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Business Support Essential for Education Reform

By Stu Silberman — July 26, 2012 2 min read
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One of the lessons learned in the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA) was the importance of strong support from the business community to push for positive change and to sustain those changes. In particular, the CEO’s of Ashland Inc.(John Hall), Humana Inc. (David A. Jones, Sr.), and UPS (Oz Nelson) were very vocal in leading the business community to spur the reform effort and then to keep the pressure on elected officials to stay the course... It is hard to imagine KERA’s passage and implementation without the support of these leaders.

Education’s need for strong business support has never diminished, but it is particularly critical today as we face the next major reform effort with new standards and accountability systems. We have an education champion at the national level in the State Farm Chairman and CEO Ed Rust, Jr., a role model who sets a very high standard for business leaders around the country to engage in education improvement efforts. He and other leaders on the state and national level recognize the reasons to support public education and the important role business must play if we are to succeed.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a sharp focus on preparing students for college and career. Its website features promising practices from across the country to achieve these goals. One Chamber initiative, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly hosts a map that provides a state-level look at education performance in several areas. It can be an eye-opening experience to scroll across the country to see how each state is performing. This initiative is a great example, and it reflects the bottom line that the U.S. Chamber is pushing for high-quality reforms.

Closer to home, we must all find ways to enlist the support of employers at the local and state level. There are examples everywhere. The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education has developed a toolbox to inform legislators and other education stakeholders on education policy. Another emerged recently in Kentucky, where the Prichard Committee and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently established a coalition called Business Leader Champions for Education. This group of business men and women, chaired by Hilliard Lyons’ CE0 Jim Allen, plan to be outspoken about their support of high quality education reform that will move our system forward. To spread the word further, the Chamber, as part of the ReadyKentucky initiative, has produced an employers’ toolkit to help explain and build support for the state’s rigorous new academic standards.

These kinds of efforts, that can be replicated anywhere, are important tools we must have to build a solid future for our kids. We must find ways to encourage our business leaders to be vocal supporters of education in order to be successful in our reform efforts.

The opinions expressed in Public Engagement & Ed Reform are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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