Partnerships and Education Reform

by Dr. Sylvia Charp Editor-in-Chief Partnerships and Education Reform Educational institutions have frequently called upon business for assistance. Contributions have primarily been monetary, particularly in higher education, and it is anticipated more shall be required. This can be noted in the proceedings of the National Conference on the Best Ways for the Federal Government to Help Students and Families Finance Postsecondary Education. The report, made available by the U.S. Dept. of Education in August 1996, predicts a surge in the college-going population, with educators facing new financial challenges. The federal government supplies about two-thirds of all post-secondary aid, which includes more than $38 billion in grants, loans and work-study opportunities to about seven million students. The report states that education should be a shared responsibility and the private sector should be encouraged to provide more scholarship money for higher education, with tax incentives available for that purpose and for those businesses that provide work-study programs. Since it shall be more difficult for federal or state governments to pay the increased share of college costs in the future, students, parents, employees, and public and private institutions must assume greater responsibility for financing higher education. In many cases, partnerships with businesses are occurring. For example: The Business Occupations department's professional upgrading plan at Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute (New Mexico) creates business/educational partnerships that allow faculty and business employers to work as a team. The Pharmacy Technician program at Lakeshore Technical College (Wisconsin) provides learning opportunities with community hospital pharmacy sites. Aided by a grant from the BellSouth Foundation, Columbia State Community College (Tennessee) established a "one-step" center where students sign on electronically and print their own records before conferring with their advisors. The Question of Roles The great concern in education is how to reform K-12 and what role should business play. The August 12, 1996 issue of Financial World in its lead article "Fixing Education" reports on the recent 1996 Education Summit meeting of 48 CEOs and 40 governors led by Louis Gerstner, Jr. CEO of IBM. The message was "Fix your schools or lose your jobs. The solution is technology." The governors agreed to "the development of common standards in basic subjects, which must be met in certain grades for promotion; assessment of school performance; accountability of supervising bodies; and publicity." Many businesses, both large and small, are working with K-12 education. Their efforts are appreciated and it is hoped they will grow. To cite just a few examples: NetDay in March used volunteers and donated equipment to wire classrooms in California. NetDay in October should result in schools in more than 36 states being wired with privately donated equipment. National Cable Television Association announced its members will wire elementary and secondary schools for free Internet access by way of high-speed cable modems in the next 12 months. Firms such as Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), Time Warner, Inc., Comcast Corp., Cox Communications and Continental Cablevision will pay the cost of providing free modems, cable hook-ups and Internet access. Schools will pay for computer and related communications equipment. AT&T has said it will spend $150 million over five years to connect schools to the Internet. NYNEX, in June, opened its Technology Center in Harlem. As part of its function, the Center will develop education programs, workshops and seminars for Harlem students, teachers, senior citizens, and for local business and civic organizations. I was personally involved during the past year with an interesting project involving the Philadelphia School District, a computer company and two Philadelphia radio stations. Jerry Lee, president of WBEB-FM in Philadelphia conceived the idea and persuaded Alan Box, president of EZ Communications of Va., to use WUSL-FM (known as Power 99) to join him. Chester Sch'efield, V.P. and general manager of WUSL-FM contributed $100,000 for a pilot program in three inner-city schools. Students in 7th grade who had an 80% or higher chance of failing were taken out of their normal classes for one 45-minute period a day and assigned to the "Power 99 computer lab," which was equipped with software from Computer Curriculum Corp. The program was promoted by the radio stations. Students received personal notes from station disk jockeys encouraging them to succeed, and the rooms were made to look special with banners and samples of student work. Principals and teachers were enthusiastic. Power 99 students made significant progress in reading and math. Their behavior in other classrooms improved noticeably as well. Students were excited about their work and, when asked how they would feel if this experience was not available next year, the response was frequently "How do you expect us to learn without the computer?" Jerry Lee, founder of the project, firmly believes radio stations all over the country would be delighted to work with schools in their respective communities. Educators do encourage partnerships with the business community. Education firms are now one of Wall Street's hottest areas. However, what must not be forgotten is the education of all students as we recognize problems, try to deal with them, and develop local workable solutions, using technology as a tool to assist us.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.