Campus & Community

Harvard Launches New Program on Business, Government and Education

3 min read

Will the expanding role of business in American education improve the nation’s schools? Where can the private sector’s strong suits – cost-consciousness, flexibility, and a focus on results – be enlisted to boost the performance of the education system? And when is business involvement with schools risky – or incompatible with the goal of quality education for all?

A new program at Harvard – the David T. Kearns Program on Business, Government, and Education – has been established to offer a balanced look at the corporate role in education reform and the impact of private companies on education. Kearns is a former CEO of Xerox Corporation who served as Deputy Secretary of Education in the Bush Administration. He later taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), where he remains an adviser to Dean Jerome T. Murphy.

The Kearns Program will bring together the expertise to examine the pros and cons of involving business enterprise in the education system. Housed at the Kennedy School’s Center for Business and Government, the program will involve faculty from the Kennedy School, the Graduate School of Education, and other parts of Harvard. John D. Donahue, the Raymond Vernon Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School, will serve as faculty chair.

Dean Joseph S. Nye Jr. of the Kennedy School and Dean Jerome T. Murphy of the Graduate School of Education, along with Roger B. Porter, who heads the Center for Business and Government, are guiding the formation of a scholarly advisory board to frame the program’s agenda.

“The contributions David Kearns has made to both business and education are extraordinary,” said Nye. “His accomplishments as deputy secretary of education, CEO of Xerox, and vice president at IBM have shaped both education and business as we know them today. It is most appropriate that he is the namesake of this new program and we are grateful and honored to have David Kearns’ support in this endeavor.”

“With the new shifts in the economy, education has become a central concern for the nation,” said Murphy. “American education is undergoing enormous changes and the business community has played a key role in shaping new directions, from the introduction of school choice to the raising of educational standards. Perhaps the most significant development has been the new consensus that business leaders like David Kearns helped to forge among groups that had historically pursued the goal of improving schools separately. By establishing the Kearns Program we are bringing scholarship to bear on an important development while honoring an extraordinary individual.”

Business leaders were inspired to step up their role in the nation’s schools with the release of A Nation at Risk, the report on the state of American education released in 1983 with Education Department sponsorship. In the years that followed, business leaders sponsored National Education Summits, bringing together governors, business leaders, and education professionals from all 50 states to focus on standards and assessments to guide education reform. Today, education standards are in place or under development in almost every state in the nation. At the same time, businesses have been developing new areas of the economy focused on education from distance learning initiatives to increasingly direct involvement in the public schools as suppliers, consultants, managers, and in some cases competitors.

Harvard students participating in the Kearns Program will be given a sense of the opportunities and risks posed by emerging partnerships among business, government, and education, as well as an opportunity to explore the new policy questions they raise. Through continuing research, the program hopes to bring a disinterested perspective to a discussion that is sometimes clouded by interest and ideology.