Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Lessons for a Biz Community Ready to Step Up

By Rick Hess — June 08, 2011 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

For several years now, I’ve worked with my friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC) to provide the training and support that can help state and local business leaders become more effective partners in promoting educational improvement. I’ve frequently given a speech to the USCC’s LEADs seminar for local and state business leaders titled “Has Business Been Bold Enough?” The answer has been straightforward: Nope.

Today my colleague Whitney Downs and I release a new USCC report that seeks to provide a roadmap for those business and civic leaders tired of genteel gestures, aimless initiatives, and sitting on their hands. In “Partnership Is a Two-Way Street: What It Takes for Business to Help Drive School Reform” we argue, “Too often, business has put its good intentions to work in the service of ineffectual systems...If business leaders are serious about school improvement, they must play a more forceful role and drive harder bargains with state officials and school district educators.” To see how business can do better, Whitney and I closely examined three geographies--Austin, Nashville, and Massachusetts--where business has played an invaluable role to see what lessons might be learned.

In Austin, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has worked with the Austin area’s 15 independent school districts on issues of data transparency and college enrollment, as well as providing expertise and sustained pressure for both goals. As a result, 64 percent of Austin area high school seniors submitted the Texas Common Application in 2009, up from 47 percent in 2006. FAFSA submissions are up 85 percent.

In Nashville, the district has established twelve academy high schools, each with its own specialty. There are 46 industry-themed academies at the twelve schools, and a total of 117 business-academy partnerships and six industry-based partnership councils with 22-25 business leaders meeting once a month. This academy model, with businesses as a committed partner to local schools, has led Nashville’s graduation rate to improve from 69 percent to 83 percent, as well as the percent of high schools in “good standing” under NCLB to rise from 41 percent in 2007-2008 to 53 percent in 2009-2010.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education has been a crucial policy advocate, in particular issuing an influential report that helped Massachusetts policymakers embrace the Common Core standards. “The fact that the report emerged from MBAE, which is seen as the guardian of education and a mainstream business group, [made it]...more effective,” said Massachusetts secretary of education Paul Reville. A number of sidebars in the paper further addressed such topics such as “generating research that has an impact,” “working with legislators,” and the importance of savvy leadership.

Five key lessons emerged from the cases:

Be a partner, not a pawn. Partnership is a two-way street. Working with school districts or policymakers doesn’t mean carrying their water; it means settling on shared objectives and pursuing them jointly. Drew Scheberle, senior vice president of education and talent development for the Austin Chamber, told us, “We had to have the moment when [Austin Independent School District] knew we were willing to walk away. We gave them a list of non-negotiables [and] said, ‘If you want [our support], then you have to do these things. If you don’t, we’re out.’”

Leverage the unique assets business brings. When business leaders work with state and school district officials on K-12 schooling, they need to keep in mind that they are negotiating not as claimants but as valued partners. Jay Steele, associate superintendent of high schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools, told us, "[Businesses] are organizing their lobbyists around things we have asked. They can get a lot of things done as business people that I can’t.”

Get in for the long haul. Businesses often have other priorities besides K-12 education, so it is vital to structure a role that allows business to sustain its involvement and not permit the effort to be an enthusiasm that comes and goes. Alan Macdonald, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, told us, “There’s a tendency of business folks to say, ‘Didn’t we already do that?’ The fact that MBAE would bring us all together and keep us focused is very important.”

Learn the issues and hire an expert point person. Effective engagement requires that business leaders invest time and energy to become acquainted with the issues and the local stakeholders. They should hire an expert who knows the ins and outs of education policy and can leverage the strengths of business to drive improvement. Mark Williams, Austin Independent School District (ISD) school board chair and former Dell executive, told us, “Sometimes chambers sit on the side and [occasionally] jump in. When it comes to school districts, you have to have a relationship. You can’t weigh in [periodically].”

Don’t shy away from policy and politics. Business leaders have a natural inclination to stay out of heated education debates. But school systems are public agencies spending public dollars to serve the public’s children. Serious reform requires changing policy, and that means political debate. Ralph Schultz, president of the Nashville Chamber, told us, "[The Nashville Chamber’s school board PAC] is a lightning rod, no question about it. But the business community is adamant about the need to be in this game. It gets nasty sometimes.”

The actors in question shared a wealth of smart insights. So, if this seems interesting or useful, check out the whole thing yourself.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up 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.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. f we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Gunman in 2018 Parkland School Massacre Pleads Guilty
A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
3 min read
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education Briefly Stated: October 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)