Business and Community Leaders Champion Education Reform

For Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller, last week’s “Education and the Economy” tour took him to Cleveland and Chicago, where he spoke with a diverse group of business, community and education leaders.

In Cleveland on Thursday, Sept. 8, Miller met with leaders representing small businesses, large corporations, young professional organizations, community colleges, and the workforce development sector, in a White House Business Council roundtable hosted by the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

These business owners and corporate officers see education reform as central to their vision for job creation and growth in Northeast Ohio, and to ensuring that U.S. companies can compete in today’s global economy. “This active and engaged group of champions demonstrates the impact of strong partnerships between the business, and foundation and education sectors,” Miller remarked.

The discussion covered a range of issues, from the importance of raising standards and expectations at the state and local levels, and helping all children achieve, to the need to equip students with the skills they’ll need to join the 21st century workforce, including helping students engage and excel in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Participants pointed out that America’s increasingly diverse student population means an increasingly diverse workforce, and underscored the need for schools to help English Language Learners and other diverse learners succeed, from cradle to college and career.

The meeting also saw the release of new findings from Cleveland’s Breakthrough Schools, a network of high-performing, free, public charter schools aimed at providing all students in Cleveland’s under-served neighborhoods with access to an outstanding college preparatory education. In five years’ time, from 2006-2011, the number of Cleveland-area children in high-performing schools has nearly tripled.  “You’re showing the art of what is possible, when the business community becomes a factor in working to increase student achievement,” Miller said.

Miller speaking in Chicago as part of ED's back-to-school tour

The group also discussed Department of Education initiatives aimed at sparking innovation and scaling up what works, like the Promise Neighborhoods and Investing in Innovation (i3) programs, and how these align with the business community’s interest in comprehensive reform, and helping communities take ownership for raising student outcomes. The group applauded the trend toward ensuring that reform efforts include standards to measure progress, and use data to drive continuous improvement.

The Deputy Secretary noted, “We’re seeing tangible results, and showing how sustained engagement from the business community can overcome poverty and other barriers. Your ongoing commitment is helping to produce positive, systemic change for the children in your communities.”

Chicago is another metropolitan area where business leaders and philanthropists are stepping up to support the community’s students, who will one day become its workforce. On Friday, Sept. 9, Miller joined Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to celebrate a major announcement from United Way of Metropolitan Chicago (UWMC).

In a breakfast event attended by several hundred business and community leaders, UWMC announced its goal to help 50,000 Chicago-area students graduate from high school over the next 10 years. Its initial investment of $9.3 million will go toward supporting early childhood education and middle school transition into high school, in collaboration with 48 non-profit partners.

Miller cited statistics from the Alliance for Excellent Education about the economic impact of reducing Chicagoland’s dropout rate. If the area were able to cut its dropout rate in half, those new graduates, collectively, would earn as much as $227 million more in an average year, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars more in increased home sales, vehicle purchases, economic growth and tax revenue.

As they say in business, that’s a healthy return on investment.

Melissa Apostolides
Office of Communications and Outreach