The Business Roundtable:  The Plan to Change Public Education

By Mary McGarr

 June 22, 2006 (updated from time to time since)

The Business Roundtable was created in 1972 by a handful of businessmen’s groups who thought that big business should have a role in the development of public policy. According to the “History” on their web site (, they wanted an “organization where the CEOs of leading enterprises would get together, study issues, try to develop a consensus, formulate positions and advocate those views.”

These are laudable sounding goals and a move that was certainly inevitable considering the financial aspirations and desires of a conglomerate of business interests.

Much that the Business Roundtable does is worthy. The CEOs let no grass grow under their feet as they became involved with governmental activity. Believing in the free enterprise system, as I do, I cannot fault them for organizing and inserting themselves into the process of developing policies of our government.

What I can fault them for is the extreme measures to which they have gone to control public policy, especially with regard to education.

It’s difficult to determine what came first: bad schools or education reform. In my mind, they pretty much go hand in hand. And for certain, education reform continues to create "bad schools"!

As I have stated many times, the education that was being delivered in public schools across America up until 1975 in most places and as late as 1980 in others, was the finest that had ever been conceived and maintained in any country in the world. Our educational system placed America at the forefront in every educational, technological, economic, and military effort on a worldwide basis. America was nonpareil in the world. The educational background for our country's people as a whole, made America NUMBER ONE in almost every arena that one can contemplate. That "American Exceptionalism" that some like to reference would have gone nowhere without American citizens educated in American public schools!

So what happened that made corporate moguls decide to interfere with that almost perfect public school system?

First, what most people understood in the 1970’s was that minority schools in America were operating at a level much below mainstream suburban white schools. For the sake of political correctness, no one would speak out loud about the differences and their causes.

In order to bring the minority schools up to par, they could not be singled out, so the effort to change things for the minorities had to be disguised in a universal effort so as to avoid charges of discrimination.

The silliness and absurdity of the approach is legend.

In our area of the country the first thing that was tried was to place white teachers in minority schools and minority teachers in white schools. The effort was made to make this change in most large urban school districts all over America. In the Houston ISD, the effort was a big joke. Instead of also moving administrators, the administrators stayed in place, the policies and practices of the minority schools remained the same,  so the experiment was a big waste of time and money. Everyone was angry, turf was violated, nothing changed, and the students in all of the schools were the losers. The decision to move the teachers to accomplish parity in and of itself was biased and discriminatory.

I know about these matters because I was a “cross-over” teacher in 1970 when the program was started. I taught for two years at Booker T. Washington in Houston ISD. While I adored my students--children are children no matter where you find them--the administrators at that school were the pits. The racial and ethnic prejudice I witnessed not only toward all of us who were white but also toward all the minority students was more than incredible. And yes, someone of the same race can be prejudiced against a member of their own race. I saw it every day at Washington High School!

So that experiment as well as magnet schools, busing, and all the other things that were tried, served no valid purpose because in the forty-six years since, nothing has changed for minority students. When those students have wise parents, they move them out of schools that don’t work and into parochial schools, charter schools, home schools, or some suburban neighborhood schools. The problem is getting minority students that “equal” opportunity for a formal education. Too often many of those suburban schools fare no better than the inner-city schools with regard to educating minorities. Katy schools are among such schools.

I really would like to believe that the Business Roundtable leaders wished to improve and reform public education for all students, and if one reads their propaganda, he will surely believe that their intent was sincere. But knowing what I know after many years of reading, observation, and discussion, I cannot believe that “education reform” a la the Business Roundtable is anything but a sham and a scam. Their motives are spurious and deceitful. The intent of the BRT has NOT been to make education better; it has been instead an attempt to dumb down ALL students so that the big businesses can have a ready pool of semi-skilled compliant, malleable, unquestioning workers to do their bidding. They care nothing about the plight of minority students or any other students.

Such a disservice to American children deserves to be exposed.

