Prods to Progress

On outdated, counterproductive corporate culture and a stagnating educational system. These are Americans' twin burdens, according to reports issued this week. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Commission on Industrial Productivity criticizes continued reliance on management philosophies that served the United States well until the 1960s, but block progress in today's highly competitive world economy.

The authors underscore some now familiar steps toward reform: Improved means of production have to take priority over financial maneuvering; greater cooperation is needed within and between companies; education and training demand much greater emphasis.

The last point coincides with the annual State Education Performance Chart issued by Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos. It showed a mix of improvement and decline among states on test scores. But the secretary concludes the US still has a long way to go before realizing the goals of the ongoing school reform movement. Drop-out rates, in particular, remain scandalously high. Mr. Cavazos set a nationwide graduation-rate target of 90 percent.

What does it take to get from here to there? Continued chipping away at inertia and apathy. From classroom to shop floor to board room, greater willingness to rethink and redesign is called for.

The MIT report talks of ``cultural'' change, and cultures don't change fast. Management long used to doing things one way - focusing, typically, on short-range profits rather than long-range competitive advantage - isn't going to quickly shift gears, especially if the financial analysis doesn't demand it.

Similarly, teachers and school administrators may be perfectly happy with small gains on standardized tests, even though most students are only enduring school, not being stimulated by it.

Plenty of people in industry and education are pushing for change. The kinds of remedies proposed by the MIT scholars - as well as those put forward by education reformers - are starting to take hold. This week's reports are needed prods to hasten the process along.

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