Down to the business of education Two-day summit: The constituencies of public education get a chance to come together and talk.

Education Beat

January 24, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

MARYLAND HAS such a rational education structure -- 24 school districts having common boundaries with 23 counties and Baltimore City -- that you can invite the entire establishment to lunch and still have seafood salad to spare.

That's what happened Thursday, when the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education invited the movers and shakers in education to a two-day "summit" in Greenbelt.

At one point, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and Maryland State Teachers Association Vice President Patricia A. Foerster were on opposite sides of the Martin's Crosswinds lobby, each talking on a cellular phone.

To each other? Perhaps. The rest of the state's school honchos were already there, and there was room to spare for a couple of dozen business executives, representatives of higher education, PTA members and 80 high school students from around the state.

A few snapshots:

Ray R. Keech, soon to retire as superintendent in Harford County, drove in with a member of his board, George D. Lisby, and Percy V. Williams, the 81-year-old dean of Harford education.

"It's been a long time since I did any of this stuff," said Dr. Keech after he and 250 others had built and tested their own hydrometers (using drinking straws, clay and BB's), an exercise to show the elders what third-graders have to go through to demonstrate "higher order thinking" in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP).

Mr. Lisby said he spends 20 to 30 hours a week on school business, often three or four nights a week in hearings and meetings. Like most local board members, he does it for no pay.

Baltimore Superintendent Walter G. Amprey was in a particularly good mood, surprising in light of the news three days earlier that the state's political leaders are plotting to eliminate his job. But his mood soured when word arrived of a student stabbing at Southern High School. He headed back for Baltimore. (The student's wounds were not fatal.)

Rita Ridgley, president of the Baltimore City Council of PTAs, had planned to take the train to the summit, but she got to Penn Station five minutes after the last morning train. So she took a $50 cab ride. "I'll just not stay over at the hotel tonight," she said. "We don't have a big budget for travel."

Mark Michael, a senior and student leader at Clear Spring High School in Washington County, left before dawn for the summit, ** where the students were grouped at random and asked to discuss Maryland school reform.

"The functional tests are far too easy; that's one of the problems," he said after the students began warming to one another. Everyone nodded, and Dr. Grasmick said later that she believed the days of the functional tests are numbered. (But MSPAP will be around for a long time, and summit participants were advised to get used to it.)

Norman R. Augustine, president and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corp. in Bethesda, was one of several business leaders who urged the educators not to lower standards -- not while other industrialized countries are leaving Americans in their educational wake.

"There is no substitute for rigorous, measurable, world-class standards," said Mr. Augustine, who heads the nation's largest defense and aerospace company.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening got a warm reception. His timing was exquisite. He'd just announced that public schools, marked for a 4.4 percent increase in aid, were among the few winners in his $14.7 billion state budget.

"That allowed us to dispense with the usual talk about money and get down to business," said June E. Streckfus, executive director of the sponsoring business organization.

The summit made no headlines and released no olympian statements. It did provide a first opportunity for the constituencies of public education to get together, break bread, schmooze and talk about the importance of education.

"From that point of view," said Dr. Grasmick, "it was a smashing success."

The name game

Former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides once suggested that the state fly the white flag and call every institution of higher education a "university." This was after even the smallest and least research-oriented of the state colleges (excluding Coppin State and St. Mary's) insisted that they be called "universities," for the prestige of it.

Now comes a new wrinkle in the name game. Allegany Community College in Cumberland wants to drop its middle name. It seems that the Western Maryland school feels at a disadvantage competing for students with the nearby colleges and universities of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

It may take an entire village to raise a child, but not, apparently, a community to raise a college.

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