The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has release a series of “School Board Case Studies.” Lead author Andrew Rotherham finds that businesses, and others, typically overlook the “central importance of local decisions and implementation to lasting education reform.” As Heartlander Magazine reports:

While there are more than 13,000 school districts in the country that hire, train, and fire teachers, oversee billions of taxpayer dollars, negotiate with teachers unions, and set many school policies, most voters do not even know their school board members’ names or when to vote for them, the report says.

“Right now, school board elections are fundamentally undemocratic,” Rotherham said. “We hold them at offbeat times, they are very low turnout and special interest groups can dominate. We are proponents of opening that up. Having lots of groups engaged is a core tenet of democracy.”

Businesses and anyone interested in helping improve student learning should attend to local school boards, the report says.

“We want to engage the people who create jobs in communities in creating better schools, as is their right and responsibility,” [former U.S. Education Secretary and a senior adviser to the U.S. Chamber, Margaret] Spellings said. “We’re trying to recognize the important role local governments play in policy issues and engage the business community in those debates.”

Other experts agreed. Heartlander Magazine continues noting:

Businesses have influenced U.S. education for centuries, said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. But for the past half-century, he said, business influence in education reform has “tended to be patty cake,” focusing on increasing school budgets and “simpleminded embraces of the fad of the moment.”

It’s more difficult for businesses to sustain involvement in education because they have many other competing interests, such as tax policies, shareholder desires, and the vagaries of the market, he said.

To avoid wasting time and money and ensure substantive impact, Hess said, businesses should bond together.

“If you dabble around the edges or come in and out, you will be crushed by the permanent interests like the union,” Hess said. “You have got to be a serious player who stays at the table.”

That’s a Good lesson for National Small Business Week.