During the 1980s and into the 1990s business in the United States has become increasingly involved in education reform. The Business Roundtable (BRT), a major actor in all 50 states, is dominated by white males, raising a number of issues related to the new politics of race and gender. Three issues are raised: the nature of business-related school and education reform contexts; political processes at the national, state, and local levels central to polities of the BRT and other formal and informal business groups; and future trends in business involvement in education reform. The evidence brought to bear on these issues consists of reports and newsletters published by the BRT and other business-dominated organizations. Overwhelmingly, business interest and involvement in education reform have been compelled by narrow business self interest, contradictory to the interests of women, people of color, and children and often at odds with business labor market practices. Little optimism for future business-led efforts to generate structural change in education can be expected unless these efforts become more collaborative with previously excluded constituencies.
The decade of the 1980s witnessed the development of highly visible and well organized business involvement in the schools of the United States that continues into the 1990s. Several formally constituted organizations of corporate leaders including the Business Roundtable (BRT) focused their attention on the nation’s education problems. The BRT’S agenda targets specifically the governance and organization of schools and school systems. Organized in all the fifty states, the BRT’S membership until recently has been exclusively white and male, raising a number of issues central to the new politics of race and gender.
Although it is difficult to argue a direct causal relationship between the exclusion of particular voices and points of view and subsequent informal and formal policy emanating from the business community, we will attempt to show how outcomes in particular state and local contexts display a clear relationship to a conservative business ideology. According to Frederick Edelstein, until recently a policy analyst with the National Alliance of Business,
There has not been a wealth of involvement in education by black business leadership (at least by the Black Business Council) nor by the National Association of Women Business Owners nor the us Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, (personal communication 1992)
Edelstein explains this lack of participation as a function of ‘individual interest’ rather than exclusion by white male corporate leaders: ‘Involvement is more a function of interest in an issue, concern, understanding and knowledge of what one can do and be effective’. This explanation ignores the important gatekeeping function of traditional power brokers. We argue that in the face of the prevailing business school reform ideology of the 1980s display of ‘interest’ by itself is insufficient for most members of marginalized groups to gain seats around the table.