20 Nov 2014
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Strengthening America's Public Education System


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“For young Americans to succeed in today’s workforce, they must out-innovate and out-produce the world’s best,” says Jan Rivkin, the Bruce V. Rauner Professor of Business Administration. He explains that because of this, education is an area of study in HBS’s U.S. Competitiveness Project, the research-led effort he cochairs with Michael Porter, the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor. The project, designed to explore steps business leaders can take to strengthen U.S. competitiveness, currently focuses on improving PK–12 education, renewing the nation’s ailing transportation systems and infrastructure, and closing America’s gap in preparing workers for jobs requiring “middle skills”—that is, competencies beyond a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration, is leading the transportation systems and infrastructure research, and Senior Lecturer Joseph B. Fuller is leading the middle-skills research.

In 2013, Rivkin, with Senior Fellow Allen Grossman and Senior Lecturer Kevin Sharer, examined how business leaders can partner more effectively with educators to support America’s public education system. Together with the Boston Consulting Group and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they convened more than 100 business and education leaders for a two-day conference, issuing a report on U.S. PK–12 education and the need for business “champions,” working alongside educators, to strengthen education, rather than simply alleviating the symptoms of a weak system. “That’s really needed if America is going to lead in public education and business competitiveness,” says Rivkin.

The alliance also conducted the first nationwide survey of school superintendents on the role of business in America’s education system. Among its findings: Business is involved in 95 percent of school districts, but largely through “checkbook philanthropy” supporting short-term efforts. Most superintendents would welcome deeper business engagement.

In response, the project released a “playbook” highlighting ways in which business partnerships can help educators lay the policy foundations for innovation, expand programs that boost student outcomes, and reinvigorate the entire education ecosystem to strengthen public education in America.

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