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

Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
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
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
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
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Roundtable Webinar: Why We Created a Portrait of a Graduate
Hear from three K-12 leaders for insights into their school’s Portrait of a Graduate and learn how to create your own.
Content provided by Otus

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 Letter to the Editor Student Protestors Are Not Fueled by Hatred or Prejudice
A reader pushes back on the coverage of student protestors in this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Education Week opinion letters submissions
Gwen Keraval for Education Week
School & District Management Quiz What Do You Know About the Most Influential People in School Districts? Take Our Quiz
Answer 7 questions about the superintendent profession.
1 min read
Image of icons for gender, pay, demographics.
Canva
School & District Management Opinion I Invited My Students to Be the Principal for a Day. Here’s What I Learned
When I felt myself slipping into a springtime slump, this simple activity reminded me of my “why” as an educator.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
4 min read
052024 OPINION Khoshaba PRINCIPAL end the year with positivity
E+/Getty + Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management The Complicated Fight Over Four-Day School Weeks
Missouri lawmakers want to encourage large districts to maintain five-day weeks—even as four-day weeks grow more popular.
7 min read
Calendar 4 day week
iStock/Getty