To the Editor:
In a recent Commentary, “Charting a Better Course for Business and Education” (Jan. 12, 2011), Joseph M. Piro discussed the growing involvement of business in public education. While he highlighted some risks, it is important to remember that there can also be great rewards when the business community is engaged in a thoughtful and strategic way.
That is exactly the basis for the core partnership program at PENCIL, the nonprofit organization I lead. Through this program, pencil builds and supports customized relationships between business leaders and principals to leverage the expertise of both the private and education sectors.
In the four years that I have been at PENCIL, I have spoken to hundreds of private-sector partners who have joined with principals to make an impact on their school communities. And in every strong, impactful partnership we have helped forge, when I asked business partners why they got and continued to be involved, each and every one expressed praise and respect for their principal partner.
That may be anecdotal evidence, but this is not: Ninety-five percent of the principals in our program last year reported that their partnerships positively affected their schools.
Our experience in involving the private sector in education has not at all involved “teacher bashing,” helping the business sector erase education professionals, or devaluing educators as credible partners in reform. It is the opposite. Far from encroachment, PENCIL’s experience has been in creating collaborative efforts between leaders and, yes, knowledge transfer.
Here, knowledge transfer is both essential and applicable because the role and requirements of school leadership are changing. As U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a recent speech: “Principals were thought of for many decades as building managers and supervisors of operations, and principal-preparation programs were designed accordingly. ... Today, the job of a principal is to be an instructional leader, not just a supervisor. Top-flight school leaders are more like CEOs than building managers. They can oversee multi-million-dollar budgets and hundreds of employees.”
In other words, this is not knowledge transfer from a mathematician to a musician; this is knowledge transfer from leader to leader. The vast majority of school principals begin their careers as teachers and then move into administrative and leadership positions, becoming assistant principals, and then principals. In a nutshell, they are trained as educators, not as leaders, yet today they are expected and empowered to be the chief executive officers of their schools.
Here, collaboration and input from the business community or a business partner can provide a great amount of knowledge on subjects that are essential to being an effective principal, such as strategic planning, team-building and staff retention, effective use of data and evaluation, and budgeting and oversight.
I am not suggesting that businesspeople replace experienced educators, but I am suggesting that school leaders have much in common with business leaders. In fact, far from excluding educators from the debate on education reform, creating a relationship between the two empowers educators with the tools to create their own reform.
New York, N.Y.
A version of this article appeared in the February 02, 2011 edition of Education Week as School-Business Partnerships Have Much to Offer