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The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward

American Educator, Winter 2018-2019For those frustrated by the undue influence of big business on public education, Stanley S. Litow offers a simple message: it doesn’t have to be this way. Corporations can strategically partner with schools to support both the public good and their bottom line. In his book The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward (Wiley), the former IBM executive devotes several pages to what he learned leading that company’s effort to contribute to high school education reform in New York City.

As the head of IBM’s corporate citizenship programs and the IBM Foundation, Litow oversaw the creation of P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School). The school, which opened in 2011, was established in Brooklyn thanks to a partnership between IBM, the City University of New York, and the New York City Department of Education. The United Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers also played a pivotal role in its creation.

The school is home to a six-year program that prepares students, most of whom come from low-income families, for careers in information technology by enabling them to take college courses for free as soon as they are ready. Students also participate in paid internships with IBM and work closely with company mentors. Those who earn their associate’s degree are guaranteed a job interview with the multinational corporation. P-TECH also prepares students to pursue bachelor’s degrees at a four-year university, if they choose to do so.

Since its inception, the school has set student attendance and achievement records and has inspired the creation of similar schools in Chicago; Newburgh, New York; and Norwalk, Connecticut. What sets this college-to-career effort apart is “a comprehensive academic program that engages educators along with strong private-sector engagement and support,” Litow writes.

But P-TECH is not the only innovation that IBM has pioneered with educator input. In 2017, the company launched Teacher Advisor with Watson. The free resource provides teachers access to high-quality lesson plans and instructional videos; its purpose was to serve as a teacher’s very own personal coach. Early on, IBM executives realized that Watson “would need to be nonjudgmental,” Litow writes. “Nor would it be used to evaluate teacher performance.”

For educators, such words from a corporate executive are reassuring and telling. They mark a stark departure from past business-inspired education reforms, notorious for their obsession with test scores and accountability.


Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out!: Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement

American Educator, Winter 2018-2019In Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and in other cities small, big, and somewhere in between, grass-roots organizations, community groups, and teachers unions are banding together to empower low-income communities of color. They are finding common ground over issues such as community schools, affordable housing, immigrants’ rights, and safe and welcoming schools.

Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out!: Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement (Beacon Press) tells their story. Edited by Mark R. Warren, a professor of public policy and public affairs at the University of Massachusetts Boston, with David Goodman, an independent journalist, the book is a compelling collection of essays from activists, scholars, and organizers nationwide. Authors share how they have engaged parents and students in a range of actions, including disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline, supporting LGBTQ youth, and fighting back against the mass closing of neighborhood public schools.

This last issue strikes at the very heart of educational justice in Chicago Public Schools. In fact, two chapters of Lift Us Up focus on that district alone. Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, Jitu Brown, the national director for the Journey for Justice Alliance, tells how, in 2015, a group of committed parents led a 34-day hunger strike to save Walter Dyett High School. After building alliances with organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, and the Advancement Project, the strike made national news. Ultimately, the district agreed to keep the school open. Today, it serves the neighborhood, and Brown writes that “nearly all freshmen are on track to graduate.”

Building on this chapter is one written by Brandon Johnson, an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and a former middle school teacher. Johnson shares how CTU transformed “from a traditional ‘wages and hours’ union to a social justice union working with families and communities of color for racial equity and justice.” He also recounts the union’s 2012 strike, led by then president Karen Lewis. The strike succeeded in stopping merit pay, protecting benefits and retirement security, and pushing the expansion of student access to art, music, and physical education.

But “the larger success,” as Johnson describes it, “was to bring community and labor together to fight for public schools and the rights of workers.” It’s the kind of success that Lift Us Up can hopefully inspire elsewhere.

American Educator, Winter 2018-2019
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American Educator, Winter 2018-2019