I was recently talking with Kristi Kimball from the Schwab Foundation and our conversation turned to discussing analogies that are used to describe the charter school sector.
We both noted that Uber is sometimes tossed around, in that Uber is often competing with a highly regulated and politically powerful incumbent.
But now imagine that if instead of working with drivers who provided their own cars, Uber had to buy or lease taxis from the taxi companies that they were competing with, or they had to buy a new fleet of cars everytime they entered a market.
Now imagine if these cars were not cars but were school buildings that cost about $20 million a piece.
Now imagine if buying or building these
cars schools buildings often required the permission of another government agency, so entering the market required the approval of two regulators, not just one.
Now imagine if instead of being a billion dollar for-profit company with access to capital, Uber was a non-profit organization reaching out to a capital market that was just beginning to understand what their company does.
Now imagine if instead of having to hire people for a skill that most of us learn when we’re sixteen, Uber had to hire people who could do one of the hardest jobs in the world – a job so hard that if a teacher changes professions he or she inevitably looks back and says: that was the most difficult job I ever had.
Now imagine if, instead of hiring a recent business graduate as a general manager to lead their city operations, Uber had to hire people to do a job (lead a high-poverty school) that one business school professor described to me as the hardest leadership job in the country save for being in combat.
Now imagine if instead of being judged on whether or not the company could get someone from point A to point B for a decent price, Uber was judged on whether or not it could put a dent in centuries of historical poverty and racism and help all students complete an education that enriches their lives and puts them on track for a good job.
And now imagine that Uber’s ultimate aim was not simply to win, but to make everyone better – so much so that they spent significant resources on documenting their best practices, publicly sharing all they know, and providing direct training to their “competitors” – with the hope that everyone can get better and innovate as quickly as possible.
I wish it were like Uber. But it’s not.
It’s much, much harder.
And it’s much more important.
The teams of educators, in charter and district schools alike, who are achieving great things in partnership with communities deserve our highest praise and support – as do the students and leaders in these communities who are doing the hardest work of fighting for a better tomorrow.
These educators, students, and community leaders are tackling problems that most private sector companies can’t even begin to understand.