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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

A New Way Forward

February 06, 2014

In the face of rising global competition, America’s economic future will increasingly depend on our ability to improve educational outcomes for all students in our nation’s public schools. America’s businesses have a big stake in helping to achieve this and ensuring every student graduates ready to succeed in the working world. Recognizing this interest and the huge challenges ahead, we believe the time is now to foster new types of partnerships and collaborations between and among educators and business.

Last November, I participated in the “Business and Education Leaders Together: Accelerating Opportunity for America’s Students” conference in Boston.  Since then, the Gates Foundation has worked with Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group to complete a study, Lasting Impact: A Business Leader’s Playbook for supporting America’s Schools, detailing the present state of play in Business-Education partnerships. We’ve also collaborated to outline strategies for deeper engagement going forward.

Our findings indicate that there is still much work to be done. Up until now, businesses have largely focused on short-term initiatives like monetary donations – $3-4 billion per year – and volunteering, which are valuable but don’t provide long-term solutions. Similarly, educators have not traditionally seen businesses as long-term partners. Our findings show that collective interests are best served by cultivating a deeper partnership between businesses and educators going forward. Through collaboration, educators can help guide businesses toward contributions that address the major challenges facing our public schools, translating to improved student performance in the classroom and beyond.

Specifically, engaging teachers in a dialogue about how their talents can be maximized and what tools they need to help students excel is a key (and sometimes underappreciated) element of improving education. In speaking with my daughter, a teacher herself, I have found that almost every time the conversation turns towards education, I am left with a better understanding of just what teachers face in the classroom on a daily basis. Nobody knows her classroom like she does, and sharing that insight with businesses will only make them more effective in their support.

Realizing an improved model for businesses to partner with educators is not a simple task, but it is a worthy one. In our view, as long as business leaders take the time to learn the unique challenges educators face in schools and classrooms, the ability of businesses to offer valuable connections, along with their expertise in taking successful pilot programs to scale and experience adapting to a changing landscape, can make them great partners to support the improvement of public education in America.

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