Entrepreneurship and Schools

Should schools become more entrepreneurial? One person with whom I had a conversation the other day thinks so. Do you have special programs or events at your school? Spin them off so that they must be financially self-sufficient, forcing them to adapt to survive. Do you have untapped resources that you could leverage to raise revenue? Do you offer summer school or a summer teacher institute? How often do your buildings lay idle? What is your merchandise store like?

On the one hand, these ideas appeal to me for how they embrace the initiative of individuals. However, several distinguishing features of schools make me wonder how effective a business-style entrepreneurial approach would be in a school. For one, schools are culturally sensitive — they place greater value on relationships and humanity than your typical corporation. Second, schools serve students, so if an experiment within the school’s “core business” goes awry, students experience the drop in quality. Third, schools do not tend to hire for entrepreneurial wisdom. Whereas a business might cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit from top to bottom, how many individuals in a school are prepared to take strategic risks?

Maybe the answer is to start from the periphery of the school and proceed one step at a time. Perhaps the call is to ask schools to broaden their idea of how a school could operate. Let experiment — with sharing content, outsourcing our school merchandise, or starting a rich summer program — and then keep what works and discard what does not, but with an attitude that allows for failure rather than allowing it to retard innovation. If that goes well, then perhaps a day will come to shake up some of the assumptions that define the core program.

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