Business and education partnerships – time to act creatively

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In this article, US SurfAid Schools Program manager, Dr Andrea Yoder-Clark, beautifully articulates the importance of business and education working closely together to achieve inspired high quality outcomes for the future.

Recently, I had the luxury of being inspired in an unlikely place.  As I sat in the movie theater, watching Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, the main character, Ted, lifted my spirit with his love inspired actions that changed his world.  I walked away from that movie thinking about times in my own life when I have acted out of love as a mother, a wife, a former teacher or now as a business owner, and how good those moments felt.  I realized that those moments of inspired action all shared one thing in common, a thought that was unique enough to make a difference, but similar enough to be understood.  And, I couldn’t help thinking that inspired action is not acted on nearly enough in business.

Last week in the San Diego Business Journal, Qualcom co-founder Irwin Jacobs and local bio tech CEO Phillip Lowe spoke from a place of inspired action, asking us to stretch our minds to consider the links between business and education. These business leaders asked future mayoral candidates to re-brand San Diego as an “entrepreneurial hub”, and at the same time reminded us all that high quality public schools attract high quality employees.  Now that is inspired action… asking business to invest in future success by supporting struggling public schools today.  This idea is unique, yet realistic. And, that got me excited.

As a mother with children in San Diego public schools, I have worried as the number of students in their classes has risen and enrichment programs have disappeared.  As a former public school teacher, it has pained me to watch the workload go up, while teachers’ salaries go down.  As a scholar of education, my doctoral work taught me the importance of small classes, high quality committed teachers and high standards.  Unfortunately, my doctoral work also taught me how few students graduate today with the skills necessary to succeed in college or get jobs in our information economy.

Recently, the Union Tribune reported that one third of California’s public school students attend school districts facing financial insolvency.  Seven of these districts are in San Diego County, including Carlsbad Unified.  Carlsbad, a middle-to-high income north county community, is not a city you would traditionally expect to find on this list. Carlsbad Unified expects to cut 20% of its teachers in order to bridge a 6.4 million dollar budget gap, forcing officials to hand out 160 pink slips next month. 

Maybe Irwin Jacobs and Phillip Lowe are on to something. If there was ever a time for business to build innovative partnerships with public education, the time is now. In Dr. Seuss’ great parable, The Lorax, business gobbles up available resources, leaving nothing but "gluppity-glup and schloppity schlopp”.   In the end, facing a wasteland where the forest once stood, the Lorax, the voice of the trees, leaves the corporate giant, the Once-ler, with nothing but the word, “unless” embedded in a rock.  "What’s an 'unless'?", asks Ted, the boy inspired by love to look for a real tree long after the demise of the forest.  “A thought about something that somebody ought”, answers the Once-ler.

In San Diego, businesses have clearly had "thoughts about something that somebody ought” and are beginning to address the crisis in public schools.  The UT partnered with San Diego’s United Way Chapter, launching the Volunteer 4 Education campaign that boasts over 10,000 volunteers in K-12 schools since its launch in September. Direct links between business and schools are being fostered through an ongoing collaboration between Mission Federal Credit Union and the San Diego County Office of Education with its Re-Energize Education events and a promising web site will launch this month, The Legacy Link Marketplace, that links local business’ corporate social responsibility initiatives to education programs.  

Similar initiatives have begun to sprout up all over California and the nation at large.  In Sacramento, a group called LEED links education, workforce development and the economy.  In December 2011, an article in the Wall Street Journal commented on the role business partnerships can play in education success.  While business’ recent interest in education is commendable, it is important to make sure that education partners benefit as much as business’ marketing departments. The calls of Dr. Seuss’ Once-ler’s big business mantra, ring true, “Listen here! Here's a wonderful chance, for the whole Once-ler family to get mighty rich!”

Opponents to business education partnerships have cited similar concerns, wary of direct marketing to students. Business has also avoided school partnerships due to the potential of bureaucratic red tape and overwhelmed, under-resourced teachers.  The cautionary tones of Dr. Seuss’ Lorax reflected in this quote are real, “They say I'm old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast!"  While this growing trend is promising.  It is something to watch.

As I sat in the movie theater watching The Lorax on Dr. Seuss’ birthday, I found myself hoping as a mother, a former teacher and a scholar of education that the business community in San Diego would heed Irwin Jacob’s call and work to improve our public schools in ways that bring real progress to those that matter most, the kids. In dire times like these, the words of Dr. Seuss’ Once-ler have never been more true. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothings going to get better. It's not.”

 - Linking Business to Educational Success is Crucial to Long Term Economic Growth, Dr. Andrea Yoder Clark,©2012