Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Education Industry Investment Business Breakfast: An Afterwards

Call it three hours of intense discussion and you might have the expectation that people would walk away from this kind of thing exhausted.

It was anything but that.

Josh Schwartz, East Wind Advisors
Daniel Pianko, The Noah Fund
Stephen Gilfus, Gilfus Education Group

These gentleman led us through a pretty charged up three and a half hours or so of ramped up discussions on for-profit operations in K12 and Higher Ed that was pretty much future-focused and hopeful.

I'm going to do a quick rundown of the topics that came up, but I retweeted them @Educationinvest on Twitter and I broadcast the general themes @Douglascrets

I've cut and pasted some of the themes, and I will continue to do this throughout the week:

The thing in higher ed is to be greenfield oriented in what you can offer the market in technology. Interesting take. ed that boosts tech.

Towards the end of the morning, this flared up as a kind of important and provocative idea: that basically there are great platforms, and there are great distribution models, but where are the offerings that blend the content that is really hidden from outside view (the teaching that goes on in the classroom, the curriculum created by teachers, etc.) and when is the mash-up of the two going to happen? The company that solves this and makes it compelling, long-distance and monetized is the golden egg company. Then we can sit down and talk about a US$100 mln spin out.

Is there a blurring between Ivy League brands and the for-profit vocational brands?

There was disagreement on this point. The point here being some in the audience and on the panel thought that tech leads the lower-run higher ed institutions in the land grant space to lose their brand value, because there are free models out there and students are paying less attention to brand. There was also the defense that, actually, no lower-rung land grant or online offering can come close to the job placement value that higher order institutions provide, regardless of the attractiveness and accessibility created by low cost and scale.

One panelist made a great point by saying that there is no way a small, liberal arts college in the Midwest, that is not in the top 50 stratosphere, can maintain charging US$40,000 a year in tuition. It can't be sustained in the online courses industry.

And then there was this compelling interlude:

Is there a viable business model around educating teachers? But 20% of Ivy Leagues apply to Teach for America. Talking about this now.

Some people pinpointed that of all the professions, teaching seems to be this land-locked industry, where a teacher that enters at age 25 will pretty much be doing the same job when he or she is 45 years old. That rarely happens in any other industry, save maybe in blue-collar jobs. A person can enter into JP Morgan, for instance as a broker or a sell-side analyst, and in ten years achieve such insight into the financial markets that she can launch her own firm. Why can't that happen in teaching?

Yet, 20% of Ivy League graduates enter apply to Teach for America? Guilt of the privileged? What is going on here? I think that is actually a social issue. People look down on teaching and when they do, they think, "Ah, gee, I should do something good for society, maybe do my part to help society, before I make it big in business." Well, you do good for society by working in business, in finance, insurance, right? So why this disorder rising up in the teaching profession?

Seems like it was all about lack of any meaningful social development for teachers. The teaching model is irrelevant. There's no way to improve a teacher, and "get more out of their performance." This seems utterly sad and devoid of hope.

Teachers should be paid more, but there is this socialist attitude around teaching. One panelist said that he could foresee that the teacher's union is the last great union that needs to be broken. It's limiting attitudes on what is viable in teaching and what can enrich the society.

I even jumped in and circled back to this point about a JP Morgan analyst. Why can't a teacher build herself up as a brand? Why can't she sell her brand? Why can't she be paid for things like being a consultant, or be a speaker at a business conference because she has figured out how to run her school classroom like a business, using a John Dewey model of taking the student out of the isolated icebox of a classroom and allowing the free world to come in and the student to go out in it.

School, I alluded, has always been about control, as if there is this social mindset that what happens in school is only about training, when it can indeed be about fixing social problems, making money from fixing them, and being the incubator for the world's greatest entrepreneurs.

India and China can do this. I have sat in a classroom in China that created a brand new open source software model for school curriculum. Three people did this, with a group of students who, Great Firewall permitting, can log onto google, look out into the world, and in once case, sell stuff on China's version of E-bay, a site called Taobao.

What is going on here?

More of this later. Shout outs and comments welcomed. Follow me on Twitter.

And do not forget to attend our Education Industry Investment Forum on March 1-3, 2010. Leave me comments.

Share this article with your social network, just click below to share now!

No comments: