ready. Is there anything business can do to help?" So First National Bank is training principals in how to manage change.
But isn't there a difference between the skills needed to manufacture widgets and those needed to run a school?
Management training is management training. A good manager will work well in a public or private setting. Sometimes educators feel they're the only ones powerless and frustrated, but they learn that businesses are struggling with the same issues.
What Perdue is teaching us is that improvement at a school can't be dependent on one person; you can't just pull out the superintendent or the principal and train him or her. Jimmy Perdue insists that you have to take a vertical slice -- the superintendent and several people below through the school improvement team.
What we're finding is that in some schools the principal doesn't chair the improvement team. That's really healthy. It's healthy to have shared management.
Isn't this a new phenomenon -- the educators coming to the business sector for help?
It is. Five years ago, many schools didn't want us at the table. What we're seeing now is a new openness, where schools are FTC asking for help. Part of what's happened is that the business people have learned not to go into a school and say, "We know what's best for you." They've listened. They've learned. They've asked hard questions, and I think it's making a difference.
What do businesses think of the quality of Maryland high school graduates?
What we hear the most is about graduates who lack the basic work ethic skills. They don't come to work on time, they don't call in if they're tardy or absent. Then when we get into the question of what students really know, we find that a lot of companies believe they don't have the basic skills in reading, writing and math. And what we've been hearing from our members recently is that students need to know how to solve problems on their own and to be more comfortable with technology.
They also need to know how to work in a team. A surprising number of graduates never experience that in school.
Is there any doubt in your mind that business support has helped smooth the way for MSPAP?
None at all. We've been there with Nancy [S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools] from the beginning, and we're working hard on high school assessment now. We went to Glendening when he became governor and said reform was a must for Maryland, that we needed to preserve the assessments and the reconstitution. It's amazing to me when I visit other states. Some of them haven't even begun setting standards and have nowhere near Maryland's business participation.
Where will the Roundtable be five years from now?
We have a 10-year commitment, and we're halfway through. Our original 52 members were the largest companies in Maryland. Most of the 75 members we have now are large, too, but to reach every part of the state with the new high school standards, we need more geographic diversity and some smaller companies.
An editing change in last Sunday's Education Beat made it appear incorrectly that the state Board of Education violates Maryland's open-meetings law at monthly luncheons closed to the press. The law defines the business that public bodies may conduct in closed sessions.
Pub Date: 10/27/96