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Report Urges Businesses to Get Involved in Education

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Partnerships between businesses and schools are neglected economic and educational tools, pairings that have the potential to raise student achievement and more closely align the work of educators with workforce demands, a new report contends.

That argument is spelled out in the report released today, "Business Engagement in Education: Key Partners for Improving Student Success." The report was sponsored by the Citi Foundation, an organization sponsored by the bank of the same name that seeks to help low- and moderate-income individuals, and the College Summit, an organization focused on improving college attendance and success.

The report argues that businesses can play a critical role in helping schools coping with ever-evolving challenges, which include "adapting to shifting policy demands, managing new and expanding roles and expectations, and finding ways to respond to changing demographics and social norms," the authors say.

"Building effective school-business partnerships is a proven solution to these troublesome and stubborn challenges," the report says. "It is clear that schools can no longer achieve their mission alone. An outside partner can provide the crucial resources and expertise to drive improvement in a high school and to strengthen student outcomes."

The document is scheduled to be released Wednesday at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a forum that is expected to be attended by a number of business and educator leaders, as well as by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida considered to be one of his party's emerging leaders on the national stage. (Sen. Rubio has also put forward some education policy proposals recently.)

The relationship between businesses and schools is can be a tense one. School officials sometimes doubt the motives of those seeking to apply private-sector principles to K-12, questioning whether they're more interested in profit than helping students. Some business officials, meanwhile, regard school systems as bureaucratic entities resistant to new ideas. But the report argues that business officials can influence the work of schools for the better in direct and indirect ways. It offers a variety of recommendations for companies and their employees, which include:

• Working directly with teachers and counselors to help students shape their college and career goals, while taking workforce demands into account;

• Sponsoring competitions that promote entrepreneurship and "reward ingenuity," and encourage students to demonstrate their subject-matter and team-building skills;

• Providing teachers with professional development and access to applied research that informs their instruction, through educator-employer mentoring programs and other means;

• Working with teachers to map the industry-specific skills and competencies that students need to succeed on the job;

• Mentoring and coaching students directly to help them understand the demands of college and the workforce; and

• Offering support to families to help them understand the college application process and the steps needed to apply for financial aid.

No single model will fit the needs of all schools, the report says. The best strategies are those that are tailored to the needs of individual schools' student populations and recognize that businesses and schools have "common goals and interests." Once you've read the report, let me know if you think the authors' ideas are realistic options for schools, and for the private sector.

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