BIG business is actively prodding and supporting the effort to improve schools in the United States. The quality of the work force depends on the quality of schools and large corporations are the greatest consumer of the education product - graduates. Partnerships between business and education have been around for decades, but the upward trend is significant. From 1983 to 1988, collaborations grew from 42,000 to 140,000, according to the Conference Board, a business information service in New York.
``Business leaders are increasingly speaking out,'' says Frank Newman, president of the Education Commission of the States in Denver.
The Business Roundtable, a New York-based organization of chief executive officers from 200 major US corporations, dedicated its entire 1989 annual meeting to the issue of education. And the 1989 annual report of the Conference Board focused on education.
Countless conferences and reports on education have been sponsored and funded by corporations.
Businesses are offering financial, analytical, practical, and managerial aid to schools in every state. ``I think the big role for business - particularly in this new wave [of reform] - is to ask very hard questions,'' Mr. Newman says. The business community has the political clout to speak out for disadvantaged families who may remain silent, he says. ``Business has a long-term interest in the outcome of all this. They are empowered in the public eye by the fact that they are the receiver of these graduates.''
But ``it's a slow process,'' says Richard W. Anthony of the Business Roundtable. Participating corporate leaders have committed their corporations to a 10-year effort, he says. While business can make a difference, nobody is claiming that business is the cure-all for education's woes.
``We think we can make a contribution,'' Mr. Anthony says. ``We don't think we're the white knight galloping up to save the day.''