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.
Chapter 10: Partnerships With
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.
Section Headings for Chapter
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
The initial situation is usually similar to one of the
following two scenarios:
- 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.
- 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
- Top-Level Leadership.
The development of the partnership must involve
high-level personnel from both the business and education
- 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
- Clear Roles and Responsibilities.
It is best to develop a written agreement concerning the
roles and responsibilities of each party in the
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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
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
- 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
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?
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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.
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
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
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
- 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?
- 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
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School-Business Partnerships (n.d.). Seven Strategies for Success. Daniels Fund. Retrieved 5/25/06: http://www.danielsfund.org/sevenstrategies/Strategies/