Waiting for an Entrepreneur

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The title of the movie Waiting for Superman came from Geoffrey Canada narrating that, upon entering adulthood, he realized that no one is powerful enough to save us all. We can’t wait for Superman to rescue us.

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I spent this Thanksgiving in New Orleans. This included going to the racetrack, which is a New Orleans tradition. I enjoyed the company and the atmosphere, but I find the sport a little disturbing. I don’t enjoy watching short men hit horses with sticks as the horses run in circles. I haven’t researched the horse industry, but I will do so before I go again.

More pertinent to this blog, over the holiday weekend, at one social gathering or another, three different people mentioned to me that they wished there were more socioeconomically diverse schools in the city.

One person said: “Why don’t they just start more?”

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Like Geoffrey Canada, I don’t believe we should wait for Superman.

But I do believe we need to wait for entrepreneurs.

School districts across this country jump from one best practice to the next. They adopt data-driven instruction; restorative justice; high expectations; Singapore math; close reading; blended learning; extended school days; mutual consent hiring; career tech schools – and so forth.

Many mediocre charter operators do the same.

In some cases, this practice adoption works. It many cases, it doesn’t.

Change management, especially in areas core to an organization’s work, is very difficult to accomplish. This is why start-ups are often drivers of new ideas.

In certain cases, as with socio-economic diverse schooling, the change is so radical that existing organizations that currently don’t use the model may find it near impossible to adopt the new strategy.

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When I was leading New Schools for New Orleans, I often was frustrated by the fact that more people didn’t tightly align their school models to the best of the No Excuses practices. The research behind the model is strong, and many of the best urban schools in the country use the model.

Over the past few years, I’ve also become very interested in socioeconomically diverse schools. And while 3-4 socioeconomically diverse schools have launched in New Orleans, I think the city could use more. The demand is clearly there.

But one of the features of the New Orleans educational system is that no one can force educators to adopt a specific school model, even if everyone at a cocktail party wants them to.

Rather, change only happens when an educator, or a group of educators, is willing to commit their professional lives to the development of a school.

At any given time (especially if the New Yorker or Atlantic highlights a education model), this may frustrate some people.

But I would much rather live in a world of entrepreneurship and accountability than one of school boards, superintendents, and best practice adoption.

Reform should be about building sustainable institutions that can thrive in competitive environments.

This means that we have to wait for entrepreneurs, as discomforting as this might sometimes be.

2 thoughts on “Waiting for an Entrepreneur

  1. Josh Densen

    It’s not just about parent demand, or about whether an entrepreneurial school leader commits to opening a school.

    As NSNO and other city-wide educational organizations have demonstrated, an ecosystem must be developed, nurtured and championed. The new challenge, I believe, is that the ecosystem that has been developed in New Orleans over the last decade and the one needed to ensure the demands of the public are met and sustained are based on fundamentally different principles and practices (human capital pipelines, funding mechanisms, governance, accountability, etc).

    These fundamentals must be addressed from a variety of angles and perspectives, and will need more complex solutions that will require significant amounts of dollars, public will and failure to become successful.

    We may need to ‘wait for entrepreneurs’ but it will take much more than entrepreneurial schools – we should reconsider what it will take for entrepreneurs to disrupt this ‘new status quo.’

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