Corporate Efforts to Improve Education: Getting Off on the Right Foot

Many corporations want to help improve education.  Common wisdom tells us that publicly-funded education has many urgent needs, and the private sector has many valuable resources. What do corporations and their education partners need to do from the outset to craft the most productive partnerships?

IRRE has identified five attributes that, when adopted by corporate and other philanthropic partners seeking to improve education quality, produce greater impact.

1. Be humble

Don’t lock in your initial thinking about:

  • what the most urgent needs are
  • what your or your education partners’ roles are in meeting these needs
  • how much time, money or political capital it’s going to take to make an impact

2. Be curious

Seek out credible information on how well schools, districts or state education systems are functioning to identify the most important needs.

Find out what it’s going to take to meet those needs – find a plausible narrative -- from folks with experience and from research when it’s available.   

3. Be rigorous

Early on, establish agreement on metrics for the long-term goal(s) you and your partners choose and for early and intermediate markers as well.

4. Be honest

Make sure everyone involved truly believes that the people, time, money and political capital available are sufficient to make meaningful progress toward your goal(s).

5. Be prudent

If sufficient resources aren’t there, lower your sights, extend your timeline and/or narrow your focus.  Failed initiatives due to poor planning don’t teach us much.

Final Thoughts

Many collaborations between corporate investors and education partners have critical design flaws from the outset.  Quite often, absence of one or more of these five attributes helped create those flaws.  When both partners—corporate and educational —are guided by these attributes, the likelihood of success increases dramatically. 

Visit our website for new articles as we examine these issues in greater depth using examples from our own and others’ experience.


IRRE works with public and private investors in education to create effective quality improvement initiatives.  We guide our partners through an efficient and thorough process that encourages and helps achieve the attributes discussed in this article.   Contact us at 737-557-0200. Follow us on Twitter (@InstResReform) and Facebook (IRREdu).