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Chapter 10

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 Chapter 10: Partnerships With Businesses

The critical factor in a successful education-business partnerships is that each partner needs to believe that the partnership is equitable and each partner is getting fair value for what it is giving.

Moursund, D.G. (2002). Obtaining resources for technology in education: A how-to guide for writing proposals, forming partnerships, and raising funds. Copyright (c) David Moursund, 2002.

Section Headings for Chapter 10 

A Large and Growing Business

Literature-Based Findings About Partnerships

What Does a Business Stand to Gain?

A Sample Partnership Scenario

An Equipment Donation Scenario

Final Remarks


Additional References

Many educational organizations have developed partnerships with businesses. The critical factor in a successful education-business partnerships is that each partner needs to believe that the partnership is equitable and each partner is getting fair value for what it is giving.

It usually takes considerable time and effort to build an education-business partnership. Thus, both partners should think about the long-term benefits of the specific project and possible future partnerships.

A Large and Growing Business

Education-business partnerships exist in both formal education and informal education. Many schools have multiple partnerships with various businesses located in their community and elsewhere. Indeed, this has become such an important source of resources to schools that many larger school districts have one or more staff members devoted to facilitating the development of education-business partnerships. Many science and technology museums as well as other non-profit organizations are highly dependent on partnerships they have formed with local businesses.

An education-business partnership is not unlike the type of contract that is produced in formal, competitive grant proposal situations. The educational organization is most often the Resource Seeker, while the business is most often the Resource Provider. This is not always the case. For example, there are many research situations in which a university research facility carries out research that has a good chance of benefiting a company that has donated equipment, technical expertise, and funds to help facilitate the work. In exchange, the company often expects to be on the inside track in obtaining access to the research results.

In the field of technology in education, there is a long history of having technology companies make major contributions of hardware and software to schools. In the "good old days," it seemed relatively easy to obtain such a gift. Indeed, a number of years ago Apple Corporation initiated a program in which it gave an Apple computer, software, and educational print materials to about 10,000 schools in California.

Over the years, IBM has made major contributions of computer facilities in education. Many of these contributions have been to schools, higher education, and teacher training institutions.

From the beginning, however, most of these gifts were intended to support the interests of the company making the contribution. The motives behind these contributions have varied, but may have included establishing a new market, gaining market share, building a favorable public image, or building a cadre of technology users who are particularly knowledgeable about the company's products.

The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) project was a carefully crafted and long-lasting partnership mutually beneficial to the participating schools, Apple Corporation, and the overall field of computers in education. The participating school sites received a lot of hardware, software, and technical support. Long-term research was conducted at the sites, producing valuable information that has helped shape the field of computers in education. The ACOT project has helped Apple Corporation build an image of being vitally interested in and supportive of education. It has given us valuable information about the potential benefits of "high density" computer sites.


Literature-Based Findings About Partnerships

There is an extensive literature on education-business partnerships (Grobe, Curnan, and Melchior, 1990; Grobe, 1993). The initial impetus for establishing a partnership may come from either side. For example, a school may feel that it would be very helpful to obtain some technical assistance and technical facilities from a local high-tech company, or a high-tech company may decide that the local schools are not providing appropriate technology-related educational opportunities and thus want to work to change this situation.

The initial situation is usually similar to one of the following two scenarios:

  1. School X has a problem it believes Company Y can help solve. Company Y is not necessarily aware that School X has the problem or that the school thinks the company can help solve it.
  2. Company Y has a problem it thinks School X can help solve. School X is not necessarily aware that Company Y has this problem or that the company thinks the school can help solve it.

Thus, the initial steps in establishing a partnership involve opening a dialogue and working to build a trusting relationship. How much effort is required and how long this takes depends on the people involved--and often on sheer luck. For example, if a key person from the school and a key person from the company happen to be friends or close acquaintances, rapid progress may occur.

Grobe, Curnan, and Melchior (1990) describe a number of key components of successful partnerships. The following list is a good starting point for both of the prospective partners as they work to develop a mutually satisfying, long-term relationship. Of course, how much time and effort it takes to develop and implement a particular partnership varies with the circumstances and amount of resources involved.

