In a 1970 article entitled “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits,” economist Milton Friedman famously argued that a business exists for one purpose: to maximize returns for its shareholders. If shareholders want their money to go to social causes, he said, they’re perfectly capable of making that decision themselves, and the businesses they invested in have no right to make that decision for them – it simply isn’t what a business is set up to do.
Given this line of thinking (which remains widely held even today), many people assume that business’ interest in education is simply one more case of companies looking for new markets to conquer.
But is it really that simple?
Certainly there are companies that sell to the school market, and companies that want to manage schools. But they represent only a small segment of the total business community. The profit motive of this small group of companies doesn’t explain why businesses in almost every industry contribute billions each year to support education, nor does it explain the widespread political support that NCLB, vouchers, and other reform tools receive from businesses that have no interest in running schools.
Rather, it is the widely acknowledged crisis in public education that drives the business community – which is essentially both an investor in, and customer of, our schools – to see involvement as an imperative, literally something that must be done to ensure its own future. They see involvement in public education as an investment in the short- and long-term health of their companies, and in the continued strength of the markets they serve.
They look for the following returns on their investment in education:
- Workforce development – Employers are already complaining about their inability to find qualified workers in nearly every industry, and projections show this shortage