Strategy and Education: Differentiate or Continue to Struggle
Budget cuts for schools. Record profits on Wall Street. What is the differentiator? I will make it simple and tie it to the President’s “Race to the Top” initiative: Performance measures. We don’t know how to measure the performance of educators, and therefore, by inference, we don’t know how to measure the performance of schools. On Wall Street, they know how to measure performance. They turn money into money. In manufacturing, they transform components and materials into higher-value goods which they sell for a profit. Education is at a huge strategic disadvantage because it doesn’t know how to couch its value in terms of a contribution language that matters to its funders.
Education is at a huge strategic disadvantage because it doesn’t know how to couch its value in terms of a contribution language that matters to its funders.
Schools need to stop thinking about the investment in education as logical and good for society (meaning that society will just decide that school need more money because it makes sense), and start competing for funds with because they are strategically differentiated from other investments. Education needs to make its case, not just assume that legislators, elected officials, and citizens will make it for them. Education needs to place itself front-and-center into the communities served, and demonstrate value beyond traditional social stopover and matriculation factory. Private, for-profit, tutoring centers are shoring up perceived gaps in learning and collecting accolades about test scores because parents invest in helping their children perform on something they assign value to. Why aren’t public schools competing on that front? Why are fields filled with cheerleaders and football teams that demand high student fees for participation, at the same time parents are paying supplemental educators for additional help in math, science, languages, and writing. Why aren’t public schools competing for those dollars?
Because the public school business model is broken at the fundamental level of mission statements and competitive differentiation. They don’t believe they need to compete so they embellish their mission statements with platitudes that don’t earn them the respect of parents, of business, even of higher education.
It is time for public education to think strategically and show the citizens of America, and the elected legislators who appropriate their funding, what they can do to bring value, in concrete, Wall Street terms. Education needs to get out of education’s way, reconnect with Main Street, and fund research that will create economic models that make it very clear why people need education. Sure, current statistics say education is associated with better pay see [Employment data lesson: Get a good education], but making the connections between K-12 and those paychecks remains a struggle, that if not solved, will continue to erode education in a broad sense because even private schools struggle to make those equations as meaningful as they could be. At least private schools really understand their audience, and they help get their students into the best colleges and universities. That scratches an itch for parents, but it is far from what education really contributes to the nation and the world, and it is time we all thought about education more strategically and helped the field find a language and a set of models that reflect the real value of public school learning.