Public-private partnerships: A driving force behind innovation and change | Chalkboard Project

Public-private partnerships: A driving force behind innovation and change

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 Kylie Grunow

I am not a great traveler. I love to do it, but I’m not great at it, whether it’s for work or for play. First, I never know what to pack. Second, I can’t imagine how my husband and three girls will manage without me. Finally, I never know if it will be worth the effort. On August 14 and 15, I overcame these personal hurdles and attended a briefing about the evolving role of state education agencies.

The briefing, The state as the unit of change: Building capacity to impact learners, was held by Grantmakers for Education in Denver, Colorado, and asked funders to ponder whether state education agencies could act as primary change agents and innovators; or whether public-private partnerships are the driving force behind innovation and change at the state level. 

There are many examples of public-private partnerships in education, though they have traditionally and most often had to do with leveraging community stakeholders as a part of the educational resources available to schools. The breadth and pace of the various state-level education reform initiatives seem to suggest that public-private partnerships are critical to supporting state education agencies and their ability to drive innovation, build capacity, and support stakeholder collaboration.

In Colorado, for example, the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) has created a strong private-public partnership with the Colorado Department of Education. The commissioner of education, who sits on the board, has said, “What CEI has been able to do for Colorado is to bring things to fruition so fast, in a way the Colorado Department of Education alone would never be able to do.

Here in Oregon, we frequently see these types of partnerships when we talk about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, and many kids in our area reap the benefits of a close proximity to Intel. And Chalkboard Project has had a longstanding private-public relationship with the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), working on issues such as teaching effectiveness, educator evaluation systems, and more recently, on improving school leadership.

Some believe a minimal state education department is ideal: identify those functions that only a state agency can do and hand everything else to outside organizations. Others believe that state agencies have handed over too much to outside organizations, creating negative impact on the quality of education. What do you think? And, where would you suggest Chalkboard be on that spectrum?

At Chalkboard, we see our role and value in helping to create statewide, systemic reform by (1) providing independent research as the basis for reforms; (2) partnering with educators and experts to design and implement pilot programs and advocate for transformation; and, (3) serving as an independent voice to citizens, educational stakeholders, and decision makers. We’ve also seen the Oregon Department of Education work toward becoming a more nimble and efficient agency—one that is shifting its focus from compliance to one of support and service. We applaud and support these efforts. But we strongly believe that the department cannot move the needle fast enough on all the complex education issues without the funding, innovation, and resources that private partnerships offer.

Back in the conference room in downtown Denver, the room full of funders—some big ones with names you can guess and some very small ones with names I can’t remember —honed in on the need to support organizations like CEI and Chalkboard as the best way of ensuring a return on their investment in the education arena. Without organizations that can come alongside state education agencies and act as both a critical friend and as a catalyst for change, the success of many of their other investments is left in doubt. For sure, states that shy away from public-private partnerships will likely fall behind in transforming crucial areas such as education.

You’ll be happy to know that my packing job turned out to be just right, my family survived (I could say thrived but I’m choosing not to), and participating in a thought-provoking conversation about the evolving role of state education agencies was more than worth it!

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