  • Top-Level Leadership.
    The development of the partnership must involve high-level personnel from both the business and education entities.
  • Grounding in Community Needs.
    Both the business and educational organization should be convinced that the partnership will help to meet community needs. A needs assessment should include needs of the community as well as those of the educational organization and business.
  • Effective Public Relations.
    One of the benefits a business gets from a partnership is good public relations. The educational organization can also benefit from good publicity. Thus, a business-education partnership should include a public relations plan jointly implemented by the business and educational organization.
  • Clear Roles and Responsibilities.
    It is best to develop a written agreement concerning the roles and responsibilities of each party in the partnership.
  • Racial/Ethnic Involvement.
    A partnership should maintain the highest standards of nondiscrimination. It is helpful to ensure that the various racial or ethnic groups affected by the partnership are represented in the planning process.
  • Strategic Planning.
    A partnership is one component of the "big picture." Both the education and business entities in a partnership have strategic plans that will be implemented over a long period of time. Both parties should understand how the partnership fits into these strategic plans.
  • Effective Management and Staffing Structure.
    Think of the partnership as a project that will be carried out jointly by the business and the educational organization. Each partner wants the project to succeed. Each needs to assign appropriate staff to the project and needs appropriate management oversight to ensure that the project is carried out in a mutually satisfactory manner.
  • Shared Decision Making and Interagency Ownership.
    The partnership should be designed to meet the needs of both the business and the educational organization&emdash;it should be jointly "owned." This means that project decisions must be made in a mutually agreed upon manner.
  • Shared Credit and Recognition.
    Both the business and the educational organization are entitled to share the credit and recognition from the partnership project. Each partner should make every effort to give credit and recognition to the other.
  • Appropriate, Well-Timed Use of Resources.
    The resources in a partnership project must be sufficient to produce a significant and measurable effect. Both partners must be willing to commit resources in a timely fashion.
  • Technical Assistance and Training.
    Technical assistance and training can be vitally important if the partnership has a high-tech focus. For example, a business may provide a school with technical equipment, perhaps for use in its science labs. But without appropriate training and technical support, the equipment may never be used. Many schools have developed partnerships in which the schools use their expertise and facilities to provide training or develop products, such as World Wide Web pages, for local businesses. The businesses, in turn, provide funds to help pay for and develop the expertise and facilities.
  • Formal Agreements.
    A business-education partnership should be thought of as a formal agreement&emdash;as a contract. One reason that high-level personnel from each organization are involved is that they possess enough authority to negotiate contracts for their organizations.
  • Frequent Action and Success.
    In many cases it is possible to structure a partnership so that it extends over a significant period of time. A number of different actions occur, each constituting some measurable success. This provides a continuing source of shared credit and recognition and the opportunity to build good public relations.
  • Patience.
    Both partners must invest a lot of time and effort in developing an effective partnership. The partnership goals may take years to achieve. Patience is essential.
  • Vigilance.
    Vigilance is needed to ensure that the partnership remains healthy and proceeds on course over a long period of time. Regular and continuing communication between the partners is important.
  • Increasing Involvement and Knowledge.
    The problems of education and business are not solvable by one-shot projects. One of the goals in a partnership should be that both organizations commit to learning more about the other, increase their involvement with one another, and develop a mutually beneficial, long-term relationship.
  • Dual Ownership.
    A partnership is "owned" by the two parties involved. This ownership can become rather faceless unless key people from both organizations have ownership and commitment. Work to increase individual ownership in the partnership.

Both the educational organization and the company should develop the partnership as if it were a long-term investment. Each should think in terms of building a working relationship that can facilitate future partnership projects. The two partners should work out a careful agreement about what constitutes "success" in the partnership. What formative and summative evaluation will be done? How will the formative evaluation be used to shape the ongoing project? How will the summative evaluation report be disseminated? How will differences of opinion between the two organizations be resolved?

What Does a Business Stand to Gain?

Before you approach a company about forming a partnership, do your homework. You should know your own goals, and you should know whether the company you are approaching has resources to help you achieve your goals.

But what about the company's goals? What will the partnership offer the company? It is very helpful to have crafted some good answers before initiating a discussion about a possible partnership. Here are some benefits a company can gain through effective partnerships.

  • Good Publicity and Community Public Relations.
    Larger companies often have public relations departments, which may be part of their marketing departments. Thus, such companies may be able to use some of their marketing resources for public relations campaigns involving donations of resources for educational technology.
    A large company has the resources to buy quite a bit of advertising. However, a positive image is hard to buy. A public relations campaign based on contributions to educational technology may prove quite valuable to a high-tech company. It can demonstrate that it is a positive force in the community through its participation in partnerships with schools, libraries, technology museums, and other community projects.
  • Improved Education for Children in the Community.
    The company can help improve education for children in the community, especially for the children of company employees. Thus, it is helpful if a number of children in your educational organization have parents who work for the company.
  • Better Community Schools.
    Effective partnerships can help improve community schools, which may help the business to hire new employees from the community. Large companies evaluating a particular community for plant location or expansion are increasingly concerned about the quality of schools in the community.
  • Employee Volunteer Opportunity.
    Partnerships offer company employees an opportunity to volunteer some of their time to a very important project&emdash;improving education. Many companies now have community volunteer programs and seek volunteer opportunities that fit the knowledge and skills of their employees. The volunteers feel good about the volunteer services they perform, and they learn more about the educational system serving their children and community.
  • Increased Knowledge of Educational Markets.
    The company can gain market knowledge that will help it develop new products and new markets. This might lead to increased sales of its products to educationally oriented markets.
  • Tax Write-Offs.
    The rules on tax write-offs are complex and change frequently. However, companies often reduce their tax liabilities by donations to educational organizations.

