State-based Business Campaigns
The BRT claimed that the state-based campaign taught them that if business speaks with one voice it has more influence; that it is important to forge alliances with state political leaders; that business expertise can be used strategically to improve schools; that public opinion research can be used strategically to stimulate reform; and that as “major employers and community leaders, CEOs are forceful, credible advocates of reform positions and can influence candidates and elected/appointed officials’ views on key education issues”.
The BRT put out a guide to business people in 1998 about how to build public support for “tests that count”, that is, difficult tests aligned to state-based curriculum standards. It explained that first they had to persuade state policymakers to adopt standardised tests. This might involve surveying candidate commitment to this goal during election years; testifying at hearings; and regularly meeting with legislators to reinforce the business community agenda.
The BRT was joined by the National Alliance of Business (NAB), and together they formed the Business Coalition for Education Reform (BCER), which coordinated “a network of more than 500 state and local business-led” education coalitions around the nation in the campaign for standardised testing, school-to-career initiatives, business-style management of schools, and the use of school transcripts by employers in hiring.
The NAB had been formed by Henry Ford II in 1968 with the help of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Its membership included 5000 businesses and by the 1980s its focus was on school ‘reforms’. It managed the state and local business coalitions and convened the Business Coalition for Education Reform (BCER) and the Business Coalition for Excellence in Education (BCEE).
The BRT and the NAB played a key role in “developing and expanding” state and local business coalitions. Rust, who as we saw earlier was active in both coalitions, wrote:
By mixing agitation with collaboration and patience with urgency, these groups are accomplishing more than any single company alone could have… Roundtable companies are at the forefront of a national effort by businesses to stimulate academic progress by aligning their hiring, philanthropic and site location practices with our education reform agenda.
NAB also led a nationwide campaign by business groups, “Making Academics Count” aimed at ensuring that employers, large and small, use student assessment records when they hire workers. This was another way to make sure performance in standardised tests had a consequence for students.
State-based public relations campaigns were also run. For example, the Maryland Business Roundtable “recruited, organized and trained a 45-member Speakers Bureau “to enable them to spread the message about the value of standards and testing with the help of a video and brochure.” In Washington state MacDonald’s put sample test questions on place mats designed to promote standardised testing.
Companies also targeted their own employees with ‘brown bag lunches’ and talks. Ashlands set up exhibits at two of its Kentucky plants which employees could look at during their breaks. It even set up a classroom on one site, complete with children and teachers from a local school doing their actual school work.
In Washington State, the Partnership for Learning (formed in 1995) underwrote a video and handbook and other materials aimed at firstly persuading “opinion leaders, community movers and shakers, editorial writers, and chambers of commerce”, and then parents, of the value of standardised testing. Funding came from Washington-based businesses such as Boeing, Microsoft, Washington Mutual and Weyerhaeuser. The Partnership also ran public relations workshops for businessmen, PTA leaders, and school district PR managers on how best to express the message when dealing with media, community groups and other audiences.