On October 27, HBS hosted a Professional Perspectives Panel on Education. The panelists – Emily McCann (HBS ’99), Scott Given (HBS ’10), Scott Benson (HBS ’08), and Garrett Smith (HBS ’08) – explained the recent dynamism of the world of education reform.
Benson, a Program Officer at the Gates Foundation, noted that states, districts, and philanthropists have started to “allocate capital in more thoughtful ways than previously.” Changes in federal education policy (e.g. the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top”), as well as fear of budget deficits, are creating an increased focus on measurement of results and a recognition of the need to innovate in order to achieve those results. The effect is a field with great need and opportunity for individuals with an MBA skill-set.
Several of the panelists noted the strong synergy between their MBA and current work. Garrett Smith of the District Management Council, a nonprofit consultancy to school districts, said that “LEAD comes back every day; it’s all about change management.” Scott Given worked on the business plan for his start-up, Unlocking Potential, while a student at HBS. He points to the expansion of charter schools in Boston and elsewhere as a key trend that opens up opportunities for MBAs to get into the field.
The role of charter schools was further explored by the panelists at the recent Innovation in Education Panel sponsored by the Education Interest Group of the Social Enterprise Club. The panel began by dispelling several common misconceptions about charter schools. Many people think that students pay tuition or that the schools can screen students in a selective admissions process. In reality, the panel asserted Charter school students do not pay tuition and students cannot be tested or selected in any way.
Jonathan Cowan of KIPP, a charter management organization, described the value of charters as “proving the possible,” – i.e. proving it is possible to shrink the achievement gap by making innovative changes to the typical school. Ann Watterson Roy, from Boston Public Schools, noted that charters and districts can and do learn from each other.
A key message from the panelists was that as the charter movement grows so does the need for talented leaders, both educators and managers for the growing organizations. Lauren Park (OB), who helped organize the panel, will be starting a charter school in New York City through a fellowship with Building Excellent Schools. According to Park, “Charter schools are an exciting opportunity for us because they operate in a flexible management environment.” She stated, “I will be able to apply the lessons of my MBA as I build this organization—to build and manage an effective team of principals and teachers and to make decisions about how to use our limited resources.”