Having Skin in the Game in Education Reform


In his book, AntiFragile, Nicholas Taleb comes down hard on people who don’t have skin in the game.

His list of bad actors is wide ranging: op-ed writers, corporate executives, consultants – to name a few.

His main argument is that all of these folks get paid handsomely and yet have no exposure to downside risk. Op-ed writers are rarely fired if their predictions are wrong; corporate executives still cash out if their companies go under; and consultants create powerpoint decks and then go onto the next client.

As a blogger (low status op-ed writer) and education consultant, this made me consider my own work (I’ve previously written about my worries about being a consultant).


The truth of it is this: in most ways that really matter, I don’t have skin in the game in education reform.

I don’t have children.

I don’t live in most of the communities where I work.

And, push comes to shove, I could probably find another career if my education work failed.

The only real skin in the game that I have is my reputation.


I try to mitigate not having skin in the game in a few ways:

1. I try to increase public accountability by being explicit about my theory of change and expected outcomes: I believe urban educational systems can achieve ~.1 effects by transitioning to all charter systems. I say this consistently¬†and clearly. In the one area I do have skin in the game (my reputation), I’ve tried to act in a manner that allows others to hold me accountable.

2. I try to pay a lot of attention to those who do have skin in the game. I take parent demand very seriously.

3. I try to put myself in the position of the families I attempt to serve. When I led NSNO, we reflected as a staff on the question of which schools in New Orleans we would send our children (real or imagined). This line of thinking has led to me increasingly supporting diverse by design schools, as these are the schools I believe that I would most likely send my own (imagined) children to. Ultimately, imagined skin in the game is a weak form of having skin in the game, but it is a starting point.


I do think I can be a part of increasing educational opportunity and equity despite not having children.

But I’m not ignorant of the risks of my position: in so many ways, I don’t have a skin in the game.

Of course, many education reformers do.

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