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Published: August 28, 2012
 / Autumn 2012 / Issue 68

 
 

School Reform for Realists

The role that collaboration has played in this effort was highlighted in 2011 when Josniel Martinez, a Global Tech seventh grader, was selected to introduce U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the White House launch of Digital Promise, a national center founded to spur development of breakthrough education technologies. Standing at the lectern in front of more than 100 dignitaries, the 11-year-old Dominican émigré explained how he had been failing sixth grade until the school put together “a whole team to help” him. The team, he explained, included teachers who aided him with his “nightmarish” organization skills and checked his backpack every day for the pencils, assignment sheets, and other items he needed to succeed in class; Computers for Youth, which provided extra software for the home computer they had given him; and his mother, who insisted he work on the software programs three times a week and cut back on TV. “Now look at me in 10 years, Secretary Duncan,” he concluded. “Because I’m going to college...and maybe one day, you’ll be working for me.”

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. The school got an “A” on its 2011 progress report and was ranked in the top 5 percent of all middle schools in New York City. 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. For example, math teacher David Baez was recruited from a dysfunctional school in the Bronx where, as a young teacher, he was rated unsatisfactory by a supervisor. Today, visitors flock to Baez’s math classes, which combine old-fashioned instruction with online math games and visuals. Baez has won thousands of dollars in grants, as well as a prestigious Math for America fellowship that comes with a $15,000 annual stipend. He was also selected as one of six New York City teachers to be part of the Digital Teacher Corps, a Ford Foundation–funded collaboration among educators, technologists, and designers formed to develop interactive digital learning tools.

The collaborative, entrepreneurial culture of Global Tech is usually associated with business startups, not with schools (or, for that matter, with many corporations). 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.

Houston’s Petroleum Academies

In Houston, a public–private partnership was established in 2005 between the school systems and a petroleum industry group, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). The partnership was deliberately set up to bridge a growing shortage of energy workers, by providing a program of industry-tailored advanced-placement courses within selected public schools, designed to give young people the requisite math and science education to fill entry-level jobs in the oil patch. Since its inception, the IPAA has opened petroleum academies within four public schools in the Houston area. These include Milby High School, which has a student body that is largely poor and Latino, and the Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy.

 
 
 
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