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Businesses And Education: Companies Must Push Harder To Reform Schools, Report Says

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BILL GATES
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America's business leaders say they want to fix education, but they don't know how to do so effectively.

As a result, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce commissioned a report that instructs business leaders on the best practices for private-public partnerships in education, according to co-author Whitney Downs, an education policy research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.

In November, she and Rick Hess, AEI's director of education policy, sought to find out what they should do. They concluded that businesses need to be more forceful and not merely "pawns" if they want to change schools for the better, according to the report, released Wednesday and titled "Partnership Is a Two-Way Street: What It Takes for Business to Help Drive School Reform."

"Partnership does not mean being a pawn of the school district," Downs told The Huffington Post. "It means putting your foot down when you want to meet certain end goals."

The report comes as business leaders, Downs said, realize that a faulty education system will lead to a problematic workforce down the line. Underperforming schools yield underperforming employees. With flashy education grants made by magnates such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, business people seek to involve themselves in education more and more, but become frustrated as they don't necessarily see the results they desire.

"The business community can no longer afford to allow American education to continue as is," Cheryl Oldham, vice president of the Institute for a Competitive Workforce at the US Chamber of Commerce, said in a press release. "Business engagement in education reform needs to be more robust than just donating money and sponsoring scholarships."

Diane Ravitch, an education historian who formerly served as assistant U.S. secretary of education and has often criticized business involvement in education, lauded the possibilities of such partnerships. "Many states are slashing public education budgets, laying off thousands of teachers, closing school libraries, and eliminating the arts. Other nations don't do this," she told HuffPost after seeing the report. "Business could play a valuable role by speaking up on behalf of our nation's public schools."

She cautioned an overreliance on numbers. "Having survived the economic debacle of 2008, business leaders should know enough not to be misled by data, not to be impressed by systems where more students graduate but need remediation in college and are likely to drop out," she saod, adding that businesses should support "high-quality education" that encourages "creativity, imagination, and ingenuity."

There are no silver bullets for creating partnerships, Downs stressed. "Often times, businesses tend to give scholarships or sprinkle extra dollars or supplies," she said. "Those serious about systemically changing the state of American education need to face up to the fact that those methods aren't going to get the job done. But we're not trying to say that there's a specific strategy for every problem you encounter."

A universal tip, she added, is that results cannot be achieved without taking the time to build relationships and obtain knowledge about local schools.

The report examines successful partnerships in Austin, Massachusetts and Nashville and relies largely on interviews with the stakeholders in those areas.

As a "critical customer," the report says, Austin's Chamber of Commerce enhanced schools, giving them more data tools. The report points to an increased number of students from the area enrolling in college as a result.

In Nashville, 117 school-business partnerships and six partnership councils, the report asserts, resulted in an increased graduation rate, a decreasing suspension rate, and better standing under No Child Left Behind.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education helped companies craft policy and adapt the national Common Core curriculum, which Downs said resulted in the state's winning federal Race to the Top dollars.

As states struggle to measure teacher effectiveness, Downs added, business models can be useful to education. "Just by bringing a management mindset, that they'll measure outputs and not just inputs," she said, "that's something that our education system hasn't done very well."

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