Creating partnerships to improve education

Businessman drawing business strategy concepts with chalk

A wave of research shows the achievement gap between poor children and higher-income children is growing wider.

C.A. Weis Community School is part of a growing movement built on the idea that the best way to lift children out of poverty is to give them services and support they need to succeed in school.

In the model, public schools, nonprofit organizations and local businesses come together to provide a broad range of programs and services to students and families in support of comprehensive child and community development.

The strategy is spreading across the country, as school districts are turning to private companies, nonprofits and foundations for partnerships that can help tackle the biggest impediments to learning.

As the Atlantic reports in Fixing Schools Outside of School: “In the world of limited resources for schools (and for other public endeavors), the schools have come to depend on the kindness of outside partners.”

Partnerships with outsiders matter for good reason, Ted Hesson writes:

They give educators a chance to experiment and innovate in ways that might have been difficult otherwise. A business or foundation can bring a fresh perspective to a problem, as well as expertise and resources.

Hesson spotlights several schools around the country that have adopted the community school strategy and built effective partnerships to make them work.

Brooklyn’s P-Tech is a collaboration between schools and companies — in this case, IBM.

The school, which opened in 2011, lets students earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in six years, the get an inside track on jobs at IBM.

Just outside of Detroit, Clintondale High School turned its school upside down.

After finding out that many of the low-income students couldn’t finish homework because they worked after school or care for younger siblings, the principal had an idea to flip the school day. Students watched lectures at home or before class, giving teachers time to help student with homework during school hours.

Going beyond the school and outside the classroom, the school reached out to TechSmith, a Michigan-based software company that offered a screen-recording program.

TechSmith provided free licenses for Clintondale teachers to experiment with prerecorded lectures. The company sent workers to the school to troubleshoot and research best practices for the upside-down model of education.

The principal began applying the strategy throughout the school. Failures rates dropped dramatically, and Clintondale rose from the ranks of the state’s worst-performing schools.

The best partnerships focus less on the nuts and bolts of learning and more on removing the barriers that hinder a child’s learning, Hesson writes:

Clintondale found a way to provide services that students might not get at home — a helping hand with homework. Other schools attend to students’ physical well-being. In Lower Price Hill, a mostly white, working-class neighborhood of Cincinnati, Oyler School makes sure students have access to adequate health care. The school has medical and dental clinics on site as well as a vision center where students can get free eye exams. Also, children can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at school and bring food home for the weekends.

One of the best ways to improve expectations of parents and to help children of poverty is to extend the school environment into the community.

At a community school the focus is on academics, services, supports and opportunities that typically leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities.

In Pensacola, Weis Community School’s partnerships include Children’s Home Society, the University of West Florida, Sacred Heart Hospital, Escambia Community Clinics and Escambia County School District Title I representatives.

By making schools like Weis the hubs of their communities and engaging a range of partners with expertise and resources, community schools have shown to support students’ needs and boost their learning.

But as The Atlantic reports, schools and partnerships can’t fix the education and economic deficiencies alone:

Still, it’s important to remember that partnerships between schools and outside entities, while valuable, won’t remedy the deeper causes of struggling schools—poverty and discrimination. Schools can take advantage of whatever resources are available to provide the best education possible. Unless the social and economic forces conspiring against student achievement are eradicated, however, educators will be swimming against the current.