Ah, New Year’s—a magical time in which we renounce bad habits (excuse making, achievement gap widening) and promise to embrace more lucrative ones (excellence, innovation, MacGyvering). And while 2013 may be barely upon us, it is already shaping up to be the Year of the EduPreneur. But before we raise our collective wine boxes in a toast, let us first meet this homo innovatus.
Pronounced ej-oo/ˈ prəˈno͝or/, this 21st century being understands the vital need of investing in our childrens’ futures—as long as he earns a return of 7% or more. The edupreneur, a close cousin to the edvestor and the edushyster, is consumed by a single burning question: How can I crush the achievement gap? How can I make some money off of the little bastards? Quite effectively, it turns out. No matter how far short the edupreneur falls of his stated, altruistic goals, he always seems to end up with a wheelbarrow full of edu-bucks.
School of $1 Billion
Reader: it seems like only yesterday that serial edupreneur Joel Klein was proclaimed innovator of the year for his revolutionary idea to deliver individualized math curricula to kids in the form of playlists. Sounds super cool, right? There’s just one glitch, as they say in e-land: Klein’s School of One, the heavily promoted (and hugely expensive) edu-venture in New York City, is a dud. But there’s a silver lining for Mr. Klein. You see, in edu-preneurial land, failure doesn’t mean the same thing as it does you or me, or for that matter a public school. As this brother from Forbes Magazine explains it, failure is just another stop on the innovation rail road.
What that means is that rarely if ever does an innovation hatch out of someone’s mind as a perfectly formulated plan. The innovations that succeed are those that have the time and space to test and learn and the money left over to then iterate and tick and tack between different approaches until they nail the job of the user. Failure is actually a critical part of innovation—and its occurrence and learning from it is what allows for ultimate success.
2013 prognosis: the School of One may soon be the School of None but Mr. Klein has already Amplified his failure and is now “innovating” in a district near you.
Speaking of innovation, here is an edupreneur who has at last solved one of the biggest problems confronting our union-stifled public schools: all of the best talent is being sucked up by law firms and investment banks. Fortunately there is an easy and lucrative solution within reach: make our schools more like law firms. Teaching Firms of America, which already operates one Brooklyn charter school, has ambitious plans to expand. Here is how the school describes its uniquely innovative model:
The “Teaching Firm” is a hybrid of the traditional nonprofit-charter school structure and the “professional service firm” (the management structure used by law firms, medical practices, investment banks, etc.): while like the traditional nonprofit in that the Board of Trustees maintains ultimate control and close supervision over the organization, the Trustees delegate the day to day management, leadership and operation of the school to a small group of its teacher-leaders (the “Partners”), who, like law firm partners who continue to practice law, will continue to teach fulltime and divide the school-wide level responsibilities among the group, each Partner taking on a distinct leadership/management role. The remaining classrooms in the school will be staffed with “Associates” (both “Senior” and “Junior”), who are teachers with anywhere from 0 to 5 years of teaching experience or equivalent. Like all top law firms, the expectation will be that every Associate is working towards becoming a Partner, a teacherleader who is ready to join in partnership with their colleagues to open and lead more schools.
2013 prognosis: mad expansion, not to mention billable hours.
K12: Teaching Kids to Ad
Someday students will be able to select and attend the school of their choice, based on customized ads that appear on their hand-held-devices. Good news, reader: thanks to K12, the number one choice in K-12 online education programs in America—and the number one advertiser of those programs—that day has arrived. Last year K12 spent an astonishing $21.5 million in advertising—and that was just in the first 8 months of 2012. But most importantly, K12 understands that to give kids a real edu-choice, the company must circumvent a major bureaucratic obstacle: the teachers union parents.
According to a USA Today study, K12 spent an estimated $631,600 to advertise on Nickelodeon, $601,600 on The Cartoon Network and $671,400 on MeetMe.com, a social networking site popular with teens. It also dropped $3,000 on VampireFreaks.com, which calls itself “the Web’s largest community for dark alternative culture.”
It turns out that K12 spends a full 5% of its edu-dollars on advertising. If you think that’s too much, that’s clear proof that you are not an edupreneur. A real edupreneur understands that the goal is to get every school to spend as much, for a grand total of $12 billion advertorial dollars.
2013 prognosis: cool new pre-K ads on Sprout and plenty more innovative budgeting ahead for K12.
But what if you’re an old fashioned edupreneur? Can you still cash in without getting all technological up in here? Reader: meet the edupreneurs at the helm of Ohio’s EdVantage charter network. According to a recent expose by the Dayton Daily News, managing seven charters has turned out to be extremely EdVantageous for the husband-wife team at the helm, who pull down a combined $439,000. And don’t forget the rest of the family; the CEO’s sister, son, daughter and daughter-in-law are also on the payroll. Note: if you want to get hooked up with your own EdVantageous job, I hear the head of HR has an in with the CEO…
But who cares how much the family members are raking in as long as they run excellent and innovative schools, right? Alas reader, while old-fashioned union-stifled schools are required by law to spend a certain amount per pupil, charters have much more leeway to practice innovative budgeting. At EdVantageous schools like Trotwood Preparatory and Fitness Academy, managers save $$$ by cutting non-essentials, like a working phone system, technology or electives. (Read through the comments from former teachers for an eye-opening look at a truly EdVantageous operation).
2013 prognosis: look for plenty more stories of charter operators taking full edvantage of the innovation space in the year ahead.
The true edupreneur knows that the only business model worth its $alt is one that can be scaled up—and the sooner the better. That’s why I take my ski hat off to the miracle makers at Venture Academy in Minneapolis. When we last checked in, the edupreneurs at Venture were already closing the achievement gap and producing the next generation of 21st century leaders, even though the school won’t actually open until 2013.
Thanks to an eagle-eyed EduShyster premium member, there is good news to share: the not-yet-open wonder academy is expanding. The reader, who went to the school’s website in hopes of applying for the position of Lead EduPreneur, noticed something interesting. The website for the single, non-open school is Venture Academies, meaning that this School of None could soon be Schools of None.
2013 prognosis: “MacGyver” takes hold as the edupreneurial term of the year, knocking “leverage” from the former top spot.
Happy New Year from EduShyster. Send tips, comments and New Year’s greetings to firstname.lastname@example.org.