Development of a Business-Education Partnership to Reform Secondary Education
Bowman, Ray, Dawson-Jackson, Carla, Education
National focus on the quality of education in the United States had kindled the formation of many local alliances between private industry and education (Sharp & Sharp, 1992; Atkin & Atkin, 1989; Nothdurft, 1989; U.S. Department of Labor, 1988; O'Connell, 1985). As the country's need for unskilled labor continues to diminish and as competition in the global economy sharpens, many U.S. business leaders have concluded that investing in tomorrow's workforce is smart business practice. Moreover, the corporate values of many companies embrace community involvement, perhaps to energize the society in which the company operates. This article describes the establishment of a business-education partnership in a large urban school district in the Southeast, the elements critical to its formation, and how representatives of private industry, government, and higher education worked with teachers to stimulate educational reform.
The partnership in Jacksonville, Florida, calls itself "The Alliance for Education" and currently includes representatives of five local businesses, both the city's electric company and its public works department, two branches of the U.S. military, two institutions of higher education, and the local teachers' union. The Alliance is concentrating on improving the quality of education at a single high school, a school with a student population that is 99% African-American. Members of the Alliance are active in abroad range of activities that affect the school including teacher training programs, curriculum revision, student services and public relations.
An early event that facilitated the formation of Jacksonville's Alliance for Education was a grant to the University of North Florida (UNF) by the Florida Department of Education through Florida's Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Program. The Eisenhower Program derives from the Education for Economic Security Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1982 and was later renamed to honor former president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Under Title II of that program, federal funds are distributed to states to support mathematics and science education. In 1991, Eisenhower funds were granted to UNF for the purpose of strengthening educational programs at William M. Raines Senior High School, home of Jacksonville's magnet program in mathematics, science, pre-engineering and technology.
In the process of generating an Eisenhower proposal in Summer, 1991, UNF faculty member Ray Bowman discovered that Southern Bell had established a mentor program at Raines High School two years previously. Under the guidance of Southern Bell's Operations Manager, the company had begun by pairing twelve male students with Southern Bell employees who served as mentors and tutors. The Bell engineers who took over the program in 1991 expanded the program to about 90 students of both genders and sponsored monthly events throughout the academic year.
Southern Bell and UNF quickly joined forces and collaborated in the design of the Eisenhower project. This affiliation had the immediate effect of increasing the grant funding base because Eisenhower funding in Florida at that time required dollar-for-dollar matching contributions. Donation of time by Southern Bell employees augmented the amount of match available and enabled UNF to enlarge the size of its grant-sponsored project. In 1991-92, UNF and Southern Bell focused their efforts on expansion of the mentor program, on incorporation of new equipment and facilities, especially computers, into science and mathematics curricula, and on recruiting other Jacksonville organizations to assist in the Raines project.
A series of events followed that seem almost circumstantial in nature but that illustrate some of the critical factors in establishing a business-education partnership. The events track the evolution of the Southern Bell/UNF collaboration to a larger, more organized Alliance.
Grant funding permitted the hiring of a local science teacher, Carla Dawson-Jackson, to help coordinate the Eisenhower-sponsored activities. As a member of the sorority Delta Sigma Theta, she met regularly with other African-American women, some of whom held influential positions in local businesses. Ms. Jackson met a personnel administrator of Mayo Clinic Jacksonville. One of the Clinic's long term objectives is to encourage minorities, especially African Americans, to pursue careers in research and education. Mayo Clinic joined the Alliance and pledged the involvement of its local research laboratories. Ms. Jackson also met the manager of human resources at Vistakon, a Johnson and Johnson Company, at a meeting sponsored by Volunteer Jacksonville. Vistakon became the next partner. Later, through contacts suggested by the Vistakon representative, IBM and the Jacksonville electric Authority volunteered to join. Informal contacts and networking, especially among African-American business leaders, was integral to the early growth of the Jacksonville Alliance.
Several organizations were attracted to Raines Senior High because it was the site of the school district's magnet program in mathematics, science, pre-engineering, and technology. When a Betz PaperChem vice president approached the principal of the school about doing something for students interested in engineering, he learned of the growing business-education partnership. With the addition of Betz, the Alliance seemed to reach a critical mass. The major players, Southern Bell, the University of North Florida, Mayo Clinic at Jacksonville, Vistakon, and Betz PaperChem drew the attention of other Jacksonville organizations. IBM, the Jacksonville Electric Authority, the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Navy Public Works Center at Jacksonville, City of Jacksonville Public Works, Jacksonville University, Florida Health and Rehabilitative Services Laboratory, and a private consulting firm subsequently signed on. The leadership of highly placed people representing respected organizations was a key factor in the Alliance's expansion.
The rapid growth of the Alliance presented two potentially destabilizing situations. Some of the Raines teachers felt threatened by all the attention, well intentioned though it was, and the diversity of interests and resources among the partners presented a management challenge.
