Article in Bloomberg about Obama Administration outreach to business leaders – hoping to capitalize on the frustration in the business community with Congressional Republicans in the wake of the government shutdown. There is an opportunity. In the election earlier this month business leaders successfully came together in a special election in Alabama to support a moderate Republican over a Tea Pary candidate (and earlier in the year business had rallied there to keep state adoption of Common Core on track). The election was an intra-party squabble among Republicans but there is an education angle to all this: Pushback on the Tea Party from business groups makes greater business support for Common Core more likely.
Right now you have a few companies – notably Exxon – out in front on Common Core. GE has been actively involved as well but their support resulted in a protest at a recent shareholder’s meeting that was widely noticed. The Business Roundtable and U.S. Chamber of Commerce are making Common Core a priority but it’s a lift for companies because the payoff from better schools is long-term and the political costs are immediate. That’s why business talks a good game about all the tough stands they will take, and many CEOs are deeply concerned about competitiveness, but in practice CEO’s who do something adverse to the near-term corporate interest because it might be good for education policy a decade from have some explaining to do to shareholders and analysts. I noted this dynamic last year writing about GE’s Common Core push for TIME:
Corporate involvement in education is a hot topic these days. Just Google “corporate education reform,” and you’ll see all sorts of conspiracy theories about how company interests are taking over the nation’s public schools. Education historian Diane Ravitch has crusaded against what she sees as corporate efforts to privatize public schools. The issue gets debated regularly in major education publications like Education Week and is a fixture among reporters blogging at mainstream outlets such as the Washington Post. But while plenty of business dollars flow into education, privatization is a sideshow, and, as a rule, corporations are skittish about taking on the really contentious issues in education reform.
I’ve seen this firsthand in my work in government at the state and federal level, at think tanks, and as a consultant: corporations are loath to antagonize politicians over school policy when they have more immediate concerns before government officials, including tax and regulatory issues. There are some exceptions, of course. But in general companies stick to safe issues (think vague talk about “global competitiveness” and “high standards” or happy talk about educating more engineers) rather than the knotty issues of real school reform (think turning around failing schools, evaluating principals and teachers or overhauling archaic teacher contracts). And sometimes their positions on issues such as taxes work against efforts to improve schools.
Today publicly traded companies focus foremost on making money for shareholders, not making the world a better place. That ethos, along with political calculations and Wall Street’s intense focus on relatively short-term financial performance, makes it easy to see why corporations would be reluctant to create enemies in Washington or state capitals over an issue like education. Education reform pays off over generations; corporations want friends in government right now.
That’s why, in an odd every cloud has a silver lining sort of way, the more toxic the Tea Party makes itself the more likely it is that business can step up and step in on Common Core in a more substantial way. In fact, Common Core is a good fight for the business community to pick. And given the political risks to Common Core, that’s a good thing for those who want to see the new standards succeed.