Emphasizing cooperation, rather than competition, in the schools would better serve businesses hiring graduates, industry representatives told members of a governors education panel.
In a preliminary session to this week's Western Governors' Association meeting in Jackson, a handful of governors met with business leaders and educators to discuss ways schools can share good ideas.Members of the National Governors' Association's panel on the School Years Action Team decided to take advantage of some of the free time while the rest of the governors arrive for the annual meeting.
"It's so hard to get CEOs and educators and governors together for quality discussion," said Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan, who is WGA chairman.
Sullivan, who also heads the national panel that met Saturday, said the discussions are aimed at systemwide changes in education.
One of the changes suggested by three business representatives is more emphasis on cooperation and development of people skills.
"We have to spend a lot of time teaching people that," said Susan Adzick of Dallas-based Occidental Chemical Corp.
Competition in the marketplace forced Occidental to beef up its quality management program, Adzick said. The company found that encouraging teamwork and scrutinizing the system rather than the individual when problems occur yielded better results.
Phil Schaefer of Public Service Co. of Colorado and Larry Conners of Kodak's Colorado division echoed Adzick's concerns about the importance of encouraging teamwork.
"One of the things we look at in business is mastery of behavioral skills," Schaefer said.
And Brian Benzel, superintendent of schools in Lynnwood, Wash., said some of the programs in his district designed to improve education are training teachers to work as teams.
But Utah Gov. Norman Bangerter said decreasing emphasis on competition would be difficult because college admission requirements are becoming stiffer.
"At the University of Utah, our flagship school, they're upping the requirements every day," he said.
Others also expressed frustration with their ability to influence decisions because the top education officials in their states are either elected separately or selected by elected boards.
"There are a lot of restrictions on what governors can do," said North Dakota Gov. George Sinner.
Arizona Gov. Fife Symington said educators also sometimes resist change. Proposed reforms recommended by a statewide task force, which included educators, are being opposed by educators, he said.
Another problem facing governors is dwindling resources, Sinner said.
"I know the federal budget numbers and I am telling you, there is no way we're going to get any more federal money."
A group of school districts is suing the state of North Dakota over what they say are inequities in the funding system, a governor's spokesman said. In Wyoming, some of the larger school districts have threatened a lawsuit because they say the funding system favors smaller, rural districts.
But despite the conflicts, Sullivan said a state-school program in Wyoming is helping teachers improve their teaching methods.
Monica Beglau, director of the Wyoming School-University Partnership, said 15 school districts across the state are involved in the program that is working to change the way teachers are trained and to help teachers in the classroom.
Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, who is chairman of the National Education Goals Panel, said a key to improving schools is people seeing for themselves what works in other school districts.