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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Supporting Good Schools Is Good Business: An Expert Speaks

Milton Goldberg on the benefits of business support in education.
By Milt Goldberg

Milton Goldberg, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Education Commission of the States, wrote this article when he was executive vice president of the National Alliance of Business.

Credit: Courtesy of Milton Goldberg

The business community cares more than ever before about assuring that every youngster has access to a first-rate education. We must not have enormous gaps in student achievement that essentially disenfranchise large segments of our population. The surest way to create a better future for our nation, and thereby better lives for our citizens, is through improving the quality of education over one's lifetime, wherever and whenever this education takes place and whoever provides it. In all these avenues, we must exploit the wonders of new technology.

There are many levels of business involvement, starting with individual employees who commit their own volunteer time and resources to improving conditions in schools. Businesses are actively involved in their own communities in helping to set policies and practices aimed at raising student performance.

Employers encourage their employees to sit on local school and state boards of education, participate in local coalitions, and offer national leadership. Our former chairman, Edward Rust Jr., chairman and CEO of State Farm Insurance Companies, is a good example of CEO leadership. He commits much of his personal and professional time to education by running meetings for his managers on education issues, convening education and business leaders, and serving as head of major national business organizations.

Dispelling Classic Myths

There are certain myths about business involvement in education. One is that the business community's involvement with education is motivated by self-interest. While it is true that better-educated workers lead to a more productive and adaptable workforce, the ultimate beneficiary is the individual. Further, good schools mean good communities and a healthier, more civil, and more innovative society.

Another myth is that the most important thing business can do is give money. While substantial corporate contributions continue, providing funds is a lesser aspect of business involvement in education. More than 1,300 local and state business-education coalitions around the country are working collegially with educators to improve education in the elementary grades, raise math and science achievement, create centers for teachers' professional development, and exploit new media otherwise unimaginable for schools.

Corporations not only encourage their employees to go into school districts, they also provide summer employment opportunities for teachers. These experiences allow educators to absorb the practices of the workplace, including the values of teamwork and innovation, to reorganize classrooms and schools.

The "Investing in Teaching" Revolution

The National Alliance of Business focuses solely on improving the quality of education over a lifetime. Our 5,000 members include companies of all sizes and industries, their CEOs and senior executives, educators, and business-led coalitions. Three years ago, our board was presented with data on the quality of the teaching force and anticipated changes over the next ten years. Examining the research, business became convinced that the single most powerful factor in improving student performance is the quality of the teacher. Business leaders found reaffirmation from their spouses, aunts, uncles, and children who are teachers. They challenged us to develop a project on improving the quality of the teaching profession.

In early 2001, the report "Investing in Teaching" was published by the National Alliance of Business, the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It represents the first time the business community has come together to send a unified message on improving teacher quality. The report resulted from a series of forums around the country, chaired by CEOs and university chancellors, such as California State University President Charles Reed. Businesses, teachers' unions, and a focus group of teachers reviewed and commented on report drafts.

The report asserted the need for significant social, financial, and political investments to provide teachers with professional-level development, pay, career opportunities, performance accountability, decision-making flexibility, and portability of credentials and pensions. These elements must be tackled in their entirety and cannot be changed through a piecemeal strategy. The business community stands committed to support these changes.

Every recommendation in the report is based on an existing successful program. In recommending new approaches to teacher compensation, we highlighted a bold experiment developed jointly by the Cincinnati Public Schools and the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. The compensation plan severs the traditional tie between pay and longevity, providing teachers with five salary categories -- apprentice, novice, career, advanced, and accomplished -- where increases are based on comprehensive reviews and portfolios of teacher and student work. Salary increases and bonuses can also be earned through National Board certification, graduate degrees, and expertise in areas such as curriculum development, technology, and leadership.

Another success story came from the Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle Education Association. Their program moved budget decisions to the school level, funneled more dollars to local schools, and trained teachers and principals on "budget builder" software to hone their financial skills. The report also has inspired many colleges of education to think seriously about changing policies and procedures to reflect recommendations.

School Counts

School counts -- for college and for jobs. To send this message to youngsters, we started a project to encourage businesses to ask for high school transcripts. Starting out with 200 employers in 1998, the program today has an honor roll of about 20,000 companies. This project, which has involved college admissions officers, corporate human resources managers, and teachers' unions, has led us to advocate for changing the quality of the high school transcript, which typically does not tell enough about a youngster's progress over time.

The traditional transcript is limited to a student's attendance and grades, which can mean different things in different schools. A student's school-to-work experience often does not appear on a transcript, yet it is experience employers should know about. Many students are now acquiring technology skills, which also merit recording for employers. We are currently collecting data about school districts that introduce new kinds of transcripts that document a broad set of student accomplishments.

The Internet and new digital media offer exciting opportunities to create a richer picture of a student's high school record, such as a portfolio of student work for college admissions and employment. Technology can be used to archive and transmit such records. In this era of technology innovation, business can cooperate with educators to take schools into the Digital Age.

Policies That Matter

Another critical interface for business is with government. Business leaders can work to influence local, state, and national government and their education policies. Toward this end, we have helped to put together the Business Coalition for Educational Excellence, which has formulated a set of principles to inform new federal education legislation. Recent education summits have included governors and CEOs from states across the nation.

Employers and employees are parents, too. They want to live and work in communities with good schools because they know that good schools and healthy communities go together. They know that education helps young people become mature adults, caring family members, and effective citizens. As partners in shaping communities, they want to work for the kind of schools that will make a difference -- to students and to the country. Because setting and supporting high learning standards can make that kind of difference, the business community welcomes an active role in strengthening standards as a means to improving education.

Milton Goldberg is Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Education Commission of the States. He recently completed a term as the executive vice president of the National Alliance of Business. Dr. Goldberg previously served as director of the Office of Research in the U.S. Department of Education.

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