Applying Business Practices to Improve Education, Part II
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By Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Last week we examined the findings of a new report on state education systems conducted by the U.S. Chamber and the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, called Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Education Report Card. While the report painted a grim picture of the current state of education, it also concluded that there are solutions to our education challenges. Business practices should be brought to bear in the following four areas.
Teaching. We need to reward teachers whose performance contributes to substantial growth in student achievement. Incentives should be given to attract and retain effective instructors in subjects prone to teacher shortages, notably math and science. And there must be a way to remove ineffective teachers fairly and efficiently.
Innovation. Innovation, another hallmark of American business, is badly needed at many of our nation's schools. If history has taught us anything, it's that nations, organizations, and individuals who adapt and innovate are the most successful. Small learning communities, early enrollment in college-level courses for credit, youth apprenticeships, charter schools, and online learning can help revolutionize and improve our classrooms.
Management. Schools would also do well to emulate the management savvy and organizational discipline of business. States and districts need to adopt sound business management principles in their schools, including giving principals more authority over budget and personnel decisions.
Data. Schools must collect better data. Our study found that not a single state could provide systematic information with which to rank teacher performance or determine return on investment. No responsible publicly- or privately-held firm could operate successfully with such a lack of data.
Most importantly, states must raise academic standards and be more truthful about whether or not they are meeting them. Without clearer, more rigorous guidelines about what students need to know, states will have a hard time measuring achievement and holding students and schools accountable for performance.
For schools to succeed, educators and administrators will need to unlearn many of the practices and behaviors that have failed our students, endangered our standard of living, and left a generation at risk. Continuing to do what hasn't worked is a surefire path to failure. At the same time, they will need to adopt business-based approaches that will help create schools and education systems that are accountable, rigorous, innovative, and focused on achievement.
The U.S. Chamber is engaged in a multifaceted education and workforce initiative to ensure that America prepares our children to succeed in the 21st century and achieve their full potential.