Skip to Content

### Revitalizing Education for Business Leaders

In 1988, the book Winning the Brain Race: A Bold Plan to Make Our Schools Competitive was co-authored by Xerox CEO David Kearns. Kearns later served as the deputy secretary of education under President George H. W. Bush. Following this, IBM CEO Lou Gerstner co-authored Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America’s Public Schools in 1991, summarizing innovative programs from schools receiving grants from RJR Nabisco. In 1996, Gerstner hosted the National Governor’s Association (NGA) at IBM’s New York headquarters for an education summit, leading to the formation of Achieve, a reform project co-chaired by Gerstner until 2002. Subsequently, in 2003, Gerstner founded and chaired the Teaching Commission, which published the report Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action.

Looking back from 2024, the involvement of CEOs like Gerstner and Kearns in national K–12 education reform seems like a distant memory. While some current CEOs like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase advocate for career readiness, overall corporate leadership in addressing the challenges of public schools has waned.

The importance of addressing K–12 education challenges remains as critical today as it was four decades ago. However, the engagement of corporate leaders in this area has decreased significantly, leading to a noticeable absence in tackling the persistent issues within the public school system.

In the past, prominent business figures actively participated in education reform efforts, influencing policy changes and driving improvements in public schools. However, the level of involvement from the business community has diminished over time, with various factors contributing to this decline.

The shift in focus among business leaders towards less controversial aspects of education, such as tech-enabled innovations, vocational programs, and career pathways, has diverted attention from the core challenges faced by K–12 education. While these initiatives are valuable, the lack of direct engagement from corporate leaders in addressing systemic issues poses a risk to sustained improvement in public schools.

The dwindling bipartisan support for education policy and the increasing polarization around educational issues have further dissuaded business leaders from active involvement in K–12 education reform. This lack of consensus and the divisive nature of current educational debates have created barriers for businesses to engage meaningfully in shaping education policy.

Despite the challenges, there is a growing need for business leaders to re-engage at both national and local levels to prioritize K–12 education and prevent regression in the progress made over the years. By collaborating with educators, policymakers, and community stakeholders, corporate executives can play a crucial role in advocating for effective education policies and programs that benefit students and the economy.

In conclusion, the re-involvement of business leaders in K–12 education is essential to address the pressing challenges facing public schools and ensure the long-term success of students and the economy. By actively participating in education policy discussions and supporting initiatives that drive positive change, corporate executives can make a significant impact on the future of education in the United States.