I couldn’t help but think as I was sitting in a packed conference room at the Business Civic Leadership Center’s (BCLC) national conference last week, that it’s amazing we still have an education problem in this country. BCLC gathered corporate social responsibility professionals in Atlanta for a discussion on how to address some of the greatest challenges facing America today―and public education is certainly one of the toughest. But with so many companies, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and policy institutions all committed to improving our public education system; shouldn’t we be making more progress?
Dow Chemical, IBM, Shell, ING, Viacom, and Bank of America are just a few of the companies I heard talk passionately about their financial commitment to this issue. Together with so many others, these companies are spending in excess of $4 billion annually, yet student achievement remains stagnant. The majority of 4th and 8th graders are not proficient in reading or math. As a country we rank 17th in science and 25th in math among 34 of the world’s most advanced countries. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, it is estimated that during this decade 13 million students will drop out of school at a cost of more than $3 trillion. And if that were not bad enough, the Council on Foreign Relations just released a report suggesting that our failure to educate students threatens our national security.
So what now? There are numerous companies and organizations investing in solutions, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is no different. As the Chamber’s education arm, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW) is dedicated to ensuring that the business community has the educated and trained workforce it needs to be competitive in a global economy and with the support of our colleagues at BCLC, ICW is launching the Business Education Network (BEN)
BEN aims to lead a movement of businesses of all sizes and sectors that are dedicated to addressing the educational needs of our nation with a unified voice and coordinated actions. Businesses are hungry to learn from their peers, partner with school districts, local chambers, other corporate funders, and understand whether their investments are having a meaningful impact. As one business leader said, “The days of our companies wanting to own our programs or investments are over … we want to do whatever it takes to have the greatest impact.” BEN will provide the insight, visibility, and connections to the business community and harness their commitment and passion on behalf of a better education system.
No single company, organization, or program can make the necessary improvements and changes alone. But together, we can leverage our resources, amplify our power, and begin the work of remaking our education system into a world leader once again.
To learn more about BEN, please visit the ICW website.