A Sample Partnership Scenario

Sue is a high-school science teacher who has become interested in microcomputer-based laboratories (MBL). She has taken MBL workshops and visited a school that uses MBLs extensively. However, she has not worked in a science research setting and knows little about these settings. She knows that her colleagues who teach science also lack experience in real-world science settings.

Sue believes this problem could be solved by a school-business partnership with a local high-tech firm. She wants to develop a partnership with a company that will have the following three components:

  1. A guided tour of the company's facility. Teachers would meet various scientists, talk about what they do, and tour their work spaces. The tour would be open to science teachers from throughout the school district.
  2. A "job-shadowing" arrangement for a small number of teachers, allowing selected science teachers to job-shadow scientists for several days. The school district would provide release time.
  3. A summer internship for two science teachers who would be paid by the company for eight weeks of work in a high-tech science environment at the company. The internships might focus on helping the company develop educational uses of some of its products, opening up new markets for the company.

Sue has an excellent starting point. It may take hundreds of hours for her and the other individuals in her school district to actually build and implement such a partnership. Perhaps she should first try to develop a partnership that accomplishes the first component in the list just given. This would constitute a "get to know each other" type of partnership. It might evolve into a reciprocal arrangement in which several scientists from the company visit the school, meet with science teachers, and watch students working in science labs. Achieving this goal would lay the groundwork for the second and third components on the list.

The partnership might eventually offer students the opportunity to tour the company facilities. A mentoring program might be developed between students and teachers and some of the company's scientists. Summer jobs for students might even result from the partnership.

An Equipment Donation Scenario

Many school districts face the situation of a proposed partnership being initiated by a local business. In this proposed partnership, a local business has computer hardware and software that it considers to be out of date, and that the company is replacing. The company approaches the school district and offers to donate the hardware and software. Typically, the company feels that it is doing a good thing by making the offer. In addition, it may get some good publicity and perhaps a tax write off. [[Note that in the late 1990s, thre were various federal bills passed to benefit businesses in this situaiton.]]

Often, this situation creates a major dilemma for the school district. The school district recognizes that the computer facilities being offered are out of date. It recognizes that the software accompanying the hardware does not fit the needs of the school district. It recognizes that the more modern educational software currently being purchased for use will not run on the computers that are being offered. Finally, it is concerned that the school board and tax payers will use the donation of equipment as an excuse for not providing adequate resources for the district to have modern facilities.

This scenario has possibility of turning out to be a lose-lose situation. The school district feels obligated to accept the equipment. It stores the equipment in a warehouse, with the equipment not being used and not being sold on the second hand market. The company finds out about this and is quite unhappy.

It is easy to point out some of the difficulties in this situation. It is somewhat harder to change it into a win-win situation. The difficulty is that there was no period of time in which the two potential partners were getting to know each other. There was no high level negotiation between equal partners. There was no recognition of the needs of each partner.

Surely, the business wants the computers to be used. Is the business willing to have the computers updated by the addition of a CD-ROM, modem, more memory, and networking capabilities? Is the business willing to pay for maintenance for two years? Is the business willing to provide technical assistance in installation, as well as aid in staff development? Is the business willing to provide appropriate software? Is the business willing to give the school district permission to loan the computers to students and parents for use at home? What is the school district willing and able to contribute toward costs of upgrading, installation, and staff development?

The point is, both the school district and the business have needs. The needs of both should be openly addressed. Through open discussion by high level representatives of the school and the business, a win-win situation can be created.

Final Remarks

Many schools have a School Site Council. The nature power of these Site Councils varies from location to location, and from state to state. Click here to learn about the rules in California.

Some School Site Councils include a committee that focuses on fund raising. This same committee could also include an emphasis on developing school-business partnerships.


  1. Make a list of high-tech companies with major offices in your community. Which of these companies might be most appropriate for establishing an educational technology partnership with your school?
  2. For the most highly ranked companies on your list, identify a possible "inside track" for contacting the company. For example, who do you and other people in your organization know at the company? If you are a teacher, do any of your students' parents work for the company? Has there been a history of successful partnerships with the company?

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Additional Reference

School-Business Partnerships (n.d.). Seven Strategies for Success. Daniels Fund. Retrieved 5/25/06: http://www.danielsfund.org/sevenstrategies/Strategies/