If we've learned anything in recent years it is that quality in public education doesn't happen without a great deal of hard work. Nor is it an objective that is exclusive to school districts or even the individual schools where teaching and learning take place.
Real improvement in education is a result of a massive collaborative effort on the part of many parties, not the least of which is the region's business community, which expresses its interest and commitment to educational excellence through the Business Roundtable for Education.
While education has been among the very top public policy issues in our state and country, it need not become a partisan one. Major stakeholders have long needed to come together from both sides of the legislative aisle to work with our business community to define an agenda that will build a stronger economic and civic climate for the San Diego region by improving the quality of today's students who will become tomorrow's work force. The same holds true for the need to unify other disparate economic and social interests around educational excellence in our public schools. It's easy to say, harder to do, though. Building a collaborative agenda requires a central stabilizing force or program upon which all political and social stakeholders can focus.
Fortunately, we have such a resource now in place. The Roundtable has assembled a long-term Education Improvement Agenda that has as it descriptor, "One Vision, One Voice," and as its chief goal, the achievement of a world-class education for every school-age child throughout San Diego County.
Lofty and idealistic, it is not. The agenda is a pragmatic and results-oriented effort that focuses on every San Diego County student meeting or exceeding national and international learning standards in order to ensure a highly skilled, literate and productive work force that is competitive globally. Ambitious, it may be, but this goal is certainly focused.
Over the past year, the Roundtable has observed and collected the factors our community needs in order for our schools to demonstrate educational excellence. These are the necessary conditions that become the foundation of a successful Education Improvement Agenda and include the following:
1. There needs to be a strong and long-term agenda in the first place that focuses on having every child achieve or exceed rigorous academic standards.
2. Political, education and business leaders must share a significant leadership role in education reform. Lone rangers need not apply.
3. Educational improvement is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. The ability to sustain the effort to improve education over the long term is crucial.
4. The best results are achieved through collaborative, not adversarial relationships among the stakeholders.
5. In order for every student, school and school district to meet or exceed national and international standards, there needs to be rigorous and aligned accountability processes and systems in place. Don't expect what you don't inspect.
6. Outstanding educational programs and strategies collectively known as "best practices" in our schools must be leveraged across the county to be replicated in other schools in order to improve teaching practices and enhance learning opportunities for all students.
7. School reform must be comprehensive and can be used in the research and development process. We need to support comprehensive school reform practices that focus on gains in student achievement, expanded parental and community involvement, as well as a strengthened alignment and relevance of public education from pre-kindergarten through higher education and technical training. Charter schools are effective venues for these things to be developed and later adopted by traditional public schools.
Taking into consideration these observations, the roundtable has developed a preliminary work plan that rounds out the Education Improvement Agenda. The plan includes the following basic tasks:
1. Provide leadership and mold necessary public perceptions. A plan begins with a vision. Any vision needs buy-in and support from all its stakeholders. Providing buy-in for the vision of world-class learning for every student is no exception. Somebody has to cast the vision for others to see and follow. What do we mean by educational excellence? What does it look like? How will we know we've achieved it? The proverb, "Where there is no vision, the people perish," well applies to educational reform.
2. Take action to prioritize and implement short- and long-term strategies and tactics that the civic and business communities can execute. These have to be strategies that have the greatest influence and impact.
3. Measure progress and success. There needs to be indicators and milestones by which implementation progress and success can be measured, monitored and reported. One of the tactics here will be a "State of Public Education" report created by the Roundtable's newly established Education Research Bureau.
4. Create high visibility and credibility. There needs to be a high degree of awareness of the agenda and efforts on the part of all Roundtable members, others in the business community, legislators, educators, the news media and community members. Positive awareness builds the credibility needed to sustain and build on the agenda. Businesses will spread the word in newsletters and business communiqu?s.
5. Engage individuals and build political support. It gets right down to getting more people from the business, educational and civic communities involved in order to build coalitions with political and educational partners to implement the agenda. Forums for discussing top education priorities will serve as the venue for this support.
6. Ensure funding mechanisms. Nothing happens without financial resources. The Education Improvement Agenda is no exception.
These are long-term action steps; what is now needed are short-term action plans that focus on those areas where the business community can have the greatest impact in achieving. It is what the roundtable will be working on in the coming months. It is where we need more participation, support and resources.
Those who think there is great social and economic value in San Diego County having the best public schools, graduates and economy in the United States will feel right at home becoming involved in the Business Roundtable for Education's Education Improvement Agenda. And, there's no better time than the beginning of a new year to do so.
Hovenic, Ed.D., is president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation and executive director of the foundation's Business Roundtable for Education. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.