Harvard study highlights business, education 'game changer'

September 28, 2015
Author: Nick Morrison

A new study by Harvard academics shows how business helps itself by helping disadvantaged students.

The Harvard Business School report looks into a series of projects across the U.S. that have aimed to raise achievement among students from poor backgrounds.

And it concludes that business participation in education leads to significant gains in student outcomes, with a corresponding advantage to business through the ability and knowledge of school leavers.

The study looked at a raft of collective impact projects, which bring together community leaders, parent organizations, government, nonprofits and business. And it found they had the potential to transform education.

Collective impact gave businesses the opportunity to align their efforts with other organisations and make more meaningful progress than if they acted alone, according to Allen S Grossman, report author and senior fellow at Harvard Business School. This type of intervention could have more impact than the $3-4 billion and countless volunteer hours U.S. businesses donate to public education every year.

“Collective impact has the potential to be a game changer in American education,” Grossman said.

“Despite the sustained commitment of business leaders, they are often frustrated by the slow pace of education improvement in their communities,” he added.

“We found that if businesses join forces with others through collective impact, they can align and coordinate their efforts and together make more meaningful progress in improving students’ performance.”

One of the characteristics of collective impact projects is that they focus on specific goals. By improving the quality and coverage of services, identifying best practice and measuring results, the initiative aims to bring about sustained improvement.

Examples of collective impact in action include refitting a school bus into a mobile preschool, to deliver high-quality programs to rural neighbourhoods in Colorado. And collective impact projects have shown impressive gains in areas including Cincinnati, Ohio, the Salt Lake City region, Dallas, Texas, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the Roaring Fork Valley in Colorado.

In Dallas, students recorded improvements in seven out of 11 key indicators following collective impact, while in Milwaukee there were gains in 10 out of 11 key indicators.

In the Salt Lake City region, collective impact projects included using data to improve teaching, aligning after-school programs with the classroom curriculum and using volunteers in credit recovery classes. In two years, kindergarten readiness jumped from 54% to 61% across the four schools, third grade reading proficiency went from 60% to 65% and high school graduation rose from 68% to 70%. Significantly, graduation rates among English language learners leapt, from 41% to 53%.

Other participants in collective impact projects were overwhelmingly positive about business involvement. A survey carried out as part of the study found that 96% of all project leaders said business involvement was either critical or very important to the success of the scheme.