Business execs share concerns over education
Arizona Republic
April 4, 2007
 

Stephanie Paterik

Arizona business leaders voiced concerns Tuesday about lagging schools, saying that math and science curriculums are outdated, technology funding is scarce and students are turning away from engineering careers for fear of outsourcing.

In a roundtable discussion with President Bush's top education official, they also pointed out that federal testing requirements are tough on immigrants and special-education students.

"The sense of urgency in the innovation community is palpable," U.S.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told the group, which included representatives from Motorola Inc., Intel Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., State Farm and Tucson Electric Power Co."We passed the very best law we could five years ago," Spellings said. "These issues that have emerged. . . . We have become more informed."

Spellings is stumping for the No Child Left Behind Act, which she helped create five years ago and is up for reauthorization this year. She met with 20 business people and educators at Phoenix's University Club about improving the lightning-rod policy.

Spellings said that nationwide, two-thirds of limited-English students are citizens and 80 percent have lived in the country five years or more.
Because of that, many politicians in Washington believe those students can meet federal testing standards.

But, she added, there should be wiggle room.

"We can be more nuanced about accountability," she said. She took notes and fielded questions on an array of other concerns.


Barbara Clark, Motorola education manager, said teachers must be
re-educated in new technologies. "It's not about just plugging a kid into a
computer program. It's about a teacher who knows how to use technology."


Michael Block, chief executive officer of BASIS Charter Schools, said
students need incentives to pursue math and science careers.

"Fewer students are excited about getting into engineering out of the
perception those jobs will go to another country," he said. "We're getting
killed from a competitive standpoint."


Olga Block, also of BASIS, added that math and science teachers are hard
to find. Most people in those subjects enter lucrative business professions,
not education.

She suggested courting teachers from overseas to the fill the void. Right
now, work visas are expensive and difficult to secure for K-12 teachers.
That idea intrigued Spellings. "I'm going to investigate that," Spellings
said.


Greg Wyman, Apache Junction School District superintendent, said
technology could transform students in rural areas. But he can't afford the
software.

"We can't get it into their hands for purely cost reasons," he said. "Ask
Bill Gates to stop giving million-dollar grants and (instead) cut the
licensing fee for educators."

Spellings noted that businesses are more interested in education than ever.
She encouraged attendees to organize their efforts.

Arizona business leaders, keen to cultivate a bioscience industry, are
particularly interested in education.

"We're seeing them be more interested in public policy and school boards,"
said Susan Carlson, executive director of the Arizona Business & Education
Coalition, which helped organize the discussion. "They see the relationship,
particularly if employees refuse to move to Arizona because the (education)
funding is so low."