Margaret Spellings, former U.S. secretary of education and current thought leader on education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told a Nashville audience of more than 200 last week that it will be up to local communities and states to stay the course on rigorous academic standards and accountability. As Congress gets ready to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) -- or No Child Left Behind (NCLB), as it was known during the last reauthorization -- Spellings said the law should be “clear, transparent and speak to every school and every student.” She said NCLB should be “preserved, strengthened and improved,” but she worried that Washington was headed toward a “new normal” that would excuse continued low performance for groups of students. She praised Tennessee’s reform efforts and encouraged the use of student growth data as an accountability measure in any new federal legislation.
Why should the business community get involved in education? Spellings painted a stark picture:
- Half of U.S. Chamber members reported having trouble finding skilled/knowledgeable workers.
- In 2010, the private sector was forced to spend $50 billion on job training.
- By 2020, there are projected to be 123 million high-skill/high-wage jobs, but only 50 million workers qualified to fill them.
Spellings referenced the work that Nashville’s business community is doing, through the Academies of Nashville and other initiatives, as a model for other cities to emulate. This past summer, the U.S. Chamber released a report, Partnership Is a Two-Way Street,
which profiled Nashville’s efforts.
Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Ralph Schulz then moderated a panel to dive into the details of business engagement in education. Steve Turner, co-chair of the Chamber’s CEO Champions, a group that advocates for the Academies of Nashville, reported that there were now 150 businesses and organizations partnered with Metro’s high school academies, and these partners were doing everything from serving as guest speakers, to providing student internships, to working with teachers on curriculum through “teacher externships.”
Mike Edwards, president & CEO of the Knoxville Chamber, told the crowd that philanthropy is important, but it needs to direct results. He urged business leaders to pay attention to policy debates, because education legislation “can affect our bottom line.” Edwards said school districts could lean on the private sector to improve management skills because businesses are used to managing to an outcome.
Darrell Freeman, chairman of SuccessPAC, a political action committee that endorses candidates in Nashville’s school board elections, reminded the audience that “education is a child’s ticket out of poverty.” Leaving no doubt as to his feelings on the urgency around this work, Freeman encouraged systems to remove “nonperformers” quickly.
Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s commissioner of education, urged businesses to “keep pushing and engage” with school boards and superintendents, always asking “Did it work?” and “How do we know?” Commissioner Huffman said he had heard many excuses for delaying or watering down Tennessee’s ambitious education reforms, but no one had offered insight as to why Kentucky’s poor students were a full grade level ahead of Tennessee’s poor students. “The burden of proof is not on the people who want change,” said Huffman. “The burden of proof is on the people who want the system to remain the same.”
The luncheon, part of the Education 2020 Speaker Series presented by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Karl Dean and Lipscomb University, was a collaborative effort with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Look for details soon about the next speaker series event, to be held Wednesday, December 7, at Lipscomb University.
Margaret Spellings, former secretary of education, visited Nashville to discuss business engagement in public education as part of the Education 2020 Speaker Series presented by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Karl Dean and Lipscomb University.
Panelists Mike Edwards, president & CEO of the Knoxville Chamber; Darrell Freeman, chairman of Zycron; Kevin Huffman, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education; and Steve Turner, co-chair, CEO Champions, delved into the issues surrounding business engagement in public education. To view additional pictures from the event, click here.