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Educating the Next Wave of Entrepreneurs (Part 4)

Posted on Sunday, May 3rd 2009

By Guest Authors Steve Mariotti and Daniel A. Rabuzzi

[This series ends with a blog entry on youth and entrepreurship from The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) For the Global Education Initiative Blog at the World Economic Forum on April 24, 2009. The entry is based on an essay by Julie Kantor, Vice President for Government Relations.]

“Some Systemic Ingredients for Success in Entrepreneurship Education”

High Visibility Champions

Successful education reform efforts succeed when high-visibility individuals champion the initiatives at the national, state, and local level. In many cases, national figures play a critical spokesperson role. Colin Powell’s leadership at the America’s Promise Alliance is a prominent example. Other education reform efforts have benefited from high-level political encouragement. For example, Communities in Schools gained much of its early momentum from President Jimmy Carter, who was familiar with the program from his days as Georgia’s governor.

We use American examples here, but the same is true in country after country, whether one thinks of H.R.H. Queen Rania’s support for education in Jordan or former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s personal engagement in entrepreneurship education in the United Kingdom, and so on.

While a high visibility spokesman can be a real asset, identifying strong champions within the political system can be even more essential to later success. In the U.S.A., some big city mayors, such as Chicago’s Richard Daley, DC’s Adrien Fenty, or New York’s Michael Bloomberg, have staked their political fortunes to the cause of education reform. The cause of high school reform, which had a high-profile backer in Bill Gates, also enjoyed strong political support from major national figures like former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who made the subject his top priority while serving as chairman of the National Governors Association.

In many cases, powerful linkages between political champions and business champions help break deadlocks. Former Boston public school superintendent Tom Payzant shared his experience with Boston’s 2:00 to 6:00 After-School Initiative. This effort was originally spearheaded by Boston Mayor Menino, who helped recruit local business leaders to help support the initiative. Led by venture capitalist Chris Gabrielli, the effort now has evolved into Boston After School and Beyond. The initiative recently celebrated its tenth year in operation, and remains a national model for education innovation.

Strong Business Voice

Business leaders are frustrated with the American education system, and are actively searching for ways that they can foster change. They are receptive to strategies and initiatives that operate on business principles and have a clear strategy for achieving scale. Indeed, many of the best-known venture philanthropy initiatives, such as the New Schools Venture Fund, New Profit Inc. and Venture Philanthropy Partners, exist for this very purpose.

Business leaders can also be engaged when suggested reforms are tied to compelling national issue or purpose. The Alliance for Excellent Education has gained traction with its focus on alleviating the drop-out crisis. Perhaps an even more prominent example can be found in recent initiatives by Intel, Bayer and others to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Triggered by a series of blue ribbon panels and reports, such as the National Academy of Science’s Rising Above the Gathering Storm, the STEM education movement appears to have come out of nowhere. In the course of several years, this effort, which operated on the margin for many years, has attracted bipartisan support from business leaders concerned about future economic competitiveness. In the process, STEM advocates succeeded in generating huge increases in both public investment and attention.

High Quality Research and Metrics

It is not enough to simply assert that a proposed education reform “works;” the reform must demonstrate real and lasting positive impact, using high-quality research and performance measures that align with the state of the art. Projects like the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse are designed to assess whether new strategies, curricula, and methods truly achieve desired outcomes. Many leading foundations—among them, Gates, Lumina, Kellogg, Carnegie, and Casey—are helping the sector understand how to identify, measure and replicate positive student outcomes at the system-wide level.

Building to scale requires “gold standard” metrics on educational outcomes and impacts. For example, the success of New Leaders for New Schools as it moves into new markets, such as New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, has been partially attributed to its ability to convey the program’s powerful impacts and results. New Schools has reached out to well-known researchers, e.g., the RAND Corporation, to provide outside validation for these assessments.

City Year has used a similarly rigorous assessment approach. Working with Policy Research Associates, City Year documents its impacts on youth attitudes by measuring attitudinal change on a host of civic engagement attributes. Finally, Achieve, Inc., an advocate for more stringent academic standards and improved accountability, is another example of an initiative that utilizes strong research and data dissemination strategies.

Strong Partnerships

Attracting high visibility champions and generating business support are all key ingredients to scaling entrepreneurial education initiatives. Yet, a wider set of partnerships is also needed. Successful organizations help trigger or convene a wider set of partner organizations and advocates. As America’s Promise Alliance senior executive Charles Hiteshew notes, success is often less about strengthening a single organization, than it is about how to “lever a movement.”

Many examples of these successful affiliation strategies are underway. The rapid and successful expansion of the “Knowledge is Power” (KIPP) charter schools in the U.S.A. has occurred by individual schools adhering to KIPP principles, while also by tying the model to a national movement for school reform. City Year also consciously pursued a similar strategy, tying its program to a national movement of service learning and youth engagement. Project Jumpstart, which links financial literacy advocates, has also gained traction through this approach.

A related set of issues concerns human capital. Researchers such as Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute place great emphasis on the role of talent development in education reform. If education reformers are able to succeed in attracting top talent, and training them to become “evangelists” for the cause, the ability to expand will be improved. Certainly, programs like Teach for America have successfully focused on strengthening the education talent pipeline.

In closing, we emphasize again some key ingredients for systemic success of entrepreneurship education (which must be coupled with strong classroom and school wide practices to create real learning):

  • High-visibility champions
  • Strong business engagement
  • High-quality research and metrics
  • Strong partnerships
  • Thank you—we look forward to your comments.

    This segment is part 4 in the series : Educating the Next Wave of Entrepreneurs
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