Development of a Business-Education Partnership to Reform Secondary Education

Article excerpt

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.

The Beginning

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. …