Business Leadership in Education

December 12, 2011 at 1:50 PM Leave a comment

Education leadership is being given an injection of general management training as traditional schools of education are realizing synergies with business school partners at leading institutions. Instructional leadership will not take a back seat, but there should be real gains in resource allocation and staff development. Philanthropy may be more effective as well when sophisticated turnaround experts refocus funding on the primary mission.

Last week, Yale University’s School of Management announced a design competition for its graduate students. The subject is public education, and it will culminate in a school leadership conference next spring. Earlier this fall, Harvard announced a new PhD program in Education Leadership that is a joint venture between the Graduate School of Education and Harvard Business School. The Ed Leadership doctoral program has already added executive coaching in school turnaround to its curriculum. Similarly, the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia has introduced a dual-degree program with the Darden School of Business.

This is not the first time educators have considered input from industry. Local business leaders have sponsored programs to extend the school day or offer tutoring in addition to job placement for students. Many CEOs have explored Principal-for-a-Day gigs. Mid-career transition programs have brought experienced managers into teaching. School leadership programs have included MBAs in their induction programs. However, all have shared the requirement that newcomers see education through the lens of the profession. Folks have to drink the Kool-Aid to get in the door then go to the back of the line for seniority or access to power brokers if they choose to stay.

As a mid-career transition teacher, I entered the field expecting to share contributions from my healthcare management experience but found little interest among my colleagues. Indeed, most members of my cohort of teachers with prior business lives had left the field in dismay within a couple of years. I recall one particularly frustrated co-worker who had managed the electrical systems at a manufacturing plant. Our school had a complex power outage that he had accurately diagnosed…three days before the problem could be corrected. Each day, he would shake his head as 1300 members of the school community would return to the building only to be sent home after spending a few hours in the dark as the latest sure-thing failed. No one would listen to him…they would rather sit in the dark.

Much has been said about MBAs contributing to education management. Large urban school districts publicly welcome MBAs to apply to their customized leadership programs, which combine coursework with principal apprenticeships. While this seems like a great pathway, it requires as much time as a second MBA, and cohorts are small. Each year, traditional ed schools produce thousands of new administrators whose licenses are rubberstamped. In the meantime, a handful of experienced MBAs are vetted individually by high-level committees for participation in small but visible demonstration projects. Their impact on the industry is limited because of their numbers. In addition, the tight cohort model supports a singular vision of the problems and solutions. Holding onto one’s good business judgment can be confused with failure to “get” the education milieu.

Likewise, philanthropic efforts from the business community often seem like no-brainers. School districts are chronically strapped for funds, and good corporate citizens always are welcome to lend a helping hand to sponsor school programs or to offer support during out-of-school time. However, the benefactors tend to assume they shouldn’t try to understand the setting; rather, they should allow the educators to define the problems and possible solutions for them. Unfortunately, keen insight can be lost when a poorly conceived solution gains acceptance under the guise of the esoteric. Educators can spend a lifetime in a single building. Institutional myopia abounds, and access to executive talent may be undervalued simply due to inexperience.

Education is a field in need of new leadership and vision. The industry is resistant to change and insists on co-opting interested parties and indoctrinating them into the system themselves. Essentially, one must adopt their world view to be allowed access to the problem. There is a real opportunity for schools of management to challenge this status quo as equal partners in a new school leadership model.


Entry filed under: School Leadership.

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