Consultants Launch For-Profit Effort To Assess School-Business Partnerships

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Hoping to capitalize on growing concerns that corporate philanthropic efforts have done little to improve education, an Ohio-based education-consulting firm this month launched what may be the nation's first for-profit effort to evaluate school-business partnerships.

SchoolMatch, a firm started in 1986 to track school-district performance indicators, began the program after seeing the results of a survey documenting concern that school-business partnerships have been ineffective in improving the nation's workforce--the driving goal of most corperations involved in K-12 education, said William L. Bainbridge, the company's president and chief executive officer.

The survey, to be published this week by the North Carolina-based Employment Management Association, questioned 71 E.M.A. members about their relations with precollegiate education.

About 83 percent of the firms surveyed said they had some kind of partnership with schools, most of them confined to "adopt-a-school" programs targeting specific schools with cash and in-kind contributions.

Those same companies admitted that such programs had largely been ineffective in improving academic achievement.

"The recurring theme these days is that there's a great desire ofcorperations to be of help ... but a real frustration where corporato officers don't have a handle on how well their dollars are being used, [and] whether they are truly supperting outcomes and learning," said Steve Sundre, executive vice president of SchoolMatch.

The company previously has focused on using its comparative information on the nation's 15,889 public-school districts to help corporations with relocation decisions.

Workforce Concerns

Observers agreed that the SchoolMatch effort was an idea whose time has come.

The current partnership movement began in 1984 largely as a public-relations gambit, according to Susan D. Otterbeurg, a consultant who has worked with major corporations to devise self-assessment models for their education programs.

Until now, assessment of the estimated 73,000 existing school-business partnerships has been weak at best, said Maureen Erickson, a Fairfax, Va., teacher who recently completed a doctoral dissertation on partnership evaluation.

Most such assessments have relied on superficial impressions rather than control groups, performance testing, or benchmarks by which to judge the effectiveness of such programs as tutoring and mentoring, cash and in-kind contributions, field trips, and career-awareness exercises and counseling, Ms. Erickson said.

Many business executives failed to pay attention to the slow but steady growth of corporate investment in education, said Daniel Raisch, a professor of education at the University of Dayton who is helping with the new SchoolMatch program.

"The money at first was so small, it was hardly noticed," Mr. Raisch noted. "But it just kept growing and growing, and now suddenly people are noticing just how many millions of dollars they're putting in."

Adjusted for inflation, corporate contributions to precollegiate education have risen from $18 million in 1976 to $264 million last year, according to a study released this month by the Council for Aid to Education. (See related story, page 9.)

Corporation executives also now believe that they have a legitimate self-interest in improving the workforce. In addition, tight, recession-era budgets are leading to demands that these partnerships be held accountable for documented results, Ms. Otterbeurg said.

Moving Toward Assessment

Aside from the new SchoolMatch program, other stirrings indicate a greater interest in holding partnerships accountable for results.

The U.S. Education Department this month awarded a $1.5-million contract to the Southwest Regional Education Laboratory in Los Alamitos, Calif., to evaluate its multimillion-dollar partnership program and to help develop replicable assessment models, said Susan Gruskin, coordinator of the department's education-partnership program.

The National Association of Partners in Education next month will release a "how to" manual on partnership evaluation and a set of criteria with which to gauge partnership effectiveness, said Daniel W. Merenda, the group's executive director.

The evaluation guide suggests that partnership managers assess: . How well the efforts have involved teachers, administrators, business leaders, and community members; . How school-board policy has been shaped to support ongoing partnership efforts; . How thoroughly everyone involved in the efforts--inside and outside the school itself--has been trained in education intervention; and, . Whether expected educational outcomes and achievement benchmarks were established by all involved parties at the outset of the partnership.

The upcoming National Association of Partners in Education manual highlights an evaluation effort by the Louisville Education and Employment Partnership that makes funding contingent on improved performance.

Angelo Vaccaro, the program's executive director, said the partnership was formed in 1988 with a group of students who would participate in the group's mentoring, job-placement, internship, and dropout-prevention programs and a control group that would not.

Continued funding depends on academic improvement as gauged by rigorous evaluations conducted by the Jefferson County Board of Education.

SchoolMatch officials would not outline their auditing procedures, saying that each evaluation would be tailored to fit the objectives of the individual corporation involved.

Mr. Bainbridge said the firm had reached verbal agreements with two large manufacturing companies and one retailer to kick off the program. Pending the signing of contracts, the SchoolMatch executive declined to name the companies or to say how much each deal would bring his firm.

Vol. 11, Issue 09, Page 4

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