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Business Group Assesses Effects of School Partnerships

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Partnerships between businesses and schools can significantly improve education when they focus on the "instructional core" of schooling, have support from top management, and involve a long-term commitment to reform, a new book concludes.

But contributors to the volume--which features seven case studies of such partnerships, as well as 22 "mini" cases--offer mixed assessments of the impact of the individual programs studied.

The book, American Business and the Public School: Case Studies of Corporate Involvement in Public Education, was sponsored by the Committee for Economic Development, a nonprofit group representing many of the nation's leading corporations and universities.

It provides one of the first in-depth looks at some of the collaborations between schools and corporations that have sprung up since 1980.

The ced publication follows a recent study, conducted by the nonprofit research organization Public/Private Ventures, that concluded that such programs have had a limited impact in reforming education. (See Education Week, Feb. 17, 1988.)

During this decade, "there has been a real and fundamental change in the level of business involvement with the schools," writes Marsha Levine, co-editor of the ced book, released this month by Teachers College Press.

"Where earlier efforts in this century focused on vocational education and narrow skill development," she notes, "business has now turned its attention to the need for more broadly, liberally educated employees."

As schools and businesses learn more about each other, they are moving from a focus on specific programs to broader efforts to seek changes in state and local policy, according to Ms. Levine, associate director of education issues for the American Federation of Teachers.

In recent years, she adds, the involvement of large corporations in the public schools has tended to4have a "ripple effect," spreading from one corporation to another and within the networks of individual corporations.

'Prime Importance'

School-business partnerships have proliferated for a variety of reasons, the book indicates, ranging from a perceived crisis in public schooling to the need for better-educated employees.

The Burger King Corporation, for example, decided in late 1983 to devote its corporate contributions to education as a way to help ensure the quality of its workers.

"With 70 percent of our work force under 21 and 41 percent minorities, the availability and retention of young workers is of prime importance," Barbara Gothard, director of public affairs for the corporation, writes in an essay describing the fast-food chain's partnership efforts.

Burger King and its franchisees need to find 200,000 new workers each year, she notes.

Despite the growing corporate interest in education, however, Roberta Trachtman, co-editor of the book, notes that "financial participation continues to be limited, and there is no indication that the private sector is willing or even interested in making up for the deficits in education resulting from federal cutbacks."

Much business involvement in the schools continues to be fairly traditional, according to Ms. Trachtman, special assistant to the dean for urban affairs at the City University of New York.

The case studies describe a wide range of projects, such as adopt-a-school programs, mini-grants for teachers, paid work-study programs for students, scholarship programs, and donations of supplies, equipment, and volunteers.

But the book indicates that relatively few partnerships branch out into more ambitious efforts, such as support of magnet schools, research on teacher professionalism, or pledges of corporate support tied to higher academic standards.

In many cases, contributors to the book suggest, more modest efforts appear to be a necessary precursor to broader attempts at reform.

Burger King, for instance, is now considering how to "use the credibility and allies we have gained to press for educational reform in the legislative arena on such issues as higher teacher salaries, more effective use of funds already available, and support of worthwhile programs," Ms. Gothard writes.

Success and Caveats

The case studies highlight a number of successful business efforts to boost education.

These include passage of a major education-reform law in California, through the efforts of the California Roundtable, and the creation of jobs for hundreds of high-school graduates in Boston, through the Boston Compact.

But the authors of the case studies--many of whom were closely involved in the partnerships they describe--also raise a number of questions and caveats.

The study on the Boston Compact, for example, criticizes the first phase of the project for tending to focus on plans written by school administrators. In some instances, that made it difficult to generate teacher support for the effort, according to the authors, Eleanor Farrar of the State University of New York at Buffalo and Anthony Cipollone of Education Matters Inc.

The Boston Compact has placed hundreds of high-school graduates in permanent jobs, and the city's schools have reported modest gains in both the attendance rates and achievement scores of students, the authors report. But, they add, dropout rates have not improved.

Moreover, they say, as a result of turnover in the city's top school administration, the compact has changed from a highly visible entity to a less visible part of the school system, "settled in the middle of the bureaucracy."

In both California and Minnesota, business leaders have played a major role in shaping legislative proposals, and have come to be recognized as major stakeholders in the education system, an assessment of those efforts concludes.

But their "legitimacy is still challenged by many in organized education circles," according to the authors, Paul Berman of Berman, Weiler Associates and Rick Clugston of the Spring Hill Center.

Moreover, the authors note, "it would be easy for business to underestimate the staying power required to change education."

They argue, for example, that the California Roundtable "has not institutionalized its commitment to education reform by ... creating a permanent policy-research staff or funding a freestanding, allied policy unit."

Ms. Trachtman expresses a similar concern.

"It is not clear that the business community can and will sustain its level of active participation in education policy issues at the local, state, and national level," she writes.

"The business community's participation may, in large part, depend on the ability of the education community to uphold its half of the partnership," she argues.

But another contributor, P. Michael Timpane, president of Columbia University's Teachers College, takes a more optimistic view.

The case studies illustrate an "unprecedented range of business engagement with education," he writes. That interest, he concludes, "does not yet show signs of abating or disappearing."

In addition to the case studies, the book includes results from a ced survey of 500 large corporations and 6,000 small businesses, and a telephone poll of educators in small urban and rural districts.

More than half of the large companies surveyed reported having programs to assist education, while fewer than 20 percent of the small companies reported such initiatives.

Large companies tended to focus on more general programs and on efforts to develop generic skills and abilities in students, the survey found.

Small companies, it found, emphasized occupational training and school-to-work transitions, "commenting that schools do not equip students" with job-specific skills.

The teachers surveyed generally reported great personal satisfaction and decreased feelings of isolation from being involved with business partnerships. Their responses also indicated that few partnerships existed at the elementary and middle-school levels.

The book was commissioned by the ced's subcommittee on business and the schools, chaired by Owen B. Butler, former chairman of The Procter & Gamble Company.

Copies can be purchased for $24.95 each from Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10027.

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