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 / Autumn 2012 / Issue 68(originally published by Booz & Company)


School Reform for Realists

To maintain credibility and avoid suspicion, transparency is critical. For example, more transparency might have saved the Cisco portal, which was considered by educators who had seen the technology to be much better than the NYCDOE’s alternative.

In Louisiana, the challenge came with assessing the value of the partnership. One report, by the Center for Children and Technology, found that Cisco’s partnership with the local school district had helped “launch a dramatic educational transformation.” At the same time, progress has lagged expectations. Although Jefferson Parish ranks sixth out of 60 Louisiana school districts in percentage performance gains between 2008 and 2011, the district still received a “D” on its state evaluation, based on 2011 student test scores. Lessons learned from Cisco’s experience 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

One of the first schools to join New York City’s iZone was Global Technology Preparatory, a three-year-old middle school in Harlem. The school’s first principal, Chrystina Russell, explicitly sought to leverage the school’s resources by collaborating with outsiders, including philanthropies and businesses.

Teamwork was an explicit aim when Russell began recruiting teachers. During the summer of 2009, she corralled prospective faculty members for regular Sunday brunches at the home of Global Tech’s assistant principal-in-training, Jacqueline Pryce-Harvey. A Jamaican immigrant who holds a Ph.D. in geography, Pryce-Harvey is also a master cook who once worked as a personal chef for New York socialite Brooke Astor. Over gourmet food, the teachers brainstormed Global Tech’s curriculum, ways to recruit kids, criteria for new hires, and a strategy for introducing technology into the classroom.

The meals underscored the collaboration and flexibility that Russell would expect from her staff — and that she insists is crucial to a successful school — as well as an implicit understanding that teaching responsibilities do not stop when school ends at 3:30 p.m. Global Tech relies on partnerships inside and outside the school, but Russell maintains focus on the core values that she and her staff have identified, rather than outside agendas. For example, every student received a laptop to work with at school, courtesy of the iZone and corporate donations, but Global Tech did not hire outside technology experts for training. Instead, Russell chose to rely on a few tech-savvy teachers from within the school to help coach the staff and students, reinforcing the school’s collaborative culture.

In addition, Russell enlisted Computers for Youth, a program that provides free desktop computers loaded with educational software and training for poor families; the program is designed to teach parents how to help their children with schoolwork. She also teamed up with Citizen Schools, a nonprofit after-school learning program that extended Global Tech’s school day to 6 p.m. Students get homework help and academic enrichment, and they participate in hands-on apprenticeship programs that are run by local professionals and businesses, including engineers from Google, who teach rudimentary programming. Another way that Russell has made the most of collaborative teamwork is in the mainstreaming of special education students. Both Russell and Pryce-Harvey are former special education teachers, and 31 percent of Global Tech students are certified as needing special education. Almost all of them are placed in “integrated co-teaching” (ICT) classes that are team taught and include non–special ed students. There is a clear expectation that by the time the special ed students graduate eighth grade, most will be able to function in a regular class.

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