School Reform with a Corporate Twist American Business Leaders Take a Higher-Profile Role in Reshaping the Nation's Education System

Article excerpt

WHEN the nation's governors gather today for an education summit in wooded Palisades, N.Y., there will be more corporate executives in attendance than educators.

Just one teacher has been invited to the conference while all the governors are bringing a corporate representative from their home states.

The presence of more briefcases than grade books underscores the growing involvement of the corporate community in American education.

For businesses, the tighter ties reflect concern about the level of education being provided to future workers. But the governors stand to gain too: They get the involvement of an important constituency - and possible financial support - for whatever education reforms they can agree on.

"It's going to be a different kind of summit," predicts Jack Jennings, director of the Center on National Education Policy in Washington.

State mood swing

At the first summit, held six years ago in Charlottesville, Va., there were more Democratic governors than Republicans. "Now you have 30 Republican governors," Mr. Jennings says, and only six of the 1989 attendees are still in office. "So the mood out in the states has changed."

Some of the corporate leaders expected to attend include the chief executive officers of AT&T, Boeing, Eastman Kodak, and Procter & Gamble.

"Historically, education has been approached singularly by government," says Gov. Bob Miller (D) of Nevada. "It's time that we step aside and realize there is some valuable input to be received from business leaders."

Since the meeting is cosponsored by IBM, the world's largest computermaker, it is not surprising that educational technology is a major focus of the summit. Many of the governors already have committed resources to upgrading technology in schools.

Setting statewide standards for schools - the other main subject - is a bit more complicated. "Without standards, educational reform is like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic," says Louis Gerstner Jr., the chief executive officer of IBM.

These are not new, unexplored topics, however. "There is already a lot going on out there," concedes Frank Newman, president of the Education Commission of the States, a co-sponsor of the summit. …