Public-Private Partnerships For School Improvement Efforts

By Emily Richmond, Public Editor, Education Writers Association
This guest post originally appeared in The Educated Reporter >>

Turning good intentions into meaningful action is one of the toughest elements of trying to improve public education. How can school and community partners most effectively join forces to produce positive academic, physical, and social outcomes for those students who arrive with the fewest advantages?

These were some of the questions The After School Corporation (TASC) and the Partnership For Youth Development tackled earlier this month in a New Orleans forum. The audience included educators, community leaders and advocates from both the public and private sector. I moderated one discussion on how schools and community partners are finding ways to work together, instead of at cross-purposes, to help students learn. (You can watch the discussion below or visit TASC’s Web site for more on the forum.)

One approach to school improvement that’s getting significant attention at the national level is expanded learning time. In fact, the 19 states that received waivers from the more onerous requirements of No Child Left Behind were required by the U.S. Department of Education to include more time for student learning as part of their school improvement blueprints. It’s also a cornerstone of TASC’s ExpandED Schools model.

Created in 1998 to provide high-quality after-school programs for public schoolchildren, the nonprofit TASC counts The Wallace Foundation and the Open Society Foundations among its major supporters, along along with public agencies, corporations and individual donors. Last year, TASC partnered with 11 schools—three in Baltimore, three in New Orleans and five in New York City—to implement a new blue print for improvement. Known as ExpandED Schools, the campuses are finishing their first year of operations. The five New York City school were also part of a pilot program for TASC’s Expanded Learning Time model, which ran from 2008 to 2011. It was based in part on the success at those pilot campuses that the organization designed its ExpandED Schools.

While it’s still early to be evaluating student achievement, there are already signs of progress, said Lucy Friedman, TASC’s president. At the same time, Friedman said, the ExpandED Schools are building the community ties that are crucial to long-term success.TASC works with community partners—such as AmericaCorps—to bring volunteers into the schools, and also provides more professional development for teachers and other staff. Perhaps most importantly, the school day is extended by about three hours. The extra time is used for supplemental learning opportunities that complement the core curriculum taught during the “regular” academic day. Having their children in a safe—and educational—environment makes it easier for working parents, and the community partnerships ensure that teachers are not required to work extra hours.

The ExpandED School model also emphasizes principal empowerment, which enables the individual campuses to be more responsive to what parents want for their children, Friedman said.

“Parents get a voice in redesigning the school day and students get a wider range of opportunities and more time for core academics,” Friedman said. “And citizens get a better result for their tax investment in schools.”

Another initiative that’s building public-private partnerships is the Campaign For Grade-Level Reading, a collaborative effort of political, education, business and advocacy leaders to close the nation’s literacy gap. The nonpartisan campaign, which officially launches today with a conference in Denver, already has 124 communities and more than 1,800 organizations signed on. The diversity of the municipal partners is worth noting, ranging from New York City (the nation’s largest school district) to Southern Pines, N.C., (population 11,586). Big or small, each partner has committed to improving three key areas for students: school readiness, attendance and access to summer learning.For those goals to be accomplished, it’s going to take a committed effort by every sector of the community, Ron Fairchild, a senior consultant for the campaign, told the audience in New Orleans. “One of the dangers in conversations about accountability is we often frame it as a conversation about blame,” Fairchild said. “For too long, schools and teachers have borne the brunt of that.”

One example of successful public-private collaborations featured at the New Orleans forum is the STRIVE Partnership in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. Part of a national STRIVE network, the organization helps connect over 300 partners with schools so that students get the health and wellness support services they need to succeed academically and in life.

STRIVE’s primary objective is to get the various partners to abandon their individual agendas and agree to work toward a core set of outcomes. The result, said Leslie Maloney, senior vice president of the Carol and Ralph V. Hailie, Jr./US Bank Foundation and a member of the STRIVE Executive Committee, is what’s known as “collective impact.”

(The collective impact model is gaining traction nationally, and it was one of the panel discussions at EWA’s 65th National Seminar.)

STRIVE focuses on specific academic milestones including kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, eighth-grade math skills, high school graduation, and postsecondary enrollment and completion.

At the forum, Maloney acknowledged that these are big goals and that “we’re going to be at this for a long time.”

Indeed, these sorts of investments require not only resources and human capital but also a fair amount of patience. So how long should it take for schools to improve? As Friedman, the president of TASC, so aptly noted in New Orleans, change takes time—and it probably can’t happen faster than “the speed of trust.”

Have a question, comment or concern for the Educated Reporter? Email EWA public editor Emily Richmond at erichmond@ewa.org. She also tweets @EWAEmily