Friday, July 27, 2012

Business Support Essential for Education Reform

Stu Silberman has now posted a couple of pieces on his new Ed Week blog. This one made me recall the Partnership for School Reform and an interesting bit of Prichard Committee history.

Prior to KERA, the reform-minded Prichard Committee was seen as a watch dog for public education. Cindy Heine and others were seen as "troublemakers" in their children's schools because they dared to openly challenge the system. Bob Sexton not only challenged the Superintendent of Public Instruction but he engaged in tough negotiations with the governor, famously NOT giving Wallace Wilkinson the support he demanded. They battled and battled, and all the while, built a grassroots fire under a system of schools that was underfunded and lackluster in performance. They had a vision in mind.

But once KERA passed the Kentucky legislature, in 1990, the Committee evolved from its critical role into a mainstream support group for the Commissioners who would follow - reluctant to question any of KERA's central elements for fear the whole thing could topple. Today, the Prichard Committee acts almost as though it is the public engagement division of KDE...very much in the house, supporting professional development efforts, and rarely critical. Members still raise important questions at Committee meetings, but it is clear the old days are gone.

What is not clear is whether the group has found its footing or its voice in this new era of reform. One hears a lot of good questions being asked. But that critical friend seems to be missing.

At any rate, this piece focuses on the importance of the business community in effecting change. The business community is a critical part of sustaining any education reform and the Kentucky Chamber has developed a game plan for the various efforts they support.

This from Public Engagement & Ed Reform:
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.


Anonymous said...

As a teacher I would never have viewed Ms. Heine as a troublemaker. I do believe, however, that many supposedly reform-minded parents and foundations have an agenda. That agenda often involves the promotion of a particular pedagogy or philosophy. They cloak their demands with stock phrases like "research based" and "child centered."

KERA is, for many, part success and part failure. Funding is definitely more equitable, but the trend away from basic skills, memorization and the teaching of traditional grammar, has hurt some Kentucky's best students.

I'm one who moves between the public schools and higher education, and I have never had a colleage at UK or elsewhere express support for the way Kentucky's schools are run post-KERA.

Richard Day said...

Don't get me wrong. Cindy's wonderful. But I believe I've heard her refer to herself in those terms...way back Southern...I think.

Anyway, I think we are wondering about the same questions. For me KERA was a mixed blessing; crucial in terms of support for the schools; and important in a host of ways. But like all reforms (the current one included) they contain elements that represent somebody's deep thinking...often utopian to some degree (like the Primary Program which sounded great, but was never brought to scale).

To whatever extend KERA equalized funding across the's largely eroded now.

Anonymous said...

I realize that I don't drink from the deepest trough but what in the heck does the article even mean? Businesses should support education . . . ok, is that it. I see some folks have met for lunch and created a couple of groups with supportive sounding names and apparently there are some "toolboxes" out there but as Wendy's use to say - "Where's the beef".

I agree with the previous two posts. Prichard Committee seems to have lost it claws and is resigned to sit in the laps of whoever happens to be the commissioner and give lip service to the obvious and not challenge the questionable. Nothing cutting edge or edgy here anymore.