Vail Daily column: How biz leaders can help
This week, a star-studded list of CEOs, investors and entrepreneurs from across the country gathered in Avon to discuss the important topic of improving the American education system. I felt fortunate to be invited and to be a participant in this event, the discussions and the ideation.
The experience left me reflecting about the relationship between business and education. As an educator who relies heavily on the business-developed approach of “benchmarking,” and an avid reader of business management and leadership journals, I deeply appreciate and respect the views of the business community. Further, I am always looking for ways to bring transferable best practices from business into our schools.
However, after hearing from these well-respected (and well-intentioned) business leaders, it is abundantly clear to me that some of their assumptions and approaches might actually be counter-productive to improvement at the scale and pace we need. So, here are some considerations business leaders might think about in our work to build a genuinely great education system.
• Our futures are joined. The relationship between business and education is inseparable and reciprocal. Everyone wants our children to have a globally competitive and quality education — as well as a globally competitive and quality career. Consider Jim Collins’ words about “the genius of ‘and,’” which call on us all to think about how a synergy and collaborative effort stands a significantly higher probability of systemic success than one built on animosity and mutual disregard.
• Stop trying to intentionally “disrupt” education. The best performing education systems on earth are working to build-up and improve their schools, rather than disrupt and dismantle them. Our schools are already subject to a series of disruptions coming from state and federal policies — and when businesses pile on, it’s not helping. Know that the vast majority of educators want our system to be better because we love our students and community. Disruptive innovation is going to happen whether we want it to or not; but intentionally working to disrupt the operation of schools isn’t helping to move us toward systemic greatness.
• Shaming educators isn’t helping. Public schools educate about 90 percent of this country’s population — a country with the strongest and most robust economy, the most powerful military, the best universities, the most creative citizenry and the greatest opportunity and capacity for entrepreneurship. Uncritically labeling schools and educators as “failing” generates an unnecessary opposition and defensive reaction, which actually makes change harder. Sure, there are underperforming schools and underperforming educators — just as there are underperformers in business. Our shared effort must be around how we improve quality systemically.
• Respect education. A review of the history of the American education system finds several reforms (with questionable utility) that have been politically foisted onto schools from the private sector. Understandably, many educators have their hackles up and bring a healthy dose of skepticism when the next big idea for “reforming” schools comes out of the business community. But, the reality is we need voices and thinking from business in our schools. Thinking from an entrepreneurial perspective and in terms of hard deliverables and metrics does not come naturally to us. In spite of the frustrations, stay engaged with educators — we need you. Listen, understand and respect the noble and moral work that is public education. Work with us, not on us.
• Keep pushing. Educators love our kids and our community. We want all kids to be happy, safe, engaged and learning. We want our communities to be successful and thriving. Sometimes, this can engender a culture in education that caring about kids and creating a safe environment is enough. But in this globally competitive world, it isn’t. Our schools, our teachers and our kids need to be pushed to keep improving and at a large scale. We need the pressure and support of the business community to bring about meaningful improvement and (more importantly) to stay the course when things get tough and implementation gets difficult. Keep demanding a relevant, engaging, quality and globally competitive education for all our kids — they deserve nothing less and we need your push to make that a reality.
In sum, business and education need to work together to accomplish greatness for our schools and kids. Perhaps artist-activist Lilla Watson said it best: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at jason.glass@eagle schools.net.