Improving Schools: The Role of the Entrepreneur

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Smiling pleasantly in your direction, gentle reader, are three faces of education entrepreneurship. They are featured in this month’s Education Next, the premier journal of education reform.

However, there is something deeply troubling in the article in which they appear. The piece purports to be about the role of entrepreneurship in education reform. Entrepreneurship is supposed to be oriented towards innovation, improvement, creating new rules and new possibilities. This is what private markets encourage. Do you want to get rich? Do something valuable and people will pay you for it. Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door, said Ralph Waldo Emerson. Build a better school and opportunity-seeking parents will make a hasty exodus from the current debacle to beat down the door to your Miracle Academy.

Unfortunately, the “entrepreneurs” in the article above aren’t really true to the spirit of entrepreneurship. As Michelle Rhee (above right) says, “School systems and the bureaucracies that run them are a fact of life.” She then proceeds to speak about why it’s better to work within the system rather than push for reform. I’m sorry but that’s not right. The system that says that only one in four public school South Carolina 8th graders can read and write proficiently—and that’s okay—is a system that needs to be replaced. When? Right now, today, immediately.

We need entrepreneurs to develop new approaches, perfect existing strategies, and get the most out of every education dollar. We need to stop at nothing short of best possible schooling for every child. This system isn’t cutting it. Entrepreneurs should be the visionaries who help lead us out of the desert. They shouldn’t aid and abet a failing system. Rhee’s approach would make them the vendors and handmaidens to the status quo. That’s just wrong.

 

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