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International Study Examines Partnerships

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Business-education partnerships, which have taken root over the past decade not only in the United States but also in most other Western industrialized nations, are at a critical stage where they must show a long-term commitment to school reform, according to an international report.

Businesses should consolidate their role as leading players in education reform without "becoming so institutionalized within the system that they no longer challenge the status quo,'' says the report, "Schools and Business: A New Partnership.''

The 109-page report was issued this month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based research group supported by most European nations, Canada, and the United States. It was written by Donald Hirsch, a staff member of the O.E.C.D.'s Center for Educational Research and Innovation.

The study examines partnerships in the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and other O.E.C.D. member countries that have been sparked by such common factors as business dissatisfaction with the workplace skills of students and a general interest in reforming public education.

"The 1990's will determine whether partnerships prove to be a passing fad, or whether they consolidate their position to become a permanent, integral part of the education process,'' the report says.

"To sustain and expand their contribution to education, they will have to become viable long-term organisms, more than the pet projects'' of individuals, the study adds.

The report includes 24 case studies of partnerships from nine countries, including:

A British partnership between the National Westminster Bank and most middle and secondary schools in England and Wales that encourages schools to start small businesses to teach enterprise skills to students.

A center for advanced technology near the headquarters of the French automaker Renault in Billancourt, which offers week-long courses to local schools that teach how information moves around a factory to ensure uniform products.

A technical-vocational center in Chesterfield County, Va., that is restructuring its curriculum with a $375,000 grant from Phillip Morris U.S.A., which has a large tobacco-products factory nearby.

Although many partnerships in the O.E.C.D. countries have similar characteristics, their development has varied based on peculiar national and local factors.

For example, British partnerships tend to focus on enterprise education, which is promoted in that nation's new national curriculum.

With no national curriculum in the United States, partnerships here "pull in many different directions, sometimes but not always related to local school-board or state reforms,'' according to the study.

The report urges educators and political leaders to "accept the integration of partnerships into the mainstream of their work.''

Neither side of the partnership should become dominant, the report adds, and participants should consider broadening their scope to include parents, community groups, and others with a stake in the education system.

The report is available from the U.S. office of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2001 L St., N.W., Suite 700, Washington, D.C. 20036-4910; telephone: (202) 785-6323.

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