In December 1998, the California Manufacturers Association, along with other major businesses and business associations, announced the creation of a new business organization, California Business for Education Excellence (CBEE). CBEE is dedicated to restoring excellence to California public education. Business leaders recognize that a quality public education system is the cornerstone of a sound society and a dynamic economy. They know that the vitality of our economy depends on an educated workforce - workers with basic skills who can think critically and find creative approaches to solving problems. California business established CBEE because our schools arenšt doing their job. They aren't producing high school graduates with the skills necessary to succeed on the job, in college or in life.

Business engagement in education issues is not new. California business has been involved as a "limited partner" in education since the founding of the first public school in Sacramento last century. Businesses have donated time, equipment and money to a myriad of local school improvement programs. Over the years business has supported countless state and local school facilities bonds. And business has supported a litany of education reforms that educators and politicians promised would improve school performance, only to see California schools continue to slide to the bottom of national performance rankings.

CBEE's founders believe it's time for business to become a full partner in the business of public education. Through CBEE, the business community now has a full-time presence in Sacramento - influencing the decisions that matter in education.

CBEE seeks to replicate the success of business education coalitions nationally and in other states. Achieve Inc., a national coalition of corporate CEOs and governors (Governor Gray Davis serves on Achieve's Board of Directors), launched a national debate on standards-based education reform. Business coalitions in Texas, Washington and other states are credited with driving the reforms that have produced dramatic improvement in student performance in those states. CBEE's founders believe that a similar effort by businesses in California can produce major improvement in student and system performance.

The most recent results for California from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests (given every two years to fourth, eighth and 12th - grade students) should give every California business reason to become far more involved in education policy and management issues. Twenty-seven states had better performance on the fourth grade NAEP reading test than California. And California fourth graders have made no improvement on the NAEP reading test since it was last administered in 1992. Twenty-two states have better eighth grade NAEP reading scores than California students. (See the report of the National Education Goals Panel for details.)

California schools are not adequately preparing students for college. In mathematics, the California State University draws from the top 30 percent of high school graduates yet 54 percent of those students must take remedial math courses, a deficiency that should have been detected and addressed prior to high school graduation. California businesses created CBEE to address the policy and management issues in education that will mitigate this dismal performance.

CBEE is focused on four major issues that we believe hold the greatest potential for improving student achievement. CBEE is working to:

• Reinforce California's academic content standards;

• Improve California's measurement of student achievement;

• Ensure accountability of students, teachers, administrators and policy makers; and

• Increase competition within the public school environment.

CBEE's rookie year was busy and productive on each of these fronts. We discovered and exposed an effort to undermine California's rigorous academic content standards. We ended a decades-long feud by forging a consensus on the design of the state's student assessment system. Because of that agreement California is finally building a logical assessment system, the Standardized Testing and Assessmemt Reporting (STAR) program, that provides consistent data about individual student performance that teachers and administrators can use to improve performance and accountability. We began work on a master plan for K-12 education that will align management responsibility with authority to bring real accountability to public education. Finally, we defeated legislation that would have stunted the growth of charter schools.

In 1999 CBEE clearly established itself as a force on education issues with its work on STAR, its fight in the Legislature to protect charter schools, and its exposure of an effort to undermine our newly adopted standards.

CBEE and the business community face more challenges in 2000 and beyond. Implementation of a new high school exit examination is fraught with numerous technical, financial and legal difficulties and countless opportunities for bureaucratic delay, obstruction and dilution. Charter school opponents will undoubtedly renew their assault on the only real competitive challenge to traditional schools. CBEE and other business interests are supporting Proposition 26 on the March ballot, a controversial proposal to increase investment in school facilities. The state Board of Education meets monthly to act on education policy questions. State legislators will introduce hundreds of new bills that must be analyzed and acted upon. And CBEE will convene several gatherings of state officials, educators and business leaders to build consensus on key education issues.

In February, CBEE will host a retreat for members of the Legislature's Joint Committee on the Master Plan for Education ­ Kindergarten through University. We have invited the 18 legislators on the committee, administration officials, educators and business leaders to a day-and-a-half discussion on the future of public education. We hope the gathering will produce consensus on an action plan focused on education's core issues: meeting our state standards, measuring results, increasing accountability and promoting innovation through competition.

You can learn more about CBEE and communicate with our members and staff through our Website.

© 2000 California Manufacturers and Technology Association