It’s not news that public school districts have maintained productive relationships with the business community over the years. In Ohio, Cincinnati Bell recently helped a failing high school in the Cincinnati Public Schools transform itself into an information technology academy by providing student internships, a fleet of volunteer mentors, and college scholarships, not to mention five computer labs.
Since 1990, the Lees Summit (Mo.) School District has worked with 250 local business partners, including corporations that send experts to the high school’s marketing classes and local banks that deploy volunteers to help teach math in elementary classrooms. For even longer, the Anchorage (Alaska) Public Schools has cultivated relationships with 500 local businesses and organizations, which do everything from providing mentors to funding school projects.
Nowadays, some of the most promising and impactful partnerships involve high profile, high-tech companies bent on transforming teaching and learning in the classroom. At the same time, say representatives from Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung, and other leading technology providers, their expanding relationship with school districts is allowing their companies to “road test” their latest products, as well as practice corporate responsibility.
These “win/win” relationships are developing at a time when school districts—beset by shrinking resources and a mandate to teach 21st-century skills—most need the assistance. “Districts nationwide are working with finite budgets but still have strategic goals,” says Cleon Franklin, instructional technology director at the Memphis City Schools (MCS). “When you have partners to pick up what we lack, it is very helpful.”
Piloting the Smart School Solution
Franklin has found just such a partner in electronics giant Samsung, which last fall provided a technology makeover for a sixth grade class at the underperforming Geeter Elementary School. Samsung equipped the classroom with 35 GALAXY Note 10.1 tablets (one for each student and the teacher), as well as a 65-inch interactive whiteboard, and a wireless printer—all aimed at improving math achievement.
Besides providing services to connect the equipment, Samsung provided training during the first two weeks of the term for students, teachers, and staff that ranged from modeling lessons to troubleshooting technical problems.
Jason Redmond, the senior manager of integrated communication for Samsung’s Enterprise Business Division, explains that Geeter—which achieved the partnership through a competitive application process—represents his company’s first pilot site for its Smart School Solution, which it eventually aims to market to districts around the country.
The one-to-one program allows the teacher to deliver course materials, learning apps, and math problems to the student tablets, Redmond adds, which sets the table for a wide range of interactive learning in math. “The teacher can share on the whiteboard with the entire class what’s on a particular student’s tablet, or work one-on-one with individual students (via their respective tablets),” says Franklin. For instance, the teacher can scan and digitize a math worksheet or create a pop quiz, have the class complete it on the tablets, collect the results, send specific feedback to different students, and post successfully completed problems on the whiteboard for analysis.
Likewise, students use their tablets to work and communicate with each other in small groups, and the teacher can see a noticeable impact just months into the program. “It’s generating excitement in a school that’s had some challenges,” Franklin says. “Now students treat math class the same way they treat recess.”
Memphis and Redmond also are hoping to see a difference in student achievement scores on end-of-course tests, and on state and national assessments later this year. A Samsung consultant visits the classroom every three weeks to gather information on how the initiative is progressing. “The win-win is that we’re getting to test this product in the real world before we introduce it in the United States,” Redmond adds. “It will have been kid- and teacher-tested and approved.”
Qualcomm in Onslow County
One partnership program—between a dozen districts around the country and international chipmaker Qualcomm—already has established a successful track record in math achievement. Since 2007, Qualcomm, through its Wireless Reach initiative, has distributed grants from $5,000 to $400,000 to districts expanding their technology programs, but with a condition attached. “We’re not a philanthropy,” emphasizes Kristin Atkins, Wireless Reach senior director. “We dictate how the funds are spent, and the idea is to demonstrate the benefits of Qualcomm technology.”
The rural Onslow (N.C) County Schools became Qualcomm’s first educational partner. The district, which has a large percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, had a large high school cohort struggling in math. It used the Qualcomm grant to establish a one-to-one program in two Algebra I classes and purchased smartphones—powered by Qualcomm chips—for all students and teachers. (In 2011, the district switched to HTC Flyer tablets, with funding from other sources.)
