Editor’s Note: This guest post is written by Eileen Murphy, the Founder of ThinkCerca.com, a learning platform dedicated to creating and sharing personalized lessons online. You can follow ThinkCerca on Twitter @thinkcerca.
Social Entrepreneurship in education is the school reform lever we have yet to use. As a district administrator, I was amazed at how hard it was to find high-quality teaching materials, never mind the challenge of learning what others thought of them. Yet, when I began ThinkCERCA.com and looked at what other education startups were doing, I realized there was so much more out there. Products just hadn’t reached me. What a shame.
The old model—state adoption committees and the like—needs rethinking if teachers are to be accountable and promising startups in the education space are to thrive. We need a marketplace to support innovation. In the ideal digital education marketplace where teacher feedback and student outcomes would drive purchase and adoption decisions, products could be compared with some transparency.
Transparency in shopping for education products doesn’t currently exist. We can’t go to Amazon and compare, for example, the features of one product versus another and determine which solution might work best. But in an era of accountability, or better yet “ownership” of learning outcomes, we ought to have access to that information. That access shouldn’t be limited by the geographical area where a company can afford to place an account manager. After all, if teachers must take responsibility for their student outcomes, shouldn’t they also have a voice in discussions about resources?
Some people may find it too scary to think of a marketplace that could drive our children’s education. Some fear it could turn into a free for all. Unfortunately, it’s kind of a free for all already, to be honest. Go into a school. Check a kid’s backpack. If you’re in a good school, your likely to find homemade photocopies more often than textbooks, teacher-created anthologies from every class.
Teachers are entrepreneurs by nature. We build-measure-learn and test our products and services on customers every day. Yet, we can’t scale our nifty solutions. We ought to follow the models of other industries where successful entrepreneurs have been able to scale solutions that work. While that startup mentality might not translate perfectly into education or healthcare per se, there has to be a better way to help teacher entrepreneurs to reach the teachers and students who need the products. In a world that is increasingly driven by technology anyway, some experimentation is finally possible.
The new Common Core State Standards and federal accountability legislation may even provide the stabilizing forces needed to control some of the healthy chaos that is part of any shift. Perhaps one thing we can all agree on is the idea that gradualism can be at least as dangerous as experimentation, especially in districts with dropout rates over 50%.
Let’s try to build scalable products that work and lower costs for schools through this competitive marketplace. Lots of good choices must be offered to meet everyone’s needs, but more spaces for innovators and schools who are willing to partner with innovators can help tell the world what works and what doesn’t.
After 20 years in education, watching wave after wave of school reform without real technology or competition or results, I am trying something new. I think we ought to be willing to trust great teaching, encourage teacher entrepreneurs, and give consumers of education products—teachers and students—a voice.
ThinkCERCA is but one example of this kind of social entrepreneurship. We are part of the inaugural class at the Impact Engine, a business accelerator for entrepreneurs addressing a social problem. We have worked with teachers, principals, and school designers to create a product that will work for schools. There are many teachers like me who have a scalable solution that works. As we compete to make schools better, we will make each other better. Go educator-entrepreneurs!