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Business Engagement and Education Reform Three Best Approaches to Improving Education

“The time has come for America’s business leaders to consider anew how they work with the nation’s educators to support our schools.” So opens a new report issued by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Boston Consulting Group, and Harvard Business School, which surveys the current landscape of American education. According to the report, right now things could be better. On a global scale, the U.S. ranks 23rd in science and 30th in math. “For young Americans to succeed,” the report states, “they must out-innovate and out-produce the world’s best,” yet clearly the world’s best are outpacing American students in the most critical subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), all of which are needed for the U.S. to remain globally competitive.
Lasting Impact: A Business Leader’s Playbook for Supporting America’s Schools examines the engagement America’s business community has had with schools and educators across the country and specifically highlights how business leaders can become more involved in education in order to produce the best and most expedient results in a system that has been mired with “slow and inconsistent” progress and “gradual improvement.”

Out of all the varied efforts and strategies businesses have employed, the authors of the report state that there are three key approaches that businesses can take – and that some are already taking—that are most effective in bringing about change:
1.Laying Down Policy Foundations. Businesses should advocate for the most effective and beneficial policies that will help enable innovation in our schools. According to the report, “more than anything else, innovation is the key to PK-12 transformation… [and] innovation is bound up with policy.” Perhaps the most prolific instance of laying down policy foundations mentioned by the report is the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards. As it stands now, 46 out of 50 states have already adopted the Common Core, and such widespread adoption is largely because of the business community’s desire to “set the stage for broad-based innovation and increased rigor in America’s school.” Therefore, it stands to reason that business leaders can have a tremendous impact on improving American education by simply taking a stance and becoming public advocates for better education policy, especially at local and state levels. “One such policy foundation is the adoption and implementation of state college and career readiness standards such as Common Core. The work to implement the standards is local, and it is critical that local educators and politicians understand that have the support of business leaders.”
2.Scaling Up Proven Innovations. Once these strong policy foundations have been built, educators will then have the freedom and capability to test out new classroom and educational innovations. However, if truly effective innovation is expected to flourish, it is up to the business community to offer the support needed to expand and replicate these innovations on a much wider scale. Bringing proven, effective programs to scale is NMSI’s field expertise, which is why NMSI’s College Readiness Program (formerly known as NMSI’s Comprehensive AP Program) and NMSI’s UTeach Expansion Program are both highlighted in this report. Each of these programs started out as local innovations, but thanks to the support from the business community, our college readiness program has transformed education for teachers and students in more than 550 schools across 22 states, and we have helped replicate the UTeach program in 35 universities in 17 states. Our College Readiness Program and UTeach Replication Program will help produce a projected 9,000 new STEM teachers by 2020. We have had tremendous success in the growth and expansion of our programs, but there is more to scaling-up an innovation than writing a check. Among other things, business leaders must ensure the innovation is successful, make educators full partners in the process of implementation, and help to establish a “backbone organization such as NMSI… to ensure quality implementation, sustain efforts across business cycles, and balance the needs of partners in the coalition.”
3.Reinventing a Local Education Ecosystem. While scaling up a program takes an innovation from a single component of a local education ecosystem and expands it to a state or national scale, reinvention focuses on comprehensive reform across several components of a local education ecosystem. This is done by “crafting a tailored, coherent education strategy for a particular city or town and implementing it through deep, enduring local partnerships.” The authors of the report say that this type of strategy can be messy and demanding, but business leaders can be “powerful partners” when it comes to reinventing a local system, and the impact they can have is tremendous. One of the businesses the report mentions is The GE Foundation, which is using its Developing Futures Program to engage entire districts in best education practices. By working in partnership with districts, the GE Foundation is strengthening leadership in these schools and increasing student interest in STEM. In order for such a strategy to work, business leaders must have an unrelenting focus and commitment to reinventing a local education ecosystem.
“America needs its business community more actively involved in all three transformational approaches,” says the report, but on an individual basis, each company needs to evaluate which approach is best for them. Businesses that have strong influence and relationships at local and state levels should pursue the policy change approach, those that have the ability to recognize proven innovations and form strong partnerships with educators should pursue the scaling approach, and businesses that have change-management experience should pursue the reinvention approach. But above all, businesses must consider the local readiness for change and what educators truly need within their own local ecosystem.
As for NMSI, we will continue to provide students and teachers support through our proven, innovative programs, and we will continue to scale these programs across the nation to reach more students and further improve American education. We recently announced another expansion of our UTeach program to five more universities, and we have issued an RFP for an additional five universities by fall 2015. We are also gearing up for NMSI’s Summer Institutes,  which are open to any and all teachers interested in improving their practice and preparing their students for college and career success.
Learn More About NMSI's College Readiness Program