Education Is Business' Business

The education of our children is a topic of perennial concern, and well it should be: Students in the U.S. continue to underperform their counterparts in other major industrial nations. Decades of analysis, political posturing, and searching for solutions haven't changed this. The broad and lofty "Goals 2000" set forth by the nation's governors and President Bush in 1989 and elaborated in legislation two years ago will go largely unmet. How is it possible to guarantee, for instance, that every adult will be literate by the year 2000?

Lately, educators have seized on tough and specific education standards--locally determined--as the route to academic excellence. Now the nation's governors will meet on Mar. 26-27 to promote the adoption of standards and the diffusion of technology in the schools. Each governor will be accompanied by the chief executive of a major corporation from his or her state. IBM, for instance, is a prime mover behind the meeting.

The business connection makes sense. However crass the notion, a good public education should prepare children to make a good living. There's a yawning earnings gap between high school graduates and college graduates, and businesspeople have complained for years that many high school graduates are in need of remedial education. Business can make a difference. Here's how.

First, executives should actively help educators and state officials come up with clear and rigorous standards of excellence. If students don't know what's required of them, they won't be able to reach higher. Second, executives should work hard to deflect opposition from political extremists to the adoption of standards. Third, executives should compel school districts and states to reach for excellence by linking performance measures to hiring decisions. Finally, companies should put their money where their mouths are--and help finance reforms, the adoption of technology, and teacher training through grants, products, and volunteer work.

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