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Industry / Education Partnerships

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Mutually beneficial partnerships involvingcommunity groups, educators and the business community areflourishing, contributing substantially to better teaching andlearning. These range from individual school and districtrelationships with business and community groups to federal, stateand local partnerships involving many universities and a coalition ofbusinesses. Educators are forming partnerships for a variety ofreasons. Every alliance has its own needs and objectives and hasmoved far from supplemental funding and monetary donations. Theseinclude assistance in professional growth of staff, sharing ofmanagement and organization skills, donation of equipment andmaterials, technology support, public relations expertise, researchand development resources, sharing of curriculum and teachingexpertise, among others.

Many examples exist and have been well documentedby organizations such as The National Alliance of Business(Washington, DC), the National Association of Partners in Education,Inc. (Alexandria, VA) or the Center for Workforce, Preparation andQuality Education (Washington, DC), to cite just a few.

• Western Governors University (WGU) is agood example of a public-private partnership. The $9 million budgetrequired to launch WGU was raised partly from the participatingstates ($100,000 from each of 18 states, plus a $3 million grant fromColorado). The majority of the funding comes from AT&T,Microsoft, Novell, IBM, Cisco and others. The sponsoring companiesget spaces in the "Smart-Catalog," a Web-based course directory, andoffer corporate training curricula. The degrees are competency-based;students graduate by demonstrating mastery of a particular field,possible job experience or past courses rather than accumulating acertain number of credits. (http://www.wgu.edu)

• New York City's District 6 is one of 225K-12 schools nationwide where students and teachers have access tolaptop computers 100% of the time. Through partnerships in theircommunities with parents and with Microsoft, Toshiba, Compaq, Acerand AT&T, they embrace the concept of "Anytime, AnywhereLearning." (http://www.microsoft.com/ education/k12/aal/)

• The Workers' Compensation Bureau gavenearly 1,800 used PCs to the Lynchburg-Clay School District in Ohio.As of this writing, the 486 machines had network and video cards butstill needed additional software and other peripherals, according tobusiness administrators.

• The US West/National Education AssociationTeacher Network project is training 4,000 teachers in 14 states whowill train 40,000 of their colleagues in applying telecommunicationsin the classroom to enhance student performance. The project willreach over 10% of teachers in the participating states.

• The University of Pennsylvania(Philadelphia) is working with sixth, seventh and eighth gradestudents from a neighborhood city middle school to teach themnutrition and good business practices, and serving the community witha neighborhood produce market.

Risks and Rewards

Corporate-sponsored internships are ongoing.Educators are given the opportunity to upgrade and update theirskills and knowledge working with companies such as Polaroid, Proctorand Gamble, General Electric, Apple, IBM and many others. Not allpartnerships, however, are successful. University officials fromCalifornia had announced a California Educational TechnologyInitiative. The plan called for a group of high-technology companies&emdash; Microsoft, Hughes Electronics, GTE and Fujitsu America&emdash; to invest $300 million into the university system's networkand technology infrastructure. In exchange for their investments, thecompanies were promised revenue opportunities from products andservices, including software sold to students. The plan has beencanceled, though, reportedly due to a lack of agreement on thefinancial aspects of the negotiation.

Educational improvements are still recognized asthe primary goal in developing partnerships. The InternationalSociety for Technology in Education (ISTE) found the followingelements critical to forging strong, productivepartnerships:

• Top Level Leadership - Partnerships seldomsucceed in the absence of a visionary school or community leader. Inbusiness partnerships, this individual can help identify a core groupof leaders who are prepared to embrace a bold mission statement andagree upon the imperative to share risks as well asbenefits.

• Grounding in Community Needs - A thoroughneeds assessment is essential to consensus building; this assessmentshould address facts as well as the community "mood" (the political,social and economic factors at work among thepopulations).

• Effective Public Relations - Partnershipsmust build and maintain support for the efforts. In addition,partners must work to involve the entire community, fully respectingthe ideals of inclusiveness, diversity and pluralism.

• Clear Roles and Responsibilities - Precisedelineation of roles and responsibilities is essential. Agreement ongoals must be followed immediately by a detailed articulation ofstrategy (who will do what, when and where).

• Strategic Planning - Partners must definegoals and measurable outcomes, build a detailed implementation plan,and develop a process to monitor and evaluate progress. Establishinga dynamic and flexible management structure should be a toppriority.

• Shared Decision Making and InteragencyOwnership - The partnership must benefit all collaborators.Relationships based on trust, open communication and mutualappreciation are critical.

• Appropriate Resources and TechnicalAssistance - Obtaining necessary resources is often among the moststubborn problems confronting partnerships. While businesses maydonate equipment, and parent-teacher groups may raise money,additional efforts to receive it and maintain "donors" deserve anddemand high level commitment.

• Patience, Vigilance and IncreasedInvolvement - Successful business/community partnerships involve along-term sustained commitment from the collaborators.

Partnerships, hopefully, shall continue andflourish. However, some well-meaning industry reformers who seek tomake education "cost-effective" or "different" forget education is anentitlement for all, not just a few. Businesses should do more thanprovide grants and financial support. Educators are looking for "truepartners" that can lead to benefits for each partner and address theneeds of the educational community as well as each partner'sconcerns, desires and capabilities.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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