Should Corporate America Educate our Children?

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May 19, 2011; Source: | We found this brief article interesting because it should make nonprofits question their occasional forays into solipsism. Most of the debate about how to reform education involves nonprofits such as Teach for America and others that promote new educational and staffing approaches to public education, and groups such as KIPP that promote charter schools.

You would think that the future of education is a matter of a bevy of large and small nonprofits nipping at public education (and each other) to see whose visions will predominate.

This article (linked to above) points out that there is another actor of considerable magnitude in the game – private employers. Corporate America, according to this blog, “spends more on learning than the nation spends on higher education.” The author, Doug Lynch, observes, “Most people don’t know it, but more people learn at work than in the formal K-16 education system” and he cites that one of his students (at the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate School of Education) is in charge of the education of three million employees.

The difference, of course, is that a large part of corporate education, perhaps 60 percent, is remedial for employees who didn’t develop the knowledge and skill they were supposed to have gotten in their formal education years. In other words, for many who receive corporate education services, it is a “last chance” to help them become employable after failed (or having been failed) by the K-12 system. Lynch describes corporate education as “much more willing to experiment with approaches to learning, largely because the future of their business depends on it.”

He predicts that corporations might someday realize both how much they are investing in education and how creatively they are approaching the subject matter: “They may decide to get into the charter school business. One day soon KIPP's biggest ‘competitor’ might be ‘GE Schools.’ Fordism may rise again within our schools, and I'm not sure it will be a bad thing.”—Rick Cohen

  • C.T. Lytle

    Having the perspective of being an outsider (not from education) yet working for an education reform organization, I am delighted to see the corporate community getting some attention for the largely unrecognized role they play in educaiton, however reluctantly and unfortunately. They really have little choice given their need for a competent work force and the inability of the public system to adopt systemic improvement. On the whole, despite the success of many nonprofit reform models, given the enormity of the system, the corporate community may represent the only sector with sufficient size and muscle to pose a credible challenge to a politically driven public system that can not heal itself. While job skills are far from a well rounded education, they are at least providing the basics, which is more than can be said for many of our schools. If the corporate community finally concludes that helping to “reform” the current system is futile, they may come to fully embrace their new role as educators, and real change may be possible.