When I became aware of this group, I wrote to them and asked for their brochures that they ordinarily sent to corporations regarding education reform. They did not realize my intents and purposes, and so they sent them. I told my education cohorts about the brochures, and they also asked for copies. When the BRT realized what we were about, they stopped sending them to the public. Such a move certainly raised my suspicions, because as far as I am concerned, if one is doing what’s ethically right, one does not try to hide it.

The brochures that they sent included: A New Architecture for Education Reform; Agents of Change; A Business Leader’s Guide to Setting Academic Standards; The Essential Components of a Successful Education System; and Continuing the Commitment.

A New Architecture for Education Reform was a 1994 Report to the Public on the Business Roundtable’s National Education Reform Initiative. The report was prepared by Paul T. Hill, Kelly E. Warner, The RAND Institute for Education and Training, and The University of Washington Institute for Public Policy and Management. There is no copyright.

After the National Governor’s Conference in 1989 which was led by former President Bush (the older one), Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, and Governor Bill Clinton, the government sought the help of large corporate CEOs to help them “restructure” education. Perhaps I am naïve, but I try to believe that President Bush really was sincere in trying to improve the education of American students. All of these public figures had read the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk” which was prepared by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. They knew how bad many American schools were and how poor the education was that was being delivered in those schools. [After many years and much evidence, I no longer believe that the Bush Family is guiltless, innocent or without blame in the mess that is education reform. They (and I mean ALL of them) have used the idea of education reform as a platform to get ahead in politics, but they have always been insincere with the American people.

At first glance it would seem laudable that these CEOs would come to the aid of their country. However, altruism was not in their hearts, and they saw this moment as one to be seized for less than worthy purposes. These CEOs understood how America’s big businesses needed fewer, not more, truly educated people. What these big businesses DID need were people who would work for less money, be satisfied with more menial occupations, and who would not have real critical thinking skills to the point that they would question such servitude as they were being programmed to enter. These big businesses also realized that foreign students were better educated and therefore more able to achieve higher education in the areas of engineering, math and science. With their plan, they could stop sending menial tasks overseas at great inconvenience, satisfy American's desire for American made products, and skim off the intelligentsia of foreign countries bringing those citizens to be schooled in American universities and work in America instead. A definite win/win situation, as they say.

So how is such a devious plan enacted? Certainly not openly. The Rand Institute is well known for its military manipulations in times of conflict. As strategists, those at the Rand Institute were well qualified to organize a deception of the American people.

In the name of “improvement” then, this bunch set out, not to improve, but to mask an effort to diminish the quality of our public K-12 educational system.

Read that line again, because it is serious and important, and if the reader cannot grasp that, then he cannot understand the vile and ignoble direction this group has fostered.

How does one hide such an effort? Words. Words have many meanings, and in order to obscure reality, words have been given double meanings all over the place. The cunning craft of these people is unbelievable. It will take me a while to explain it all, but explain I will.

The Roundtable Task Force to change our educational system was led by the former IBM CEO John Akers. They set out to engage BRT members in every state to work for ten years (beginning in 1990) to ostensibly assure that by 2000 every state would see “more effective schools and higher student achievement.”

Their goals are all well known to the average American. We’ve had them crammed down our throats for twenty-four years: All students can learn. We know how to teach all students successfully. Curriculum content reflects high expectations for all students. Every child must have an advocate, preferably a parent. The educational system is performance-based. The system uses assessments to measure progress. Schools are rewarded for “success” and penalized for persistent or dramatic failure. The school-based staff has a major role in making instructional decisions. Major emphasis is placed on staff development. Pre-kindergarten is established especially for disadvantaged students. Health and other social services are provided to reduce significant barriers to learning. Technology is used to raise student and teacher productivity and expand access to learning. Old schools were torn down everywhere so that every school district could provide lovely buildings so students would "feel good" about themselves when they entered THEIR school.

All of these things are supposed to work together, and supposedly they must ALL be implemented to find “success.”

In order to accomplish these goals the BRT accosted every state legislature in America, found their lackeys (mostly self-centered egoists looking for fame)  and got legislation passed while no one was paying attention to what they were doing.

