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February 12, 2008

Bringing Entrepreneurialism to Education

Joel I. Klein
Chancellor, NYC Department of Education
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The following is an excerpt from Joel Klein’s discussion of New York public education at the annual Social Enterprise Reception on February 5, 2008. Klein is chancellor of the NYC school system — the largest system in the United States, where over 1.1 million students are taught in more than 1,400 separate schools.

I think education is important in ways that are obvious to every human being out there. You think about what education did to your life, you think about the teachers who changed your life, you think about the knowledge you developed.

For the country and for the city, education is important for two reasons, and one is that we have a racial and ethnic achievement gap in this country that is the greatest shame of this great nation.

The idea that skin color or poverty can determine the quality of the education you get is wrong. It’s fine for rich people to have bigger houses, larger cars, more diamonds — but a better education is morally wrong.

That moral issue takes on another dimension as we move forward in an increasingly globalized competitive economy, and I think it’s going to create enormous economic challenges.

We cannot have an education underclass in an increasingly competitive global economy. If you watch what’s going on in the rest of the world, there are people out there — quite literally — looking to eat our lunch.

And it is so critical to the transformation to have people who are bringing entrepreneurial, innovative juices — who instinctively get accountability, who understand leadership and care deeply about management. In the world of education, when I talked like that in the beginning, people looked at me like I was nuts. This was an alien language.

But at its core, education is a service-delivery challenge — if you don’t lead it, manage it and create the proper incentives in order to make it happen, it won’t happen. It’s about cultural transformation. That’s why the kids from business school want to come and be a part of it.

The core leaders that I have at many levels in the system are not people who came from the education schools — they’re people who came from the business schools, and from the business sector.

That causes me a lot of political heat, but that’s just fine, because if you don’t inject entrepreneurialism, accountability, innovation, differentiation, all of those things — you know what? We’ll continue to get the same pitiful results that we have gotten for the last 50 years in American education.


by Christina Vetre | February 13, 2008 at 10:05 PM

I applaud the ways in which Klein is able to bring together the core beliefs of education and business, two fields that are too often pitted against one another as polar opposites. As a high school teacher, I am seeing first hand the frantic and, at times, inept ways that the powers that be are trying to "fix" our broken education systems. The fixes are increasingly inflexible and less willing to evaluate and attack the particular challenges of a school or student. My students are learners of the English language and fall directly into the achievement gap Klein references. The only education that will benefit them and students like them across the country is one that is not rigidly standardized but one that is innovative and differentiated, just as Klein described. I am impressed by his willingness to think outside the box in putting business professionals in the education field. Perhaps the skill set they bring will provide fresh eyes for an educational leadership that desperately needs new perspective.

by Wole M. Fayemi | February 16, 2008 at 1:38 PM

To be honest, I am not sure I have ever seen the dichotomy described here, of education and business being viewed as "polar opposites", however I do have strong feelings about his commentary about the EDUCATIONAL UNDERCLASS and the RACIAL AND ETHNIC ACHIEVEMENT GAP. Firstly, I'm not sure if it is a result of wealth gap, in which case it would extend beyond minorities to caucasians who are an economic underclass, or truly an issue of skin color, which would imply dicrimination. Being an African-American entrepreneur who spent several years on Wall Street, I do believe that what is lacking, on the most fundamental level, is the existence of and interaction between, positive role models in the business arena who can stimulate, motivate and excite minority students about opportunities in business. Right now, the majority of the role models which young students (particularly males) have is one of either sports figures, such as basketball players, or gangster rap stars; each type romanticized by the media. Statistically, the overwhelming number of students could never achieve success in these fields (as there are only so many basketball teams and so few new record contracts for "rap stars"), yet so many continue to aspire to them, foregoing their education, because they appear to be the only role models in the media they can identify with. What is needed are both business people and businesses (perhaps, a new brand ideology) which both emphasizes the importance of education, and gives minority students more positive role models to aspire to.

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