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Businesses Tackling Education Reform Without Congress

February 28, 2012
Our colleague Fawn Johnson reports on how some major corporations are trying to address education reform on their own, without the help of the federal government.

Johnson reports (for subscribers):

Who needs Congress, or the federal government, for that matter? Big corporate executives, such as those at GE and IBM, are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to education. Last fall, IBM helped launch a public institution in New York City that combines high school with community college for the primary purpose of training future IBM workers. On Tuesday, IBM will unveil an online "playbook" to guide other business and municipal leaders in creating similar educational institutions.

GE this month announced the largest private-sector grant in history ($18 million) to help schools nationwide implement the National Governors Association's Common Core State Standards. The money will be used to compile the curriculum and management techniques garnered from GE's experiences working with school districts in Connecticut, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Such exercises are partly altruistic. Both GE and IBM have a long history of philanthropic activities. But the endeavors are also selfish. These CEOs don't want to rely solely on the government to provide them with eligible job candidates. Colleges that can't graduate skilled workers were failed by the high schools and elementary schools below them, said GE Foundation President Robert Corcoran. "Higher education is not the biggest problem we have," he said. 

IBM tackled the flaws head on. Students who complete four years of high school and two years of college at the company's "P-Tech" in New York City will emerge with a technical associate degree and a priority shot at any IBM opening for which they are qualified. "This captured the imagination of a lot of people--this connection with a real job that gets me on track for a career," said Robin Willner, vice president of IBM's Global Community Initiatives. "It's the reason kids get excited."

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