The Onslow initiative, dubbed Project K-Nect and created with the firm Digital Millenial Consulting, also developed project-based lessons and activities that utilized the features and functionality of the smartphones. “The big thing is that the kids connect to each other and their teacher, and they go on the internet to find what they need,” says Onslow Superintendent Kathy Spencer, who adds that the possibility of communicating outside of school added a critical dimension to mastering math concepts. “There was one young girl who could not figure out at home how a problem had already been solved in class,” Spencer recalls. “She took a picture of the problem and texted her partner, and that partner sent back an explanation of why the first student was having difficulties on the problem.”
“Most of the kids attribute their success to learning from each other, wirelessly and 7/24,” adds Qualcomm’s Atkins.
The combination of pedagogy and technology has made a big difference, say those involved with the project. “All of the kids scored at least 30 percent better on their end-of-course tests,” says Atkins of the first Algebra I classes. And that success story led to additional funding from Wireless Reach and a steady expansion of Project K-Nect to Algebra II and geometry classes.
An evaluation conducted in 2011 by Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit educational organization, found that, in that year, 90 percent of the Project K-Nect students in Algebra I and 100 percent of the Algebra II students demonstrated proficiency on their end-of-course exams. And Spencer notes that all of the students in the original Algebra I classes took calculus before graduating in 2011.
Spencer sees an additional benefit to district/business partnerships in generating school board and community support for technology in the schools. “It’s important when a huge corporation like Qualcomm walks in the door and says this can transform the classroom,” she points out.
Other district/business partnerships have concentrated on providing districts with technological and pedagogical expertise rather than equipment and connectivity. That approach is at the heart of Intel’s K-12 Blueprint, designed to facilitate one-on-one programs. The company offers free consulting services to about 10 “backyard” districts—Beaverton, Ore., Sunnyside, Ariz., and Rio Rancho, N.M. among them—located near Intel sites. Intel is showing corporate citizenship to districts related to the company’s presence in a particular state.
Two full-time consultants travel to these sites to help plan and implement their one-to-one initiatives. The assistance covers areas from leadership and policy to infrastructure, curriculum and assessment, and professional development. “That way, the districts don’t have to start from scratch, and we can make sure their deployments are successful,” says Intel Educational Strategist Paige Johnson. When it comes to infrastructure, for example, districts receive guidance on areas such as online testing and implementing cloud computing. The K-12 Blueprint website offers success stories, resources, and live technical advice.
For the past three years Project Red, a research and consulting organization based in Mason, Mich., has provided similar expertise—through its One-to-One Institute—to a group of 10 “signature districts,” selected through a competitive application process and including those in Charleston, S.C.; Natick, Mass., and Clark County, Nev.
While Project Red offers fee-based educational consulting, it has developed strategic alliances with Qualcomm, Intel, AT&T, Dell, and other companies, which fund the organization’s work in participating districts. That work derives from Project Red’s extensive research on educational technology. It also puts a premium on making sure districts can afford their new one-to-one programs.
“We have the expertise to work with people on developing their educational vision and on finding funding sources,” says Leslie Wilson, CEO of the One-to-One Institute. “We‘re educators who also understand how budgets work.”
The Sunnyside (Ariz.) Unified School District has proved to be an active beneficiary of both the Intel K-12 Blueprint and Project Red services. Superintendent Manuel Izquierdo has turned to Project Red as the district launches a one-to-one program, paid for by a recent bond issue, which will equip more than 10,000 students in grades 4-12. “What Project Red did was to say, ‘We’ve done this research over the last two years and want to share it,’ ” Izquierdo explains. The materials from Project Red include a large-scale implementation blueprint and a corresponding graphic organizer for the complicated process of expanding the 1:1 program.
“They’ve given us a tremendous amount of technical support,” Izquierdo says, noting that Project Red has also built a cohort of participating schools to share best practices and solutions to mutual problems through online forums and in person at Project Red Institutes, the most recent of which were held last fall.
From Intel’s K-12 Blueprint program, meanwhile, Sunnyside has received on-site professional development for teachers during summer break and throughout the school year, and district personnel have attended Intel conferences dedicated to one-to-one computing.
Sunnyside’s success so far is just the kind of outcome Intel and other high-tech companies want to see, says Intel’s Johnson. “When your educational systems are better, you make the economy better and the world better. That’s good for business,” she reasons. “We need every company in a community to do the same. We all win when students are successful.”
Ron Schachter is a contributing writer to District Administration.