I heard it on the news again today: more layoffs in public education. The City of Philadelphia will be laying off some 1,100 school teachers next year, and another 2,700 school personnel also face job losses.
As both a parent and a corporate citizen, I have asked, “What can we in business and industry do to ensure the success of public schools in our communities?” While at first glance it appears to be solely an issue of resources, there are elements of the systems that business leaders can influence, resulting in a multiplier effect, allowing more to be done with the limited resources available.
Much of the debate on the adequacy of public school funding is driven by public policy issues, be they related to tax burdens, equity, or control points (i.e. federal, state or local.) These certainly are issues about which businesses should and do weigh in, but at times the systems may appear too driven by inertia for businesses to influence.
However, nationally there are points of access to the public education systems for businesses to make a significant impact on the outcomes. These access points are the organizations, generally non-profits, which focus their work on proven program models and interventions that directly touch students' lives and greatly increase the likelihood of success in their education and careers.
Two such organizations in which I am personally invested are the Philadelphia Academies, Inc. and the Philadelphia Youth Network. While financial support is necessary for sustaining these organizations, full engagement by the business community is critical to their missions and success of their programs.
What particularly attracted me to these organizations was the passion and commitment of their leadership, the demonstrated success of the programs they provide, and their willingness to both teach the business leaders about how they take on the challenges facing public education in Philadelphia and to learn and employ resource management strategies used in business. Their work includes Internships/Work-Based Experiences, Industry Pipeline Models, and "Learning in Context" initiatives.
These programs work! They work to develop the 21st Century Skills necessary for our youth, and our economy, to compete in the national and international arena during their careers.
Internships/Work-Based Experiences - Paid work experiences are designed to provide career readiness training and 21st Century Skills development. Internships occur during both the summer and the school year.
Industry Pipeline Models - These prepare high school students with industry-specific training. The programs are designed to prepare participants, upon graduation from high school, to build successful careers at local companies in high-growth, high-demand professions, as well as to pursue post-secondary education. The model relies heavily on partnerships among employers, high schools, youth- serving organizations, and institutions of higher education.
Learning in Context - Research shows that many people learn better and faster - and retain information longer, when they are taught concepts in context. Some evidence-based models are Career Academies, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. Career Academies are schools within larger high schools (i.e. Small Learning Communities) that feature academic and technical curricula connected to a career theme, designed to promote high school graduation and post-secondary participation. CTE is an approved body of courses and experiences that include both academic and occupational skills development designed to equip students with skills needed for employment and post-secondary education/training in a particular field of employment.
In Philadelphia, our business community is working in concert with the City, the public school system, and universities to build a comprehensive education and youth workforce development strategy with a specific planning and implementation role for businesses, and to maximize the interests and investment of industry.
We are focused on replicating and scaling up education models that address 21st century skills development, as well as core academics that focus on learning in context. We are developing a basic business-minded infrastructure that supports research and learning to replicate effective practices, invest in the human capital to teach and support our youth, and ensure that accountability metrics are in place and that outcomes are required to be shared for every intervention for which public and tax incentive funding is provided.
The success of our public school system is in the self-interest of all stakeholders in our communities. The positive impact that businesses are having by aggressively engaging the challenges - especially where their involvement can take hold and then be scaled up as described above - provides academic enrichment, career and college preparation opportunities, and access to the mainstream economy for thousands of deserving young people each year.
The benefits derived from an educated workforce, such as economic development, tax base expansion, and crime reduction are so critical to the health and vibrancy of our communities, and our quality of life. I have learned more from the dedicated leaders with whom I have worked in the education reform organizations than I have contributed to their success. I strongly encourage business leaders to get engaged, get passionate, and make a difference in public education - our future depends on it!
Tony Bartolomeo is president and CEO of Pennoni Associates, co-chair of the Philadelphia Council for College and Career Success, and a board member of Philadelphia Academies, Inc.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.