Ed Reform/Policy Edu Startups Entrepreneurship

Who will Transform Education?

Diane Ravitch, education historian and professor at NYU, recently posted a question to her twitter followers that lead to a pretty heated back and forth with Justin Hamilton, spokesperson for the Dept of Education, and several other followers.

While I am a believer that healthy debate can be very constructive, pushing the thinking and assumptions of both sides, I find this question really perpetuates this gap between educators and education startups. Ravitch’s view over simplifies the classification of an entrepreneur as someone working outside the school system in a for-profit organization with an emphasis on making money.  I think that narrowly defining entrepreneurship in this way not only undermines all the entrepreneurial work happening within the school system, at the classroom and district level, but also disregards non-profit startups that are fully focused on improving education outcomes for all students. And what about creative efforts from parents and students themselves, who often go above and beyond to stretch limited resources and make something out of nothing. Isn’t that form of alchemy the essence of entrepreneurship?

Being a Stanford Ed School Alum, I am familiar with much of Ravitch’s work and often agree with her thinking around focusing on educators and improving the system from within. However, as someone working on finding ways to bridge these two communities and shine a spotlight on teacherpreneurs, I was really disappointed to see this type of divisive conversation. Broad education reform requires a collective effort and I think we should include as many people in this movement as possible. It takes a village, right?

So, who will transform education? All of us.


By JArora

Supporting more women in tech at (acquired by
ex-Googler passionate about education, technology, running, gardening

3 replies on “Who will Transform Education?”

I believe that education is the great equalizer. I believe that education is as important today as it’s ever been. I believe that each and every man, woman and child in this country — and the world — deserve an opportunity to get educated to the level of their desire.

My father was born and raised in another country; and he was the only child of ten to graduate high school, to graduate college, or to graduate with an advanced degree; education is incredibly important to our family. He’s now a professor, I was raised in a university-town, and dropped out of school to start my own venture-backed education technology startup company.

However, I believe there is a lot of sense in the education community amongst educators — professors and teachers a like — that there is too much hype in the power of education technology to change our schools.

The common words used by entrepreneurs and technologists — myself included — are “change,” “revolution,” “disruption.” But we have to be honest; Venture Capitalists are backing education not because they necessarily are “impact investing,” but because they see this as an extremely lucrative opportunity. Much of the Limited Partner capital in education technology is being funded by major publishers; this is neither bad nor good, but clearly there is a vested interest in a lot of the dialogue du jour amongst education technology ventures — and much of those incentives aren’t necessarily on helping more students learn, or learn better.

For example, the US is struggling, as a country, in math and science compared to other nations of comparable resources; yet many of the countries that are ahead of us don’t necessarily have more advanced technology.

Larry Page said this recently: people overestimate the impact of technology in the short-term, and underestimate technology’s impact in the long-term.

And so it is with education technology; we are exaggerating the ability of technology to bring rapid “change” “disruption” or “revolution” to the industry in the short-term, but underestimating its ability in the long-term.

My next door neighbor runs Penn State World Campus — I mean, universities have been doing online courses for years.

A professor, who happens to have degrees from both Princeton and MIT, recently wrote this to me in an email:

“.I applaud MIT’s move, but I doubt it will be the universal game-changer that some people might expect. The programs “draw primarily from MIT’s advanced course material” which frankly is likely to be out of intellectual reach for most people. I was not an undergrad there, but I know that for the undergrads calculus is the lowest math course offered.

So, with that as the starting point, I suspect that the student pool will not overlap with University of Phoenix a whole lot! Now, there are lots of interesting advanced courses that people could learn from but if it is still a robust MIT education the vast majority of US students would be out of their comfort range.

Not so for professional engineers, for example, who are accustomed to the subject material and need a new twist – it would be great for them. I would love to sit in on some amazing lectures by amazing people there – that would be great and I would let wonderful material wash over me in great big waves! My guess is that they will begin with the Sloan School because that is where the greatest interest (and success rate) might be. I would welcome the opportunity to be wrong, and to see thousands of kids suddenly getting MIT certificates for free. Perhaps in China or India where the individual work ethic is stronger…”

And that, I believe, is the crux of the argument. We, with our technology, our often looking for the “silver-bullet”; or as the Farmer essays argue, we look for technology to dominate nature; in many other countries — for example the BRIC nations — what outpaces our country, at least in the k-12 level, is simply a stronger ethos and a more sincere attitude towards challenging schoolwork.

They spend more days in school.

They spend more hours in class.

They spend more hours at home working on their problems.

While I do believe we all need to work together, as entrepreneurs, I believe we’d be served best by toning down our language a notch; presenting our ideas and products with humility and without hyperbole, and by working closely with teachers and educators to enhance the work they are doing.

And for startups like ClassDojo, EdModo, Schoology — the most successful Education Technology ventures — that is exactly what they are doing.

Firman Consensus Facit / Cooperation Makes Strength

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