The education leaders of the 21st century must have taken copious notes in their high school and college business classes. In a short decade, they have begun to transform the education system into something that would make their business professors proud. While the persistent focus on outcomes, competition, and incentives are welcome improvements, there is one critical business principle the industry has yet to master: SCALE.
A successful industry must have seamless alignment between its research and development and sales teams. One team develops and tests products, while the latter team takes the winners and saturates the market. Everyone learns from each other, and long term success depends on continued innovation, product updates, and scale. Sounds like common sense, right? Then why can’t the education system figure this out?
The federal government currently invests in countless education products and services. As the theory goes – if a grant application glitters, it clearly must be gold. Yet for all of our increased investment in education, we still have stagnant results that would send investors in other industries running for the hills. Equally troubling, our educators and parents have no way of sorting through all of these programs to know which ones have the best chance of helping their children. We must demand better for the education industry.
Fortunately, we are at an important crossroads. As policymakers in Washington chart a new path for President Obama’s second term, they must do so amidst the very real threat of a fiscal cliff for education. This might seem less than optimal, but it presents a rare opportunity to do things differently. In the words of a business professor – strategy is about making choices. We must hold true to our vision but narrow our focus.
The Obama Administration spent its first term dedicated to innovation. Whether you agree or not with the President’s support for programs like Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation Fund, we collectively learned a great deal about what works and doesn’t work for children. If we want to succeed with fewer dollars, the President’s second term must work hard to align our innovation investments with the rest of our education spending. When we spend money to test an idea, and we find out it works, we owe it to the children served by programs like Title I, Title II, and IDEA to make sure they benefit from its success.
Over the next few weeks, KnowledgeWorks will reveal our vision for a second term Obama Administration. This vision builds on our experience as a social enterprise, scaling innovative practices in more than 25 states, 80 communities, and 185 schools. We believe in scaling success and we hope our policymakers will soon believe in this mission too.
Lillian Pace is the Senior Director of National Policy with KnowledgeWorks.