Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

Which University Departments will Evolve to Incorporate Entrepreneurship?

Over the weekend, I spent some time thinking about this tweet:

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Last week, I wrote about limiting factors to charter start-ups.

In the comments, Isaac argued that we’ll never get to scale unless universities play a bigger role in education entrepreneurship.

I responded with some skepticism, saying that most university departments aren’t good at fostering this kind of work, and that education departments were probably near the bottom.


Danielle Fong seems to believe that the university model may be changing to include more investing and entrepreneurship.

In certain fields, such as computers and biomedical, this is already partly the case, though I’ve heard that IP issues and cultural norms often get in the way.

But, presumably, there is enough money and prestige at stake to incentivize these universities (and their respective departments) to figure it out.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this is the case with education departments.


That being said, Rick Hess recently had a piece arguing that education departments could be reformed via four strategies: (1) launching campus organizations where junior faculty and grad students can partner to alter the future direction of the school (2) endow faculty chairs and programs in innovative substantive areas (3) create new centers outside of existing graduate programs (4) create new graduate programs.


In the spirit of hope, here’s some potential ideas:

1. Create a center for charter school development that is a co-creation of an education school and a business school. I’d locate it somewhere in the midwest, which has a large amount of charter schools but has struggled with quality. The center’s funding would be contingent on launching three successful charter schools a year. After five years, if the schools weren’t performing, the center would close.

2. Endow a “new school development” chair at a prestigious education school. The requirements for the chair would be: you have to serve a three year appointment; you’ve had to previously been on the management team or board of directors at high-performing CMO; you have to teach one class on the mechanics of launching and scaling charter networks; the funding for the chair is contingent university graduates launching one CMO every year.

3. Create a center for charter school research and design. The center would have a twofold mission: first, if would seek to study existing charter schools to determine which models were most effective; second, it would have an innovation arm that worked on new school design.

4. Go to a university without an education school and create one that is solely focused on educational entrepreneurship: researching it, participating in it, etc. Ideally, narrowing its mission to this core area would keep the department away from much of the low impact research that education schools currently spent time on.


In a world of limited philanthropy, I’m not sure this is where I’d spend my money. But, if I were going to invest in education schools, I might play around with these ideas.

That being said, I have no ideas if these ideas would work. I don’t have a lot of expertise in how to create great university based programs.

Unfortunately, at many education schools, the current bar is so low that it would be difficult to do any worse.

Waiting for an Entrepreneur


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.


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?”


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.


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.