Education Letter to the Editor

The Inherent Conflicts of an Entrepreneurial Era

November 28, 2006 2 min read

To the Editor:

Frederick M. Hess’ Commentary “Welcoming the Entrepreneurial Era?” (Nov. 1, 2006) disregards contradictory evidence. Moreover, to believe that only “entrepreneurs have the freedom and incentives to search for new solutions” ignores history. Has Mr. Hess ever heard of John Dewey?

He goes further to state that “district leaders have spent decades trying to drag one-size-fits-all, standardized, resistant organizations forward, with limited success.” Oddly, this is a legitimate criticism I have often seen aimed at the entrepreneurially driven Edison Schools Inc.

Mr. Hess faults a lack of available funding for dwarfing the development of entrepreneurial education. Has he forgotten that Edison once traded on the stock market at nearly $40 per share?

There remains an inherent conflict between education and for-profit education managers. A teacher, or truly anyone who is involved in education, has a fiduciary duty to students. In business, the fiduciary duty is to shareholders. Principles are why education is best served by nonprofits, rather than by the Edisons and the Apollo Groups of the world.

Keith Newman

Philadelphia, Pa.

To the Editor:

As a 20-year veteran of the educational technology industry, I agree with Frederick M. Hess’ assessment that new entrants and new ideas face formidable challenges.

Entrepreneurs who dare to venture into public education face a very conservative system. To start, it is almost impossible to gain access to busy administrators; the bureaucratic, slow-moving process simply wears out the resources and energy of many entrepreneurs. In addition, there is no real incentive (time, resources, or rewards) for educators to be risk-takers and try new things.

When I speak with school administrators, they seem open to new solutions and genuinely interested in new approaches. Yet when it comes to taking action, the system is incredibly burdened with inertia, policies, and political baggage. Not much happens, and if it does, it happens at glacial speed. There is no sense of urgency to fix our education problems.

Further, there is too little capital available to entrepreneurs. It is very difficult to push against this rope without money. But there is little investment capital for new education companies. Returns are low and slow, compared with private-sector opportunities.

Shortage of capital has fueled industry consolidation. A few giant publishing conglomerates help the persistence of old paradigms. They offer huge incentive-based compensation packages (that entrepreneurs cannot compete with) to seasoned sales executives with Rolodexes, and use their political clout to perpetuate the system. Entrepreneurs with innovative products have no efficient or effective way to go to market.

Public funds to spark educational entrepreneurial ventures would surely help, as Mr. Hess suggests, but the focus should be on creating an entrepreneurial environment in our school districts. We need strong incentives for school administrators to open their doors to newcomers, and more reasons for them to try new solutions from new companies. Incentives on both sides could create a more welcoming environment.

Glen McCandless

Educational Technology Consultant

Focus Marketing Inc.

Asheville, N.C.

A version of this article appeared in the November 29, 2006 edition of Education Week as The Inherent Conflicts of an Entrepreneurial Era