How Corporations can help Public Education

Before speaking to the Chicago City Club (the movers and shakers), CTU (Chicago Teachers Union) President Karen Lewis was asked: “Instead of corporate meddling, would you prefer that corporations sit on the sidelines and not try to help our schools get better?”

Karen replied with these words:  “I don’t think they should sit on the sidelines. I think they should do what they do when they give money to the Lyric Opera. I don’t believe they go to the Lyric Opera, give money and then go tell the singers how to sing. I don’t believe they do that. So give your money –where’s Andrew Carnegie when you need him?– give your money and walk away, Buddies. Ya know, just leave it alone. When you don’t know something, don’t dilettante your way into it.”

Right on.  It reminded me of a meeting I spoke at maybe 20 years ago with several business leaders in NYC.  When asked what I thought business could do for pubic education, I replied.  “Pay their taxes.”

That’s the short answer, even though I appreciated many small and a few big Foundation grants that helped “us” in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  They came with some strings, but we found enough generous wealthy people to help us experiment with new ideas:  teacher centers throughout the city for generating ideas and spreading good practice, school community service when it was a new idea, visits to college campuses when it an seemed absurd luxury for East Harlem 7th-11th graders, subsidizing staff retreats, making it possible for teams of teachers and parents to go to interesting conferences together, paying a researcher to do a 5 and then 10 year follow-up study of our graduates, etc.  Not to mention Annenberg’s huge grant to experiment with a form of decentralization tied to accountability—which a new chancellor then turned down.

But 99% of our funds came from tax payers’ dollars.  And should.  And if rich people individuals and corporations would pay their fair taxes we could survive with less foundation-directed “experiments” and more experimentation that comes from the “bottom”—from parents and teachers designing and implementing the ideas that engage their minds and energies, with only broad public oversight with regards to financial responsibility, the promotion of greater equity and health and safety.

For Karen Lewis’ whole speech

2 Responses

  1. Hmmm. DId you write this? Let’s co-author?

    • Lisa thank you for your input, as I am always eonguraced when I learn that educators are reading my blog. And you couldn’t be more correct that it is not a cost-saving measure to blow initial or triennial evaluations deadlines, not just because of potential litigation, but because of the likelihood that the costs of services increases for students who have not received early or proper intervention. I do have to take issue, however, with your referring to those who have IEPs as the lucky few. I have yet to meet a parent whose dream for their child was to have them labeled as a student requiring special education; in fact, the reverse is usually true. And while you’re right that parents of children with special needs need to recognize, just as do parents of children without special needs, that there are priorities that a school district must make and they can not meet all of the students’ needs all of the time, I have to say that most of the parents I encounter aren’t looking for Cadillacs, but rather Chevy’s with an engine. It’s also hard for many of my clients to understand why their kids are being denied the most basic of services (e.g. speech and language support for a child who clearly needs it) when the district is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a football program, for example. I always encourage my clients to place their disputes in perspective (see my blogs on Seeing the Forest for the Trees, etc.), but I wonder how the parents of regular education students would react if they were continually faced with comments like we only have to give your child a basic education or we aren’t required to provide the best, only an appropriate program. Usually parents with children with IEPs hear that as they pass under a sign emblazoned on the wall of the building stating that the mission statement of the school is to provide the best program designed to maximize the potential of their students but apparently only for those without IEPs.Sorry, I went off a bit there, but I hope that you can see my point. I do genuinely appreciate yours, and that you’re following. Best, Jen

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