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Published in Print: May 19, 1999, as School-Business Partnerships Highlighted at Conference

School-Business Partnerships Highlighted at Conference

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School-Business Partnerships Highlighted at Conference

Business leaders need to get involved in education reform but not be afraid to end support for an effort that isn't progressing, says the chairman of one of the nation's largest technology companies.

Lewis E. Platt, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Hewlett-Packard Co., told participants at a recent business and education forum here that corporations should contribute not only money to education reform efforts, but also human resources.

"Our experience is that at the end of the day, educators value the human resources as much as the dollars," Mr. Platt said at the meeting sponsored by the Conference Board, a New York City-based business-research organization.

The May 6-7 conference put a spotlight on the latest business partnerships with schools and other corporate initiatives aimed at improving public education.

Mr. Platt, whose Palo Alto, Calif.-based company makes computers, printers, and other products, said businesses should not "just run down the road and adopt the schools."

"One of the things I hear is that we are helping the schools to death," he added. "We are running around and throwing money at things and not really understanding whether we are helping."

Hewlett-Packard is involved in numerous education initiatives, including participation in a network of companies in the San Jose, Calif., area known as Joint Venture: Silicon Valley.

Mr. Platt served as a mentor of a program in the East San Jose school district that focused on reading. The partnership helped the schools institute the Success for All reading program.

But at the end of three years, "we actually discontinued the funding," he said. The corporate partners were not happy with the cooperation and commitment from school officials, Mr. Platt said.

He said business leaders involved in school reform should try to introduce measuring sticks to evaluate the success of partnerships.

"We like this approach at Hewlett-Packard," he said. "It allows us to experiment. After all, we are engineers."

Michael Cohen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, told the conference that partnerships between business and education "are maturing in very interesting ways."

"They are systemic--they are trying to change how the whole system operates," he said. "They are sustained. There are no quick fixes."

The Conference Board highlighted a number of these more sophisticated partnerships both at the conference and in a report.

One example is the Virtual Trade Mission sponsored by United Airlines. The project uses multimedia technology to teach the importance of the country's export economy. During a one-week unit, students consult experts on trade, including some at the airline, about selling goods abroad.

Cisco Systems Inc., based in San Jose, launched a program in 1997 to teach high school students how to build and maintain computer networks. An early success of the Cisco Networking Academy Program came that year, when students from Thurgood Marshall Academic High School in San Francisco designed and installed a computer network for a community college trade show at the San Jose Convention Center.

The International Business Machines Corp.'s flagship school partnership, called Reinventing Education, involves a $40 million commitment to improvement efforts with 21 districts.

Robin Willner, the Armonk, N.Y.-based computer giant's director of corporate social policy and programs, stresses that the program is an educational partnership and not a technology program.

"We come to our work in education with a great deal of urgency and a great deal of humility," she said. "Our partners identify the issues. We want to make sure we're making a difference on achievement. It's not enough for us to feel good about what we do."

In another example of an innovative school-business partnership, the McDonald's Corp. sponsors a program that involves having students select and develop a site for a new restaurant. The MacTown U.S.A. project gives teachers a variety of project-based learning modules that help students learn about real estate, accounting, construction, human resources, and marketing.

Landa Carlson, the educational administrator for McDonald's regional headquarters in Lake Osego, Ore., noted that students are often urged to study so they "don't end up at McDonald's" in a low-level position.

"We want people to say, 'You need to learn your math, so you can work as a real estate manager or construction manager at McDonald's,' " she said.

Chris Griffith, a 3rd grade teacher at Clackamas (Ore.) Elementary School, said students get excited over the mock construction project. And in the project's two years, he hasn't received any complaints from parents about promotion of the hamburger chain.

--Mark Walsh mwalsh@epe.org

Vol. 18, Issue 36, Page 5

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