Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Re: Motives do matter in public education

There is a university professor I have an ongoing conversation with about improving public education. I observed that KIPP schools are an excellence example of an out of the box solution targeted at students in poverty not well served by the existing education system. He noted that:
Let us also take note that these schools were originally formed, and have been furthered, on the basis that the goal was to reform education. Motives do matter.
Bingo. Here's my response.

Re: Motives do matter.

That's one thing you've said that I totally agree with. Motives matter for students. And motives matter for principals and teachers too.

I grew up with and have spent the past 25 years of my professional career surrounded by entrepreneurs. The best are out of the box thinkers. They generally are frustrated inside large organizations where they can not effect change, and they are highly motivated when they see a problem and then can create and take ownership of a solution.

This does not mean they are not accountable to some outside authority. We're all accountable to other people in one way or another. You can't open a restaurant without being accountable to customers, to your landlord, to your investors, to your employees, to the health department, and to taxing authorities. Keep all those people happy and you can be as out of the box as you want to be. Let one down, and you'll be out of business. Who you don't have to be accountable to is the guy running the restaurant across the street.

This works in education just like it does in every other aspect of our society. I did an interview this summer with Virginia Uldrick about founding the Governor's School for the Arts. By any definition that is a roaring success. She observed:
Often people think if you step outside the box you are not accountable. It's even being more accountable because you know you have to still live by the rules and regulations. Its incredible to me, what people don't do with what they have; how much they have and what they don't ever develop.
She has also stated that it would have been impossible to create the Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities inside the Greenville County School District. She ought to know; she also created the Fine Arts Center, which is a part of the Greenville County School District. That's a clear example in education of what Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen calls The Innovators Dilemma. His point is that the source of this dilemma is not the result of management that is not intelligent, well trained, or paying attention. It is a structural issue inherent in all large organizations who have tremendous internal momentum to serve existing customers, and it is why entrepreneurs across our society are successful in creating new solutions for customers not well served by the status quo.

Saturday I was in a seminar organized by Furman's Richard Riley Institute, and a superintendent of a school district in South Carolina said we need to "implode the current system at its core and start over." This wasn't some radical Republican politician running for office who knows nothing about education. This was a public school district superintendent in the trenches every day trying to educate students. In the room were six other public school teachers and one superintendent, and they all agreed. There is tremendous, pent up entrepreneurial energy in principals and teachers in South Carolina who understand what the problems are and desperately want to take ownership of and accountability for creative solutions.

Teachers do not, for the most part, have experience or resources in creating new organizations. Many people in the business world don't either. The institution that serves that role in a business setting is called a venture capital firm, which not only provides capital but also has deep experience with forming and growing entrepreneurial companies. I was in Asheville Friday participating about capital formation, and there was a person from Minnesota who ran a community development organization that, in part, financed the creation of charter schools. That's very intriguing, and something I plan to get more details on.

Deep in the marrow of my bones I believe unleashing the creative energy of teachers by allowing them to take ownership of and accountability for the challenges we face in public education is essential to any solution, and I think it is impossible to get to where we need to be unless we tap into it.


No comments: