On March 2, a panel of Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows focused on the Changing Role of Business in Education. Educators from across the nation, the Fellows serve in offices on Capitol Hill and in several math and science-related federal departments. They discussed ways that business partnerships are enabling new and innovative educational practices in their school districts. Kent Hughes, director of the Program on America and the Global Economy, moderated the panel.
Hughes introduced the topic by referring to previous efforts at partnerships between business and education, such as the Business Roundtable's assignment of two CEO's to each governor in the wake of the education summit called by President George H.W. Bush. Hughes commented that "being involved in education is one of the best forms of enlightened self-interest because today's students are tomorrow's engineers, the next generation of technical workers, and the next generation of informed citizens."
The first panelist to speak was Brenda Gardunia, who has twenty years of experience teaching high school math in Idaho. She described ways in which a partnership with a technical center in her area has allowed students to focus more on transitioning to a career, including through competitive paid internships. "We must realize that not all students are going to go to an academic college," she said. According to Gardunia, partnerships between schools and businesses have advantages for both sides, with students gaining real world experience and businesses gaining a deeper pool of potential employees. Gardunia also argued that these partnerships have strengthened community ties and have inherent public relations advantages. Most importantly, through the teaching of these "21st Century Skills," Gardunia argued that students emerge from school better prepared to be a productive member of our global knowledge economy.
Gardunia was followed by, Arundhati Jayarao, who has taught chemistry and physics at a private all girls high school in Northern Virginia. Jayarao said schools in the area have a close relationship with many local businesses. Jayarao highlighted this dynamic at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a public school, where equipment available via private partnerships makes it possible for students to conduct important work for their senior theses. Jayarao also said that representatives from various industries have come into schools to assist with projects and simulations.
John Moore, who teaches environmental science at a New Jersey high school which utilizes the career technical education model, spoke next and reflected on the importance of the business-education partnership. Moore focused on workforce development and project based learning that appeals to a different type of learner than a traditional academic program. Moore said that career technical education directly ties learning to outcomes by answering the frequently asked question of "why do I have to learn this?" In this outcome-based approach, according to Moore, students are more likely to take responsibility for their own education and are able to hear from professionals in their desired field. Moore dismissed concerns that students might seek out career technical education as a "path of less resistance" early in their high school careers, because students in career technical education actually have more study-related demands than in a regular academic high school program and graduate with both a diploma and college credit.
When discussing the relationships between business and schools Sue Whitsett, a biology teacher in Wisconsin, described both partnerships and grants. She mentioned her school's partnership with Mercury Marine, which manufactures boat motors, and a grant her school received from Toyota that allowed students to conduct geothermal heating research on a local retention pond. Whitsett also noted that opportunities for student business partnerships sometime come about in unexpected ways, citing Mercury Marine's need for a television production studio which enabled students to collaborate with the company due to the fact that the school's studio was available. These partnerships are not limited to students however, and Whitsett argued that teachers themselves stand to benefit from contact with the private sector. Specifically, Whitsett said she had been sponsored by the private sector to spend several summers at a lab at the University of Wisconsin, and has been able to take the extra in-the-lab knowledge back to the classroom to impart to her students.
By Rachel Barker
Kent Hughes: Director, Program on America and the Global Economy