School Reform for Realists

Partnerships between business and education have a place

Back to School

in solving the talent gap, but not in the way most executives expect. (An excerpt from an article in S+B by Andrea Gabor. Full article can be consulted at the end of this post).

In the midst of a great unemployment crisis, there is also a yawning talent gap. For the marketing function or the factory floor, recruiters seek applicants with the scientific knowledge, communication skills, and technological acumen that many high school graduates (and even some college graduates) lack. That’s why business leaders are pushing for school reform with such urgency; they see public schools as both suppliers of talent and incubators of the future, and they want to help education leaders become more effective.

Unfortunately, most business–education partnerships have been formed around a core set of school reform ideas that can be appealing in theory but don’t seem to work in practice. These include competition-based reforms, including most voucher and charter school systems, incentive pay for teachers, some management training programs for education leaders, and the intensive use of digital educational technology.

One basic attitude underlying these reforms is that schools need to be run more like businesses. In practice, that means adopting a competitive management style that imposes numerical goals, rewards high performers disproportionately, blames labor unions for poor performance, and forces each individual to prove his or her value every day. In other words, school reformers are promoting top-down, carrot-and-stick, compliance-driven management ideas that (as quality-movement leader W. Edwards Deming and others have pointed out) are unreliable and, in many cases, counterproductive — even in business.

On the ground, the most effective business–education partnerships are those that foster innovative education opportunities in which both students and parents can participate, and those that create bridges between schools and the outside world, including potential employers. The following stories demonstrate some of the principles that help these partnerships work. What distinguishes them from many outright failures is the quality of collaboration. In these examples, business leaders did more than donate funds and technology; rather, schools and businesses sought to learn from one another.

Fostering Tech Experiments

Many education reformers have applauded the potential of technology: netbooks, video learning, and electronic educational games. But in practice, technology designed for consumers and homeschooling is not well suited to the needs of inner-city kids or to use within the public school classroom.

But close ties between companies and school districts also mean that conflicts of interest, real or perceived, can arise. To maintain credibility and avoid suspicion, transparency is critical.

Lessons learned from experiences indicate that business–education partnerships should:

• Be set up so that all aspects of the project are transparent to outsiders, even if corporations profit from the R&D

Foster experimentation, because it is not always clear in advance which ideas and projects will work best

• Establish in-depth training for every new technology, with businesspeople and educators learning from each other

Collaborating for Change

Global Tech’s collaborative approach has produced impressive results in a short time. Many students start school 15 minutes early to take advantage of free computer time. On a 2011 Learning Environment Survey, Global Tech scored higher than 90 percent in parent, teacher, and student satisfaction.

Another indicator that Global Tech’s approach is working is the number of people who have succeeded there after being written off in other schools. This includes some teachers.

The collaborative, entrepreneurial culture of Global Tech is usually associated with business startups, not with schools. Whether school leaders can keep it going will depend on how well the school continues to foster a culture of collaboration both inside the school and with partners in the outside world.

Global Tech’s experience indicates that business–education partnerships should:

• Bring together school leaders, teachers, nonprofits, and business collaborators to brainstorm and plan innovative efforts

Focus attention on the problems that school leaders and teachers identify as important

• Foster a participative staff and student culture that echoes the best of the business culture around them

• Document successes and failures so that other schools can learn from them.

Gaining Better Experience

The most realistic road to school reform starts with recognition that business has a tremendous — and growing — stake in the success of public schools. That is why business–education partnerships are likely to proliferate, especially as schools and school districts struggle. In the most successful experiments, such as Global Tech and the petroleum academies, innovation becomes, almost literally, everyone’s job. Just as school administrators, teachers, and students can learn from business executives, companies interested in education reform would do well to learn from the schools they want to help. The challenges they face, as well as the remedies that work best, might surprise them.

Full Article :


About Georges Abi-Aad

CEO, electronic engineer with MBA in marketing. Multicultural; French citizen born in Lebanon working in the Middle East and fluent in French, English and Arabic. I have more than 30 years of proven experience in the Middle East with European know how. I am good in reorganization and in Global strategic management business. I am a dependable leader with an open approach in working with people, forging a strong team of professionals dedicated to the Company and its clientele. Perseverance is my key word. Married to Carole and having 2 children: Joy-Joelle and Antoine (Joyante!).
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