In Texas the lackeys were Senator Bill Ratliff, phony Republican from Mt. Pleasant and a long time Kennedy Family friend, and State Representative Paul Sadler, Democrat from Henderson. Both of these fellows answered the call and joined with our governor, George W. Bush, to implement the BRT agenda--lock, stock, and barrel.

Just to clarify the intent of this bunch, Senate Bill 1, their 1995 masterpiece of deception was touted as returning local control to individual school districts, but instead of doing that, local control was “returned” to the superintendent, not the locally elected school board members. So much for representative government at the local level! To add insult to injury, control of the budget was taken away from the school board and given to the superintendent. So the school board’s legal right to “manage and govern” the school district was changed to “govern and oversee the management of” the school district. Subtle, but ever so important.

The design of these instigators of change was to eventually place our state in such a financial mess that we would vote upon ourselves a state income tax, and when that time came, we would be so happy to do that to ourselves that we wouldn't be able to imagine why we hadn't done it sooner!

Needless to say my contempt for those members of the Business Roundtable and our governments who were and are party to this ruse knows no bounds. They all deserve to be drawn and quartered at NRG Stadium in full view of all those whom they have harmed by taking away one of their most precious rights--the right to a free, quality, academic public education.

In their brochure, The Essential Components of a Successful Education System: Putting Policy into Practice, the Business Roundtable proponents set out the strategic plan for implementing their systemic change of public education in America.

Their own words are the best source that I can provide, and I quote from this manual.

Please note as you read, what the intent is, how it will be implemented, who will be the “leaders” of the change, and the subtle way that the implication is made that this effort is to be done without public input or knowledge. Notice too that they don’t have very much to say about what is supposedly “wrong” with our educational system, but they have quite a lot to say about how they are going to implement change. Nowhere do they indicate why the change is necessary or wise--just that they are going to do it! The main thrust of their decision to invoke change is to figure out, in each of the 50 states, who the players are and how they can be used, manipulated and controlled. They even admit that they “can’t improve education” but that they “can and should define business needs…”

Such subterfuge is my main complaint.


1. The Business Roundtable's Nine Points are your product; in order to “sell” them, business must take the time to understand the marketplace.

*The marketplace is both competitive and messy. *Expect political stakeholders to add finance and governance to the mix.

2. Business can’t improve education; however, it can and should define business needs, cast issues in new ways, and support educators and political figures who can make improvements.

*Seek out a local guru to help define your agenda and political insiders to champion it.

3. Remember who needs to be involved in the change effort.  *Governors can introduce reform, but legislatures enact/fund it and educators make it work.

4. Cultural and process barriers are as critical as substantive ones. *Assume, particularly at the outset, that some key players will be suspicious--of you and of each other. *Therefore, your initial priority should be to establish trust among your partners.

5. The Nine Points are aimed at moving targets (the states).

*Merge your agenda with what people care about and what’s working --somebody owns it.

*However, enable new stakeholders to add their imprint so they don’t derail long-term change efforts.

6. Be strategic about your role.

*Business is best at advocating and supporting change.

*Business need not develop the game plan; political stakeholders, once convinced of the need and their ability to act, can craft the winning strategies.

7. Business should try to speak with one voice on education issues.

*Your lobbyists can help forge unity by making the political environment user friendly--involve them.

8. Political --and business--time clocks run faster than education reform time clocks.

*Therefore, communicate to everyone what you’re doing--it buys needed time for implementation.

Use short-term success stories to bolster long-term improvement efforts.

9. People in irrational systems tend to act rationally for rational reasons but with irrational results.

*Together, adults can restore rationality to education by creating a system that serves kids.

*And we can help the education system remain rational by building internal capacity to make continuous improvements.

Source: Peggy M. Siegel, Vice President, Business-Education Projects, National Alliance of Business.

