Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

What Happened in Public Education BSE (Before Social Entrepreneurship)?

By Marc Dean Millot — February 13, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This is the third in series addressing the questions implied by Alexander Russo’s statement:

“Social entrepreneurship is everywhere these days…. And of course it’s a big buzzword in certain education circles as well. I still don’t know what it means.”

From my last posting, we have a simple definition of the original – commercial – entrepreneur:

One who is able to begin and sustain a (business) entity that organizes supply to satisfy a previously unmet demand and, when necessary, to dissolve it effectively and efficiently.

The definition contains three ideas: Organizing supply to satisfy a previously unmet demand; beginning and sustaining an entity; and the power to close it down – or keep it going. The first goes to individual creativity at the conceptual level; the second, one’s management initiative; the third, personal control. In the business setting, the third implies legal ownership based on personal investment.

How do we relate this to a “social” setting, like public education?
If we cut through all the political science, education and business school writing on social value and non-financial measures of return on investment, and stick to these basics, the similarities and differences between commercial and social entrepreneurship are obvious. Whether the field of play is the general economy or public education, there is a great deal of room to satisfy previously unmet demands. It is possible for individuals interested in the public education “space” to form entities within the traditional system, or outside of it. Third, unless the entity formed is a business, it is virtually impossible for the individual with the conceptual and management talent to control that entity, or to see her investment of cash or sweat reflected in a legally recognizable ownership stake.

The first two elements of the definition were regularly satisfied in public education long before someone added “social” to entrepreneurship. Public education not only had lots of problems and scores of customers with unmet needs, all sorts of entities were created to satisfy these demands. For at least the last 50 years there have been public education programs aimed at particular students or kinds of students; laboratory schools; specialized schools; and those “islands of excellence” - “regular” schools transformed by dynamic principals.

Were the people who created these entities “entrepreneurs”? They must have had entrepreneurial personalities or qualities, and they did things entrepreneurs do. But based on the definition above, they were not entrepreneurs, because the decision to keep the enterprise going or shut down was not theirs. That power rested with the superintendent and school board. They weren’t pegged as entrepreneurs, social or otherwise, by the foundations providing the grant financing - innovators maybe.

Similarly, there were a handful of publishing firms providing materials to public education, and demand for their goods evolved. Presumably there were people in those companies with entrepreneurial personalities doing innovative things. But these firms had a hammer lock on sales, and the term intrapreneur wasn’t coined until 1983, or popularized until 1985.
Up until roughly the 1990s, a market structure based on a monopoly provider of public schools, an oligopoly of publishers, and no student performance requirements, more or less prevented the emergence of commercial or social entrepreneurship in public education. In effect, with favorable market rules, the dominant institutions had the power to prevent potential rivals from becoming real threats, and used it.

Next:
The state-based “standards and accountability” and charter school movements led to legislation opening up just enough space for commercial entrepreneurship in public education. Did that space - plus a whole lot of philanthropy borne of the “New Economy” - allow for something comparable in the social sphere?

The opinions expressed in edbizbuzz are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Grad Rates Soared at a School Few Wanted to Attend. How It Happened
Leaders at this Florida high school have "learned to be flexible" to improve graduation rates.
8 min read
Student hanging on a tearing graduate cap tassel
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Don’t Just Listen to the Loudest Voices: Resources for Ed. Leaders
These resources can help school and district leaders communicate with their communities.
Jennifer Perry Cheatham & Jenny Portillo-Nacu
5 min read
A pair of hands type on a blank slate of keys that are either falling apart or coming together on a bed of sharpened pencils.  Leadership resources.
Raul Arias for Education Week
School & District Management The Harm of School Closures Can Last a Lifetime, New Research Shows
The short-term effects on students when their schools close have been well documented. New research examines the long-term impact.
5 min read
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020.
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020. A new study examines the long-term effects on students whose schools close.
Jessie Wardarski/AP
School & District Management Video 'Students Never Forget': Principals Call for Help After School Shootings
School leaders are lobbying Congress for more financial support for schools that experience gun violence.
2 min read
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Doug Engle/Star-Banner via AP