The relationships between businesses and schools have grown in significance in recent years. At U.S. News's first education summit, sponsored by Intel and held in October at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Editor Brian Kelly led a panel discussion on the topic.
The following are excerpts from that conversation.
Why does a large corporation decide to put so much energy in education?
WILL SWOPE, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel's corporate affairs division: It is the cornerstone of our philanthropic work, and we have done education since we started. There is no question, right, part of it is absolutely self-serving. If a strong math and science training makes it easier for us to do the kind of incredibly complicated research that we do, we can't move forward in our technology without very deep fundamental understanding of the kind of technologies and fundamental raw physics that drives this kind of capability.
Over and above that, we believe it's fundamental to move the Earth forward. The kind of issues that we face on the planet are such that we think those require very strong math and science orientation going forward.
We spend more than $100 million a year in our philanthropic work, the vast preponderance of that on education—and we have for the last decade. So, we train teachers around the world; professional development for teachers is probably more accurate. And that's an extensive series of programs that grew all around the term Intel Teach. We do software for after school for Intel Learn, for clubhouses that we have developed. We do science and mathematics software for schools, which is called "Skoool." We work with schools of distinction. We do work to try to honor schools around the world that are good at this and, of course, the two huge programs that we run in both Intel science fairs, which are a worldwide basis. You know, we have—I'm pretty sure today that we have about 20 million children around the world competing in those fairs to get to the top 1,500. And then, within the United States, we do the science talent search, which is a few thousand students right now.
Does the increasing role of business undermine local school board control?
ANNE BRYANT, president of the National School Boards Association, representing 15,000 school districts across the country: Absolutely not. In fact, we have something called the Key Work of School Boards, which is an eight-part framework that lays out what is the board's governance role. And one of the eight parts is collaboration and connection with the community and working with businesses.
Wisconsin and Georgia have invested lots of money into apprenticeship programs. Well, what [is] the value of those programs? And this is research based: Attendance goes—skyrockets—up; dropout declines dramatically. The connection: What we have to understand about dropout is, yes, sometimes it's about economics, but a lot of it, relevance; students don't feel that their work and their academic life is relevant, so they drop out.
So, any of these partnership programs where it's—whether it's a career or tech program, and the old voc tech is gone—I've got to tell you, the career academies, the career technical programs now going on in schools today [are] light-years beyond what we used to think of as voc ed. So, I think the school board's role is to make those connections, and it can't be short term.
Is the role of business a mixed blessing?
GENO FLORES, chief academic officer of the Prince George's County (Maryland) school system: No, I think they are a welcome blessing, and they should take an interest in public education and education of all of the youth in America. As stated earlier, it's not just for benefiting our population, but the world's population, helping children understand the application of the concepts that they should be learning about and delving into much deeper in everyday education.
The other important part that business can play and corporations can play is really being the venue for getting students excited about how I use this knowledge. We all at some point joked about, when am I ever going to use A squared plus B squared equals C squared? When am I ever going to do that? And after I pass that test, do I get to put it on the shelf and say I'm not going to apply that any longer?
But thinking about how these math concepts or actual applications are used in everyday life and in businesses [is] really important. So it's not just the open house for students who come in to see how does an adult actually use this education. It actually opens their awareness beyond doctor, lawyer, engineer. And if I'm not good enough to do that, maybe I'm a banker or maybe I'm an actuary because I can calculate really well.
SUSAN ZELMAN, senior vice president of education and children's content at PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting: I would say that we've learned that educators alone can't do it. And the reality is, if we want—you know, the reality is that in this new economy, it's not only a knowledge-based economy, but it's going to be a creative, innovative economy. And so, academics alone won't do it. Our students really need the partnerships with the business community to learn how they apply their knowledge to the real world.
In the theme of what works here, I would love to be as specific as we can get here and look at a few case studies. Tell us about some of yours.
