Friday, October 2, 2009

Moving Towards a Transformative Model for Education

This road trip is almost over. I'm in the LAX airport, resting, after discovering that you can actually get from downtown LA to the airport in under an hour for only US$1.25.

I'm serious.

You take the subway, which is not really a subway, it's a tram. And then you take a bus to the airport. Simple. US$1.25. In Los Angeles. Do you realize the implications!

It may destroy LA's image as being a city of vehicles. I may have just deconstructed the mythology of "you need a car to get around LA."

I've met a lot of people on this trip. Some of them have said things to me that I have mentioned here. Some have said things off the record. But all of them share a common purpose. They believe that business has a role in education.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to be unpacking my notes and writing out some of what I have learned. Here's a taste for you today.

Coming up, we will have new bloggers. One of them is a woman I used to work with at a private day school in Virginia. Myra Sawyers, who used to work on the Hill and who used to teach 1st grade, is working on a non-profit organization. So, why is she writing on a for-profit blog?

Because, one thing I have learned in this journey is that both the non-profits and the for-profits are potentially great partners in the enterprise in improving students' lives, improving teacher performance, and expanding the global role of the outcome of America's education system -- namely people who can function at high levels in the global economy

This blog has been a place to find information. It's becoming a place where you can learn things. I hope you enjoy the future.

Here are some thoughts that stick out to me as I wait for the red eye back to New York:

1. Who is education for?
2. Who can be tasked to speak for education and to implement solutions called for by the disrepair and the opportunities embedded in the system?
3. What general results are education thinkers, investors, operations managers and owners trying to bring to the market and to the government / associations that regulate for-profits?
4. Who is listening -- this is a hard one to answer, because the answer is delineated by who, first of all, has access to the people who should be listening. Bear with me.

Even that question is sticky. I've heard it said by people not interviewed specifically for this blog that traditional higher ed institutions, for instance, may be hindered in their ability to interact with for-profit purveyors and even internally to initiate ideas into action because of two or three things:

a. Bureaucracy is as thick and muddled as a journey through cotton oatmeal
b. Incentive to change or adopt new procedures? -- traditional higher ed, say some, works on a value system that is less about capitalist profit and loss at the crucial level, the educator, and more about instilling ethics, social values, or even a control mechanism that elevates one class of people over another. Is this cynical? No, it's not meant to be. Perhaps a better choice of words is to say that, if education, universally, is about placement and advancement, then traditional higher ed rests on its laurels, especially among prestigious universities, that that education as great as it is, is valuable foremost from a marketing perspective. Even that is a contentious statement that can be pummeled to death. I admit it. It's not exactly my opinion but it's close to what I have heard from some.

[ed. note: we will save for another time the great debate about exclusivity and value, filtering and prestige, and whether students who are already smart are just selected for innate intelligence or whether or not everyone could potentially perform as if they just stepped out of an Ivy League school.]

c. A clear division between the profit-driven and the non-profit driven -- It's sometimes quite evident that there is a non-profit and a for-profit model. When they seem distinct, they don't mingle. As long as they don't, there's no need to figure out why they are separate.

But there are the moments where the for-profit and the non-profit do intermingle -- and here you can point to an open source education model as an example, like in publishing -- then you begin to wonder, is it possible to bring in some models to education that are a hybrid of a non-profit and for-profit model?

Right now, public schools operate in a non-profit way, earning a substantial amount of their budget from property taxes. Can that always be the case? I don't have the alternative, but it is fair to ask the question.

Many questions more can be asked. And you can ask them. You can ask them to me. You can ask them to my fellow bloggers.

Just write me an email or leave a comment. We will communicate. dcrets [at] iirusa [dot] com

My answers or my points of differentiation are not meant to be definitive. They should only show that there are conversations happening out there that point to a movement of change, and who can say in which direction it is headed? I don't know. It seems like a hybrid, a transformative model for education.

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