CEOs Reflect on 10 Years of Helping Schools Improve

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A group of top corporate executives is recommitting itself to the task of reforming public education.

The Business Roundtable, which comprises nearly 200 chief executive officers of the nation's largest corporations, first got seriously involved in school reform in 1989 at the behest of President Bush.

Last week, at its annual meeting here, the organization released a report concluding that its activities over the past decade have helped move states in the right direction, but that much work remains to be done.

For More Information

Copies of "No Turning Back" are available by calling the Business Roundtable at (202) 872-1260.

"The bottom line is, there has been progress, but far too little," said Edward B. Rust Jr., the chairman and chief executive officer of the State Farm Insurance Cos. and the head of the BRT's education task force.

One hallmark of the organization is that it requires direct participation from its member CEOs in virtually every activity. In the area of education, the BRT concluded 10 years ago that merely "adopting" schools and donating equipment wouldn't be enough to prod schools to raise standards and achievement.

The organization has focused on the states. Every member CEO has committed to work for change in one or more states, usually choosing those that host the corporation's headquarters or major operations.

The report cites examples of the BRT's involvement in state reform efforts. In Washington state, Boeing Co. CEO Frank Shrontz worked with the governor and lawmakers on comprehensive reform legislation that passed in 1993.

In Maryland, the CEOs of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Citigroup Inc. helped establish a broader statewide business coalition that has supported higher standards and a new accountability system.

Gov. Angus King of Maine, an Independent, told the executives last week that they were on the right track.

"You did just the right thing by focusing on the states--that's where the action is," he said. "You can make a real difference on the state level."

Marathon Race

The business group's efforts are rooted in concerns over getting well-educated workers who can keep their employers competitive in the world economy.

"In a global economy built on knowledge and technical skills, employees must be able to do more now than they did a generation ago," says the BRT's report, "No Turning Back."

The organization says 49 states have set or are working on higher standards in core academic subjects as a result, in part, of pressure from the business community.

The report notes some positive trends: Mathematics achievement has risen in the 1990s as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and several states have made significant gains in math and reading on their own achievement tests. But few students have reached the "proficient" level or higher in core subjects measured by NAEP, the report adds.

"Despite some promising progress, student achievement has not risen everywhere, and change is taking longer than anticipated," the report says.

Mr. Rust told his colleagues that "changing education and getting results is not a sprint, it's a marathon."

"Yes, our mission is taking longer than we thought," he added. "The reforms we had hoped to implement all at once have to be done incrementally."

The BRT usually conducts most of its business behind closed doors, but it allowed a handful of reporters into its June 2 education discussion.

The high-powered group also lobbies federal lawmakers on such issues as trade, government regulation, and the environment. Before discussing education reform, the group heard from outgoing Secretary of the Treasury Robert E. Rubin. After the education session, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan was waiting to chat with the CEOs at a private reception.

Vol. 18, Issue 39, Page 7

Published in Print: May 26, 1999, as CEOs Reflect on 10 Years of Helping Schools Improve
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