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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Public-Private Partnerships: The Real Future of Education

Dave Guymon

Online middle school teacher & educational blogger from Idaho Falls, Idaho

As education reform initiatives continue to advance, the responsibility for rearing educated citizens will increasingly broaden as well. Rather than focusing on the shortcomings of public schooling, a more sensible approach to the problem will be increasing accountability for the process of public education. In other words, nurturing educated citizens won't be delegated as solely the purview of school systems, but rather the mission of various community stakeholders with an emphasis on public-private partnerships (PPP).

Changing the Equation

Inside and out of classrooms, such relationships are already taking place. In response to President Obama's Educate to Innovate initiative in 2009, Change the Equation, a non-profit dedicated to "mobilizing the business community to improve the quality of STEM education in the United States" was launched.

In its first year, Change the Equation successfully spread proven STEM education programs in districts across the country, empowered CEOs with a toolkit to "advocate in communities where they are the largest employers for STEM reform," and designed a new plan for how companies "can create and invest in STEM programs" as well.

US2020 is another PPP answering the STEM education challenge. Their vision is to "match one million STEM mentors with students at youth-serving nonprofits by the year 2020." With a focus on increasing access to STEM careers for "girls, underrepresented minorities, and low-income children," US2020 and Citizen Schools have partnered to provide expanded STEM learning opportunities for students across the country.

Additionally, the US2020 City Competition is leveraging the "roles of cities as centers for innovation, supporting outstanding efforts to build STEM mentoring capacity at the local level." Applicants from around the country, including representatives from city governments, corporations, nonprofits, schools, universities, museums, and libraries proposed plans to increase STEM mentoring in their areas for the chance to share over $1 million in resources. City Competition recently announced the finalists from Round 1.

The Energy of Digital Youth

Public-private partnerships have also drawn on research into students' relationships with digital media to create student-owned learning labs in existing community spaces.

YOUmedia, an innovative, 21st century, teen-oriented learning space has experienced much success as part of the Chicago Public Library since its first lab opened in 2009. A partnership between the MacArthur Foundation and the Digital Youth Network, YOUmedia is a place for tweens and teens to connect with "books, media, mentors, and institutions throughout the city of Chicago in one dynamic space designed to inspire collaboration and creativity." Teens at YOUmedia are supported in their efforts to learn how to use digital and traditional media to "engage in projects that promote critical thinking, creativity, and skill building."

The response to the PPP-driven YOUmedia initiative has been so positive that the MacArthur Foundation, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is planning to fund the creation of "30 new hands-on learning centers around the country . . . based on the successful YOUmedia center at the Chicago Public Library."

Remaking the Future

The Maker Movement has likewise gained steam over the past few years, and partnerships have formed as a result. The Maker Education Initiative was created to provide "more opportunities for all young people to develop confidence, creativity, and interest in science, technology, engineering, math, art, and learning as a whole through making." Maker Corps, with the generous support of such organizations as Cognizant, Google for Entrepreneurs, and the Grable Foundation, leverages host sites across the country by placing Maker Corps members in youth-serving organizations to "diversify and expand the network of makers, mentors, and community leaders" while increasing "the capacity of youth-serving organizations to engage youth and families in making."

Contrary to being the invasive privatization of a cultural institution, public-private partnerships in education are a community effort. This type of collaboration can lead to greater efficiency and increased choice, and expand access to education services for a full range of communities. PPPs also "allow governments to take advantage of the specialized skills offered by certain private organizations and to overcome operating restrictions such as inflexible salary scales and work rules that may prevail in the public sector."

Despite the shrill tone of today's education reform rhetoric, the future of education isn't a zero-sum tug-of-war between public systems of education and private organizations. It's quite the opposite. In order for our students to receive the best educational experiences possible, and in order to improve America's standing in the global economy, partnerships between our teaching and learning institutions and workforce industries must be forged. This goes beyond our formal public school system to include community learning centers such as libraries and after-school clubs as well. Only after this has taken place -- and after we learn how to work synergistically to empower our students with their futures in mind -- will the future of public education really involve the public.

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Gloria Mitchell's picture
Gloria Mitchell
Secondary Education student in Chicago

YOUmedia is great. But I think citizens need to raise questions when private companies subsidize their own preferred forms of education, yet oppose proposals to raise the amount of tax money that would go to school budgets. Public money is publicly controlled; private money is, inevitably, privately controlled. If schools are to remain a democratic institution -- one that serves the interests of public citizenship as well as private capital -- we need to continue to champion robust public funding, and insist on the responsibility of corporations and individuals to contribute by paying taxes that support all public schools, not just by making donations to favored projects.

Jade Benny's picture

Awesome. For me, this is an a good idea for Public Private Partnerships. Exploring this is a way of introducing private sector technology and innovation in providing better public services through improved operational efficiency.

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