Taking Care of Business

This week ‘s media face-off  between education historian Diane Ravitch and Microsoft’s Bill Gates reminds me of how far we still have to go to bridge the gap between ECE and business.   Ravitch, long-time champion of accountability and school choice, has lately switched gears, taking to task the Obama administration, Bloomberg and Joel Klein in NYC, and the “Billionaire Boys’ Club,” including Gates and Eli Broad, for their support of misguided and harmful education reform initiatives.  [Note: Bridging Differences, her weekly thrust and parry with education reformer Deborah Meier, is a fascinating look into the minds and hearts of two grandes dames of education.]

Business support of education reform has a long, interesting history.  Just a few, quick highlights: A Gates precursor, Louis Gerstner, CEO of IBM through the ‘90s, hosted a number of national education summits, and penned his own manifesto, Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America’s Public Schools.  David Lawrence Jr., former publisher of The Miami Herald, has been a major force in his home state, where he heads up The Children’s Movement of Florida, and has chaired the Florida Partnership for School Readiness.  George Kaiser has focused on young children in poverty, supporting Tulsa Educare  in Oklahoma, which has ranked first in the nation, since 2003-2004, for serving the highest percentage of four-year-olds in state preschool.  Robert Dugger, of the Hanover Investment Group, founded the Partnership for America’s Economic Success, where he chairs the Invest in Kids Working Group, and has been active in early childhood initiatives in Virginia.

I have to confess that I’ve long been envious of other states and their ECE business advocates.  New York’s history of engaging the business community has been sketchy, at best.  Our own “billionaire boy,” Bloomberg, hasn’t paid much attention to the earlier part of the education spectrum, in keeping with his peers on the other side of the country, Broad and Gates, whose initiatives have focused on teacher quality, building system capacity, enhancing college readiness through technology, and the creation of small high schools

Recently, however, New York’s made some progress.  Winning Beginning New York, the Committee for Economic Development, United Way of New York State, and America’s Edge, have all gotten together to produce “It’s Our Business: Why New York State Business Leaders Support Early Childhood Education,” in which business leaders make the case that investing in early childhood produces short- and long-term economic benefits for the state’s children, families, and future workforce. 

Kudos to all.  It’s a good start.  Listen up Andrew Cuomo, Mike Bloomberg, and Cathie Black.


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