BRYANT: Well, I've got loads of them, but I'll tell you my two favorites. They're both actually from Pinellas County in Florida. Tarpon Springs High School has a culinary arts program. And it was started by a very well-to-do individual who sort of challenged their local education foundation, another key piece. The public school district has an education foundation. Publix, which is a big supermarket chain in the South, all coming together to build a culinary arts program.
The math and the science and the technology behind it are the academic pieces. But these kids are thriving, and they are getting hired by restaurants, by hotels, motels, Disneyland, all over the place—Disney World. But I think again, what's important is that Publix and their corporate partners are now using the facility for their own uses. So, in other words, the school day is 24-7 for that partnership. And I think that's a really important piece.
The other example, East Lake High School, is in engineering. It was started—the idea for it—was two teachers, trigonometry and physics. And they called it Trisics Group, a new science. But with NASA and Honeywell as partners, they have built East Lake High School, which literally is focused on trigonometry, physics, and NASA and the whole space arena. So, it's two examples. And they happened because they were partners from the get-go.
I think one of the pieces is—and I think you raised it in your introductory comments—is it kind of corporate takeover? None of this is corporate takeover. All of it is how can we work more effectively together. How can we plan this together? How can we create the benchmarks for success together? And meanwhile, by the way, these children—these students—are engaged. They get jobs, or they go on to higher education.
Why isn't it corporate takeover, Will? I mean, why not? I mean, you're spending all this money. Why not just get in there? You guys must be dying to get the return-on-investment numbers and really make sure that you're getting your money's worth. Is that how it works?
SWOPE: It just isn't about business. If we want to make this about business, we have much better uses of our money. This is about trying to actually make a difference. Let me give you just two examples.
Intel employees volunteer, right? This is our 40th anniversary this year, founded in '68. This year, we're going to hold a party, and we're giving the presents. And we made a challenge to our employees as to whether or not they could volunteer a million hours around the world. We're at 870,000 hours as of yesterday, so we'll probably make it. And last year, 550,000 of those hours were in secondary schools, all right? Whether it be helping a teacher, whether it be doing mentoring, whatever it is, it's fundamental to the way we think about it.
There's no corporate takeover. This is a matter of individual people helping kids in science and math. It's a matter of helping them with basic reading skills. It's just work that we do K through 12 that is really a very big deal to us.
We're not educators. The government is the educator. The teacher is the educator. We're not trying to take that over at all. We're trying to help; we're trying to assist.
BRYANT: What I see is in these partnerships, teachers want to be able to connect to kids. And that's why they go into teaching. And some of the professional development that happens when you have these kinds of business partnerships actually is wonderful because teachers change the way they teach. They become more relevant. They are using real-world examples. They are using skill sets that they are learning through their association with the businesses. So, even if it's not a professional development program, it is literally the interacting with business professionals.
Deloitte, the accounting firm, has a huge curriculum and program that has changed the way math teachers and economics teachers are teaching math. And kids are becoming—they're loving accounting. I mean, I know that's a strange concept. It literally does change teachers' behavior as well.
Let me ask you a little bit about what we touched on—the question of continuity, the staying-power business—and also, you know, it raises, I think, potentially, an equity issue, which is, if you live in, say, Dayton and there's a wonderfully engaged business community and they're doing all sorts of great things, how does that square with people who live on the other side of the state in, maybe, an economically depressed area?
FLORES: There are changes that have occurred in our country—technological changes—that I think make communication much better. We are getting them, no matter how poor we are as a school system. And I mean either the small school districts or the large ones, in trying to scale up technology resources, they are in our schools. And we can communicate that way with businesses, so while they cannot make the trip any longer, or maybe they cannot sponsor the bus for the all-day field trip to the business location, they can still call; they can still, now, videoconference; they can still, now, make connections; they can still E-mail; they can still be available through online tutoring systems. There's still lots that businesses can do to continue the work as opposed to just showing up and saying, "Hi, I'm here," or "I'm sending a bus for you."