The Alliance's first misstep arose during the kickoff of a new summer program for teachers. At the suggestion of Mayo Clinic's Jacksonville Research Director, several members of the Alliance joined Mayo in offering stipends to teachers to spend from four to eight weeks as interns in private industry. School administrators and the hosting companies viewed the summer internships as a way of familiarizing teachers with real world applications of science, mathematics, engineering, and computer technology and as a means of attracting some of the best teachers in the district to Raines Senior High. Any teacher in the county could apply for an internship on the condition that he or she agree to transfer to Raines the following year.
In Summer, 1992, Mayo Clinic offered a position in its research laboratories; Southern Bell provided experience in computers and future telecommunications; Vistakon offered training in any of four divisions; IBM proposed exposure to systems engineering, personal computer systems, or marketing; and Betz PaperChem contributed a position in its information services department. The Director of Special Programs at Duval County Public Schools arranged for the stipends paid by the hosting companies to be matched by the Florida Department of Education through its Teacher Quest Scholarship Program. The intern package seemed irresistible.
The new summer program aroused unrest among teachers already at Raines High when the new program was (mistakenly) linked to an ill-fated effort to declare all the school's science and mathematics teachers "surplus" and to reconstitute the instructional staff. The vice president of the local teachers' union played the critical role in restoring stability and probably saved the Alliance from catastrophe. While absolutely committed to protecting the rights of teachers, the union officer was also sensitive to the need for educational reform. Her candid exchanges with the anxious teachers and her respectful but firm stance with school administrators restored rationality. The summer internships unfolded and no teacher lost a job because of them. Duval Teachers United became an invaluable member of the Alliance, and Alliance members learned a valuable lesson. The pace of educational reform must not overwhelm the primary agents of change, teachers.
By Fall, 1992, the Alliance numbered thirteen organizations united in support of academic reform at William M. Raines Senior High.(1) The diversity of interests and resources among the participants was growing more difficult to manage. Business leaders began to press for well defined objectives, and representatives of higher education craved more structure in the loosely organized coalition. About the same time, the Florida Department of Education directed every school in the state to devise a School Improvement Plan.
The Alliance responded by drafting a strategic plan built on suggestions from a core of inspired teachers, some of whom had been interns in private industry the previous summer. Assisted by Ms. Jackson, the Alliance's teacher-coordinator, and the teachers' union vice president, Raines teachers developed tentative goals for academic reform and professional development at the school. The plan emphasized school-wide improvement and the lead teachers came from a mix of academic disciplines including mathematics, science, vocational education/engineering, social studies, English, and business. Eisenhower grant funds provided the teachers several days of release time so they could concentrate on an educational vision for Raines.
In early Spring, 1993, the teachers presented their vision to the Alliance's educators, corporate representatives and local government officials. For six weeks the partners and teachers exchanged views on educational philosophy and practice in a series of intense planning sessions. They found it relatively easy to select common goals, harder to establish strategies to achieve them. Discussions occasionally sharpened the contrast between problem solving approaches in private corporations and those employed in educational bureaucracies. A novel feature of the planning process was the distribution of intermediate drafts of the evolving plan by fax machine. This procedure ensured that business partners not able to attend all the meetings were kept abreast of progress and it provoked the next round of revisions. Representatives of business and government responded especially well to this form of information exchange and the technique probably saved months of time.
Guided by a UNF faculty member who is a strategic planning veteran, business and higher education representatives produced an integrated planning document including mission and vision statements, goals and strategies, timelines, estimated resources, and people or groups responsible for execution.(2)
The Alliance had a plan.
The plan called for the creation of achievement teams responsible for implementation. Each leader of an achievement team sat on a steering committee charged with overall guidance of the Alliance. Representatives of private industry, government or higher education could choose to serve on those achievement teams that best matched their organization's assets. Mayo Clinic chose Faculty Development as an outgrowth of the summer internship program; Southern Bell selected Student Services, an extension of its mentor program; the Jacksonville Electric Authority representative initiated a Total Quality Management Achievement Team; IBM headed Community Interaction; and Betz PaperChem headed Public Relations. Educators from the universities joined teachers on the Curriculum Achievement Team lead by the school's assistant principal.
Although the achievement team structure was tailored for diverse contributions by Alliance members, it spawned a coordination nightmare. The responsibility of overseeing the entire project was more critical than ever and Eisenhower funding had expired. The Alliance presented its plan and organizational structure to the Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in May, 1993, and he agreed to underwrite a full-time coordinator. He assigned Ms. Jackson to be Raines Partnership Project Director at school district expense. The Alliance not only had a plan; it had a full-time director as well.
Elements of Success
In our view, several elements were critical in the formation and development of Jacksonville's Alliance for Education. Funding from the Florida Department of Education was certainly essential to the initiation and early growth of a business-education partnership. Seed funding provided faculty time and secretarial support, salary and support for a teacher-coordinator, and later, release time for teachers to begin the strategic planning initiative. Early collaboration with private industry increased the amount of grant support accessible by enlarging the base of matching contributions.
