HOW BUSINESS CAN HELP THE SCHOOLS Results from the fourth annual FORTUNE poll of companies show more commitment to education -- particularly in the early grades -- than ever. Read on for ideas.
By Nancy Ramsey

(FORTUNE Magazine) – THE EDUCATION message is getting through. When asked how concerned corporations were about the problems in American public schools, 98% of the companies responding to FORTUNE's fourth annual education poll said they were very or fairly concerned. What's more, they are doing something about it -- from encouraging employees to act as mentors and tutors to supporting tax increases for school improvements. This year's response to the poll of FORTUNE Industrial 500 and Service 500 companies was bigger and better than ever. More companies than in previous years responded (342, vs. 301 in 1991); the percentages of businesses donating $1 million or more to education programs and school reform rose to 28% from 24%; and the median contribution increased to $355,000 from $344,000, though that's not quite keeping up with inflation. The top managers in 45% of the companies reported that they were very involved in education. That's up from 41% in 1991 and 32% in 1990. Has this financial and personal commitment made a difference? Yes, said 61% of the companies. In 1990 only 39% noticed an improvement. The numbers confirm another important trend: Little kids are getting more and more corporate attention. In 1990, 27% of companies reported that they contributed to elementary schools; this year 65% did. Two years ago only 14% supported preschool programs; now the figure is 36%. One of the most successful preschool programs is Success by Six. Begun in Minneapolis by the United Way with support from Honeywell, General Mills, Dayton Hudson, and a collection of city, state, and voluntary organizations, the program seeks to prepare children for the first grade physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Boeing has helped bring Success by Six to the Seattle area. On the East Coast, Baltimore Gas & Electric has run a partnership for a year with the city's George Street Elementary School. Every other week a teacher gives each of 100 kids in preschool and kindergarten a book to enhance reading, math, or science skills, with a related activity sheet and toy to take home. The idea is to get parents involved. In fact, mom or dad must sign an agreement that includes a promise to work with the child before the program starts.

Johnson & Johnson, whose powders and oils cover young bodies, is now working on young minds. Recognizing the effectiveness of Head Start, J&J has started a Management Fellows Program for Head Start directors. Forty of them a year take a mini-MBA course at UCLA so that they can more effectively run their programs and reach more children. One graduate is starting seven Head Start sites in Dayton, Ohio. Restructuring, that familiar corporate concept, may be coming to a school system near you. RJR Nabisco, through its $30 million Next Century Schools program, provides grants of up to $250,000 per year for three years to schools with revolutionary ideas. A recipient, the Beeber Middle School in Philadelphia, is shifting from the traditional schedule of five daily subjects to a thematic curriculum, with students attending one course, for 12 weeks. Example: Music From Ragtime to Rap, a course that involves math, history, language, and, of course, music. ''Education has to go through the same process business has gone through over the last 15 years or so,'' says Andrew C. Sigler, chairman and CEO of Champion International. His company is contributing $1.5 million to restructure the middle schools in Stamford, Connecticut, making them three grades (six, seven, and eight) -- not two (seven and eight). The extra year makes kids in early adolescence, a very turbulent time, feel more secure and better able to handle high school. To promote an exchange of ideas on this important business subject, the following pages are devoted to brief descriptions of what 119 companies are doing to support American education.