SWOPE: If you think about trying to reach teachers, then you can direct those funds to places that are more disadvantaged or doing that, and we do that, and other companies do that as well. I was trying to take to heart your comment for volunteering for us. We only really volunteer in places we are. It's very difficult for us to volunteer in places that we're not, so, in that case, that's absolutely true, and that's just one of the—I think volunteering is a fantastic thing, and I'm not going to be defensive about it, but it certainly does favor those sites where we are, around the world, versus those sites that we're not.
This digital divide is one that happens in more than just America. And how this society really wants to deal with this—I was in the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, and the same discussion was taking place. The topic is exactly the same; it's just the people are different. And, in showing up in Ghana and watching what we're doing there, you get the same feeling. So, I don't think society has this one figured out yet. And I don't know if businesses here help or hurt or—I don't think we hurt—but I think there are some very deep issues here of which I think businesses around the world would like to help, but I don't think any of us really have the right formula right now about how to deal with them.
That opens a really interesting area—just the whole question of next-generation technology and whether there's a real leapfrog, leverage opportunity here that works, and I'd love to hear you guys pursue that.
ZELMAN: I think the role of public media in really reinforcing what goes on in school and creating this new notion of a learning day and a learning system for everybody in a community is really key. And I think public media has tremendous potential for reinforcing academics, reinforcing 21st-century skills and really thinking about it as a 360-degree curriculum. You know, looking at what kids see on TV, how that's reinforced by, now, public broadcasting websites using multimedia; how they can take these tools and actually use them as learning tools inside the classroom; how these types of materials can also be used for after-school programs, as well as internships, externships. So, you know, you have PBS kids, you have PBS teachers, you have PBS parents, and you have PBS community supports.
If you were to give advice to a school board or district that was looking to connect with business, how do we go about that? How do we make this connection?
BRYANT: Well, I think very important is the sitting around the table and understanding what each can bring. And being very clear, whether it is a business reaching out to the school board and the superintendent team, or whether it is the opposite. That we are about student learning and we are about innovation and we are about making learning more relevant to kids. And we are also about increasing science and technology and STEM capability. But we are also about creativity. And we are also about other 21st-century skills.
So, I think it is defining what it is we are after and then having clear benchmarks about how we judge this new partnership. And it has to be from the get-go between the district and the business and then, of course, bringing in the high school if we are talking about secondary education.
FLORES: I would say, give the youth a chance. Give them an opportunity to see, to learn, to know about something for which they do not. We, all, everywhere, still spend lots of time and money with students about career, vocational, educational opportunities and helping them to try to understand. And again, there are lots of opportunities for them to search on their own, but here are—again, in their neighborhood or somewhere nearby—especially students in urban areas who may not ever know that these kinds of jobs or these other opportunities exist. And then connect it to "And what do I need to know in order to do that?" "How am I going to apply this learning?"
I would love for there to be more internship possibilities. We are moving towards student-oriented or -generated learning. So whether it is in some project learning or whether it is in some modeling or, again, some credit or value placed upon that relationship that the student has with the business, and they garner something valuable that we are going to give it—again, a score, a credit, whatever the system might happen to be—we are moving towards that. I would like for us to do it more rapidly. In order for that to happen more rapidly, we need the doors open for our youth.
ZELMAN: I would say that the business-district partnership really has to be strategic. It has to be tied to the district's sort of school-improvement plan, ways in which we can get these 21st-century skills to our students, and that it should be, again, not sort of random arrows or disjointed programs but very strategic to the district's plan, as well as the school's plan.
SWOPE: You know, in most of these, it is really being really clear on setting expectations on goals. And most of the time, when I watch stuff work, it is because the team has got together and agreed on the goal they were trying to accomplish. And the more disparate those cultures are, the more important it is that you are very precise on the goal that you are trying to achieve.
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