Another essential element in the formation of the Alliance was informal communication among business leaders in the community, many of whom are African-Americans. Networking among the community's "shakers and movers" led to the recruitment of some of Jacksonville's most prestigious organizations. Many of the same people who founded the Alliance later attended meetings regularly and brought a high level of management skill to the emerging organization.
Also important was a mood pervading the community that everyone has a stake in education. Few of the people approached would have become participants if they did not accept some measure of responsibility for the quality of public education. Many company representatives expressed concern about the quality of the workforce pool or about the quality of the schools their children attended. Some private companies, exemplified by Southern Bell, Mayo Clinic at Jacksonville, and Betz PaperChem, had approached the school independently to contribute to the quality of education, especially in science and engineering. Others, like Vistakon and the Jacksonville Electric Authority, were involved in education programs to train incoming workers. Their involvement in the Alliance became part of their solution to a long term problem. Just as important as the community's mood of involvement in public education was the willingness of educators to accept the advice and judgement of non-educators in matters involving curriculum, faculty development and school image. Corporate executives were accepted as partners, not merely treated as potential donors of cash or equipment.
The teachers who welcomed progress at the school and who displayed leadership in the development of the Alliance's strategic plan had the strongest influence of any group on the Alliance. Encourage by the school's administration and the local teachers' union, these progressive teachers were the primary agents of educational reform at Raines Senior High. Teachers laid the foundation for a strategic plan. Teachers were the focus of summer internships and workshops on instructional technology. Teachers reviewed the curricula, and teachers learned total quality management techniques.
The element most critical to the formation and sustenance of Jacksonville's Alliance for Education was a nucleus around which the members and activities could revolve. The hub of the early partnership was a university faculty member and a teacher, both of whom were supported by grant funds. As the Alliance matured, its core became a steering committee composed of the most ardent supporters and key school representatives. This structure was intended to make the Alliance independent of any one person or organization, but the responsibility of coordinating the steering committee and its expanding number of projects remains crucial. The position of Project Director, at first maintained by a grant and later by the school district, continues to be the base on which the success of the Alliance rests.
The representatives of private industry, local government, and the U.S. military in Jacksonville's Alliance for Education contribute to educational reform in several distinctive ways. All the representatives brought with them their organization's resources which, with few exceptions, were in the form of expertise and availability of facilities rather than cash or donations of real property. Corporate views of the academic disciplines, in this case mathematics, science, and engineering, are guided by their application in the real world. By sharing their views with precollege educators, corporate representatives confirmed the relevance of education to career preparation. Merely by their participation, the community leaders amplified the importance of educational reform. Almost immediately, the mission of school's teachers and staff became more meaningful. The position of educator was elevated in the community.
Teachers and corporate managers in the Jacksonville Alliance discovered similarities in their respective environments. Resources are often tight in business and education alike. Both produce products (at the risk of dehumanizing students). Both are interested in assuring quality. However, corporate employees often approach problems in ways unfamiliar to educators. Teachers operating in a bureaucracy often feel powerless to effect remedies (or give up after being repeatedly ignored) and frequently leave problems for administrators to solve. The technique of total quality management used in private industry sets in motion a systematic sequence of events beginning with front line employees. Coached by corporate executives, teachers at Raines High School learned how to improve the school's educational environment in a methodical way. The Alliance brought teachers and school administrators together in settings that seemed to neutralize adversarial positions and focus attention on openness and constructive effort.
Corporate executives, government leaders and university faculty bring a spirit of confidence and a sense of urgency to pre-college educators. Why not bring exciting real world experiences to the classroom? Why not have successful engineers, scientists, managers and technicians in the school as mentors and role models for the students? Why not take a hard look at curricula and begin to teach students to "work smart?" Why not leave unsuccessful educational practices behind and move on? Why not reform education, now?
Atkin, J.M. & Atkin, A. (1989). Improving science education through local alliances, a report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Santa Cruz, CA: Network Publications.
Nothdurft, W.E. (1989). Schoolworks: reinventing public schools to create the workforce of the future: innovations in education and job training from Sweden, West Germany, France, Great Britain, and Philadelphia. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution.
O'Connell, C. (1985). How to start a school/business partnership. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.
Sharp, A.G. & Sharp, E.O. (1992). The business-education partnership. Morrisville, PA: International Information Associates.
U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Public Affairs. (1988). Building a quality workforce: a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Commerce. Washington, D.C.
1. Two organizations have discontinued participation in the Alliance since its beginning. A private company withdrew during a merger, and a government laboratory discontinued its participation after severe budget difficulties.
2. Copies of the final planning document and organizational structure are available from the authors.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Development of a Business-Education Partnership to Reform Secondary Education. Contributors: Bowman, Ray - Author, Dawson-Jackson, Carla - Author. Journal title: Education. Volume: 114. Issue: 3 Publication date: Spring 1994. Page number: 464+. © 1999 Project Innovation. COPYRIGHT 1994 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.