Over at Brookings Darrell West has an interesting new analysis of the treatment of corporations in law school and b-school curricula. Basically, he finds that the idea of shareholder profit maximization as the most important corporate good is the dominant idea students are exposed to. There’s more though so read the report. A lot of implications for how corporations treat and are treated in American life, but two education ones worth mentioning.
First, I expect that in education benefit corporations or B-corporations will start to play a bigger role in the coming years. It not only makes sense given the dynamics of much of the education industry (high barriers to entry, low-margins, etc…) but is just a better fit with what a lot of education businesses and innovators are about.
Second, for all the rhetoric about corporations and their influence in American education (and you’re sure to hear a lot of that this weekend) the impact is actually pretty modest. Outside of infrastructure, publishing, and some service provision there is still relatively little for-profit activity. Education still isn’t even a big focus of venture capitalists. The reasons for that are pretty obvious. In fact, despite the rhetoric when you get below the big issues like standards or accountability I’d argue that one could level the exact opposite critique about business involvement in education – in no small part because of what West identifies.
At the state level there are some great business coalitions pushing for reform (CO, CA, and MA are three good examples) and obviously some current and former business leaders investing their own money in education reform, but in general businesses have a lot of items before state legislators and state government – various tax and fee issues, regulatory issues, etc… – and are strongly disinclined to antagonize state officials over schools at the expense of any of these other issues. In other words, business leaders are there for the top-line issues but when you get to the tough and more granular issues that really drive things – changing funding formulas to create more equity for low-income students, shutting low-performing schools, changing teacher evaluations etc…those issues are less of a priority relative to more immediate corporate concerns. In an environment where corporations don’t see the special place they occupy in American law as anything special in terms of broader societal benefit that’s not surprising but also not a great state of affairs. Unfortunately, in all the kill the corporations rhetoric in education today these issues get scant attention.