In these schools, teachers receive training to help tailor courses across the curriculum to the academy’s energy focus. For example, in addition to teaching standard literature courses, Milby offers lessons in “technical English,” designed to help students focus on reading and comprehending nonfiction texts. A typical assignment might include writing a persuasive essay on the value of renewable versus nonrenewable energy. Similarly, an algebra course may focus on data analysis in the petroleum industry.
The IPAA’s education advisory committee includes many local companies from the oil and gas industry; these firms provide funding, internships, and speakers to the schools. For example, Milby, the IPAA’s first petroleum academy, received $115,000 worth of laptops from Shell. Halliburton Company has donated $27 million of geo-science and engineering software to make it possible for Milby to teach elective courses in those fields.
Milby graduated its first petroleum academy class in 2010. Of the 80 students in the starting cohort, 62 are going to four-year colleges, almost all on scholarships. Most of those who did not enroll in a four-year college are going to community college. By contrast, among the Milby students who did not attend the petroleum academy, only 37 percent enrolled in a four-year college, and 46 percent entered a community college.
The experience of the petroleum academies in Houston suggests that business–education partnerships should integrate business-oriented subject material into the established curriculum and design recruiting efforts accordingly. They should also scale up slowly, starting with just a few schools and learning from the experience of the first group.
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.
Reprint No. 00126
- Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College at the City University of New York and the author of several books, including The Capitalist Philosophers: The Geniuses of Modern Business — Their Lives, Times, and Ideas (Three Rivers Press, 2002).
- This article is adapted from “Improving Business–Education Partnerships: First, Do No Harm,” in Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education, by Peter Senge et al. (2nd ed., Random House, 2012). For more information, see www.schoolsthatlearn.com.