What follows are the implementation instructions:


An awareness and understanding of the education crisis, and knowledge about how to address it, are critical for companies becoming engaged in and contributing effectively to the change process. Individuals throughout the company, including not only the chief executive officer (CEO) and the CEO’s education initiative designee but other corporate executives and rank and file employees, must understand the issues. While the first two will have primary responsibility for carrying out the education initiative, the others must support and sustain it.

Focusing early awareness-building efforts on the relationship between education and workforce quality may be the best way to capture the interest of a company and its employees. While company executives will be concerned about the impact of education and workforce quality on productivity and competitiveness, all employees will be concerned about how these factors affect jobs. An awareness campaign aimed at making employees realize that today’s education system is not “making the grade” --not just in other school districts, but in their own--may be crucial to building necessary support for the initiative.

Companies and their employees must do more than just develop an awareness and understanding of these issues; they must develop a base of knowledge from which they can work for change. They need to understand how education systems currently operate, what problems exist with the current systems, what experts suggest to improve the systems, and how they might help to bring about needed changes. They not only must understand The Business Roundtable’s nine Essential Components of a Successful Education System, but also the six National Education Goals, national education reform proposals (including the President’s America 2000), and the education reform proposals in their own states.

Activities to build this deeper knowledge may include:

*Reading publications;

*Attending conferences and seminars;

*Visiting schools and talking with teachers, students, and parents;

*Attending state and local school board meetings; and

*Developing and implementing a corporate education awareness campaign. Building awareness and knowledge is a continual process, not unlike the staff development initiatives described previously. It is not something that businesses do once, but a process that must extend throughout companies’ participation in the education reform enterprise.


Companies must join in strategic coalitions to rally necessary support for change. This does not necessarily mean creating new coalitions. There may be existing coalitions with compatible memberships and agendas that they could join. Initially, companies may want to join other businesses and/or business organizations in a business-only coalition. Such a coalition would provide them with the opportunity to “get up to speed” on education issues and develop their own vision of the changes required in the education system. Policy makers and educators--with whom they will eventually have to work--already will be steeped in knowledge of the education system. This initial period apart would give the business community the preparation time it needs to understand the education environment before it joins forces with the others. That way, it will be able to participate on an equal footing.

Eventually, companies will have to participate in a more broadly-based coalition that encompasses all education stakeholders. They include the governor, key state legislators, the chief state school officer, and representatives of the state school board, teachers, local school boards, local administrators, parents, students, and members of state stakeholder organizations. Business people need to understand the politics of systemic change--who is involved, who makes decisions, and how those decisions are made--so that they include broad-based interests in the coalition from the outset. Education stakeholders have different viewpoints and take different positions on education issues. All these differences must be understood and taken into account.

“Coalition composition” is crucial. Stakeholders who are not involved will not feel ownership of any agenda the coalition develops, and may later lead the opposition.  [!!! How revealing that they KNEW there would be opposition to what they were about to do and that they were going to be ready for it. MM]

 Conversely, a broad-based membership can serve as a defense against opposition, as all members will have a stake in and thus support the agenda, there will be little room for a “divide and conquer” attack. A coalition’s membership cannot be static. Maintaining leadership during periods of transition is critical.

Companies should continually assess the coalitions’ composition, and advocate the addition of new members whenever warranted.

Participating in a broad-based coalition enables business to shed its “outsider” status. Business can demonstrate a commitment both to education and to the best interests of children. An agenda put forward by such a coalition has more legitimacy than one put forward solely by business. It is more likely to be perceived as based on sound educational theory, and less likely to be perceived as designed only to meet the needs of the business community. Even more important, unless many other stakeholders are brought in and buy in, policy changes have no chance of success.

There is a lot more, but I think one can get the gist of their effort. Suffice it to say that I believe this entire adventure was deliberately deceptive and underhanded. That the simpletons who populate our local school board year after year, bumbling along doing the bidding of these perpetrators, thinking that they are somehow important in the scheme of things without ever figuring out what they are a part of is just astounding!

The last year I served on the Katy school board, the second George Bush, as Governor of Texas, came to visit Katy ISD.  I didn't attend the staged performance.  Knowing what they were doing to students made me sick.