TECH CORPS: Building Technology in K-12 Schools Through People, Projects and Partnerships

In a 1995 report onbusiness and education reform, the Conference Board described whatthey perceived as four waves of partnership initiatives. In the firstwave, the "adopt-a-school" programs of the 1980s, businessespartnered with local schools, offering resources to assist theschools. Thousands of adopt-a-school partnerships sprang upthroughout the country. However, by the end of the decade, businessbecame disenchanted by the lack of real educational change resultingfrom these partnerships.

Thus, as we moved into the1990s, business took a new tack and attempted to apply to educationthe business management principals of Total Quality Management. Validthough the effort may have been, this second wave of partnering wasshort-lived as business quickly learned the difficulty of imposing abusiness structure on an educational institution. A third wavefollowed, Education Reform, where businesses united and successfullylobbied state government for significant changes in both the fundingand the goals of their education systems. Education Reform quicklyswept the country.

By the mid-1990s,partnerships had moved into the fourth and current phase. While yetunnamed, this phase is characterized by a peer-to-peer relationshipin which both business and education recognize the value of what theother knows and d'es - and each offers its strengths and resources tohelp meet the needs of the other. This fourth wave is similar to thefirst in concept, but it is quite different in implementation...andmuch healthier! It is from this fourth wave of industry/educationpartnerships - a relationship based on mutual respect - that TECHCORPS began.


TECH CORPS is a nationalnon-profit, launched in the fall of 1995 as a vehicle for bringingindividuals with technical expertise into the nation's K-12 schoolsas volunteers. Three years old, TECH CORPS has grown rapidly andcurrently enjoys a presence in 42 states plus the District ofColumbia. TECH CORPS' national Board of Directors and national staffset the vision and direction of the organization and ensured astandard of excellence throughout the country.

Recognizing that eachstate has its own economic climate and educational infrastructure,TECH CORPS is implemented through state chapters with a statewideBoard of leading educators and businesspersons guiding the efforts ofeach chapter. At both the state and national levels, TECH CORPS issupported through contributions from corporations and foundations.TECH CORPS is about people (the volunteers), projects (both state andnational projects which bring new resources to schools), andpartnerships (at the local, state and national levels). Industry andeducation work together in all three areas:

  • People. TECH CORPS volunteers come from all walks of life. While the majority of the volunteers come from technology and telecommunications companies, a significant number are from insurance agencies, banks, hospitals, government agencies, laboratories and other similar locations where knowledge of technology is a prerequisite for work. TECH CORPS volunteers provide schools with support in two key areas: teacher training/mentoring (a recognized need in schools nationwide) and technical support/advice (less than 10% of the nation's schools have a technology specialist on staff). As partners with their local schools, TECH CORPS volunteers help the schools maximize the existing technology while planning for and acquiring new technologies.

  • Projects. Through national partnerships with industry leaders, initiatives like CyberEd (a traveling technology training partnership with MCI), webTeacher (an online Internet training tool developed with the cable television industry), and the Internet safety mousepads (developed in partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Digital Equipment Corporation), TECH CORPS has brought new and valuable resources to K-12 schools nationwide. At the state level, TECH CORPS Rhode Island's Virtual Helpdesk and TECH CORPS New Jersey's Year 2000 Educators' Workshops are examples of the wide variety of resources TECH CORPS offers to schools that are made possible through the collaboration and participation of industry and education leaders in each state.

  • Partnerships. But the key to both the people and project resources that TECH CORPS brings to schools is partnerships. Partnerships at the national and state levels are important in making broad-sweeping changes, creating momentum and instilling the wide-scale commitment that is required to address big issues like educational technology. But equally important are the partnerships established locally, those that bring together the individuals in a community who together invest their time and talents to make a difference in their own backyard. Since 70% of the households in the United States do not have children of school age, schools must proactively seek ways to make a connection with their community and tap the people-power resources that are there. These partnerships - at the national, state and local levels - are what TECH CORPS is all about.

Ingredients ofSuccess

So, what makes asuccessful partnership? There are several key components. Truepartnerships are based on a peer-to-peer relationship with eachpartner sharing his/her own knowledge and expertise, whileacknowledging the other's knowledge and expertise as equallyvaluable. The best partnerships have an element of individualparticipation - they are not just a handout, but rather a realmatching of one's resources with the other's needs. A goodpartnership is mutually defined and results oriented - participantsagree upon the goals as well as their individual roles.

Partnerships are ongoing,not just a one-time event; volunteer days are great, but as astand-alone event, these are activities, not partnerships. Asuccessful partnership has a high degree of accountability - partnersmay be volunteers but they share a commitment to follow through andpush the project toward a successful completion. A partnership mustbring benefits to both partners! Partnership initiatives like TECHCORPS bring great benefits to individual volunteers, to the schools,to communities and to the companies.

By working collaborativelywith volunteers from other businesses, TECH CORPS volunteers have theopportunity to share their knowledge, practice their projectmanagement skills, establish a broader network of people, and learnfrom new experiences. But primarily, volunteers feel good aboutthemselves for giving back to their communities - for sharing theirknowledge and expertise with someone who needed and valued it. AsBill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength says, "When peoplecontribute through their unique skills and creative abilities, theyare giving away the one thing that is most genuinely theirs and thatno one can take away. What they are giving is what is at their core,and once tapped, it unleashes lasting energy andcommitment."

Schools benefit not onlyfrom the expertise that is shared but also from the commitment thatis fostered through a successful partnership with a local communitymember. Business benefits from a better-trainer workforce, acommunity with stronger schools, and employees who feel better aboutthemselves. And communities are strengthened because the school downthe street has now become "our school," not "that school," in theminds of the volunteers. There is tremendous power in successfulpartnerships such as TECH CORPS. The fourth wave of partnerships -partnerships based on a recognition of individual strengths - is onethat can effect a lasting and positive change in education today andfor years to come.

Karen Smith is the Executive Director of TECH CORPS, a nationalnon-profit that supports K-12 schools and their efforts to bringtechnology into the classroom. Prior to this position, Smith servedas Director of Educational Technology Initiatives for theMassachusetts Software Council, directing partnerships between thesoftware industry and schools in Massachusetts. She is the primaryauthor of the Council's nationally acclaimed book, The Switched-OnClassroom Technology Planning Guide, which helps schools to developlong-range technology plans. Smith holds a degree in education andhas been both a classroom teacher and school district administrator.For the past ten years, she has focused her activities primarily ondesigning and implementing partnerships between industry andeducation.

E-mail: [email protected]


Editor's Note: To learnmore about TECH CORPS please visit the TECH CORPS Web site at, e-mail [email protected],or call (781) 687-1100.

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