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The Role of the Business Community


Q. I wish more business people would get involved in the schools. Is that happening?


Yes, and it's exciting and encouraging. There are many ways that private-sector business professionals can help schools, and not just in influencing what goes on in the classroom or giving them carte-blanche funding.


School budgets have increased exponentially over the past few decades, and part of the reason is the marketing effectiveness of the countless companies that sell products to schools, from books to toilet paper to training programs to software. Now schools are seeking help from business for cost containment and cost-effectiveness consulting. So there's a strong business-school connection there.


Above that money-making connection, though, are billions of dollars of business charitable contributions each year to all sorts of educational organizations, school systems and other pro-education causes. They are creating learning initiatives, challenge grants, demonstration projects, contests and other tangible ways to attempting to help shape improvements and support more effective school programming. They see schools as an extremely worthwhile investment, since their future employees and customers both will pass through school doors. Helping schools also increases employee morale and is good PR. So it's good business to support schools and try to make them better.


Even those businesses that have nothing to gain by supporting school reform - no money-making opportunities, that is -- are giving their political support to candidates who pledge to reform schools and, hopefully, turn out a better "product" in the form of more employable graduates.


This is quite a change from previous decades. You would frequently see businesses in an adversarial position to the schools in terms of tax policies and usage, and hear business leaders complaining that new high school grads can't read, write or figure, forcing them to outsource jobs to Third World countries or immigrants.


How did we get this big "disconnection" between the people who educate the future generation and the people who control the jobs they'll take? It's possible that business leaders "disconnected" from schools at the same time parents did, which, ironically, is where the spending spikes began. That's in the late 1960s and '70s, when so many women starting working and the pool of school volunteers started dwindling. Community involvement in schools in any meaningful way took a nosedive.


But these days, business realizes that the solid business practices that got them through the 1980s and '90s, such as goal-setting and data-driven decision-making, were not spread into the school systems, and educators did not know how to employ those management tools very well. Now the schools are demanding huge inputs in the form of tax dollars for declining outputs in the form of student achievement, as measured by standardized tests and statistics such as dropout rates and the need for college remediation of high school graduates. More money for less quality? That's not a good business model.


In a highly positive and hopeful development, organizations like the Business/Education Partnership Forum are helping businesses form effective partnerships with schools to try to turn that model around. Take a look at the resources this one organization offers on its website:


     Association and conference reports

     Case studies

     Corporate/community involvement and cause marketing






     Parent and community engagement

     Partnership practices


     Program design and development

     Program models

     Reports and studies

     Role of business in the community

     STEM education


     Toolkits and guides

     Websites and blogs

     Workforce development


Homework: See the Business/Education Partnership Forum,


By Susan Darst Williams

Community Involvement 02 2009


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