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U.S. Chamber launching schools initiative

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By Todd Cohen

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — As director of U.S. community partnerships at GlaxoSmithKline in Research Triangle Park, Bill Shore oversees the giant drugmaker’s corporate giving, which focuses mainly on support for improving public education in kindergarten through high school on the local, state and national levels.

Based on his work at GSK, Shore helped develop and now is heading a new initiative that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching to promote communication, coordination and collaboration among business and education leaders to help make the U.S. education system more competitive.

“Support for K-12 education has been our number one priority and, I think, the number one priority of almost every major company in America,” says Shore, chair of the new Business Education Network.

A program that the Center for Corporate Citizenship of the U.S. Chamber will launch at a summit Oct. 5-7 in Washington, D.C., the new network aims to enroll 100 to 200 top U.S. business leaders in its first six months, says Stephen Jordan, vice president and executive director of the center.

While U.S. companies spend an estimated $3 billion a year on K-12 education, that spending is not coordinated, and companies are not sharing “best practices” from their efforts, Jordan says.

In addition to tapping business leadership to boost K-12 education, he says, the new network can help a larger effort by the U.S. Chamber to repair ties between business and society that have been eroded by recent corporate scandals.

“Business-society relations can have a huge impact on business performance,” he says. “The center is trying to rebuild some of that good ill.”

The center on Sept. 29 will release the second survey on business attitudes about social issues and social responsibility that it has undertaken in partnership with the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College.

While the first survey two years ago found education was the top issue U.S. companies supported and believed they could influence the most, Jordan says, it ranked only fourth – after health care, security, and energy and the environment — as the factor they believed would most affect their long-term competitiveness.

Concerned about the gap between corporate perceptions about what shapes competitiveness and the fact that the U.S. ranks 18th in the world in math and science education, Jordan says, he and Shore decided to push to better connect business and education leaders.

The network grew out of a working group, headed by Shore, that included corporate giving and community relations officials from big U.S. firms.

Booz Allen Hamilton has developed an information portal that will feature best practices for corporate support for K-12 education, and will host discussion groups and highlight existing business-education partnerships.

At the Business Education Network Summit, Bob Ingram, vice chairman of U.S. pharmaceuticals for GSK, will present an award to former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt honoring his leadership in education.

Shore says the network, which includes Raleigh-based Progress Energy as a member, aims to improve education by helping business leaders and educators work together and learn from one another.

“We’re not educators,” he says. “We don’t pretend to be. But in an environment where we are the ones providing jobs, it’s important for us to let educators know what kinds of skills are going to be required to be successful in the future, in all kinds of industries. And to do that, you have to have a good, solid relationship.”

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