As Education Innovation Evolves, Questions Remain

Two weeks ago I was fortunate to be one of the few education researchers attending the 2016 State of Entrepreneurship luncheon at that National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The keynote speaker was U.S. Rep. and Chairman of the House Small Business Committee, Steve Chabot. He started his presentation regarding the importance of entrepreneurship and small businesses to the U.S. economy with a quote from Orville Wright: “The airplane stays up because it doesn’t have the time to fall.” He went on to discuss the policy and regulatory context that entrepreneurs in 2016 need “to get off the ground and stay off the ground in whatever it is that they intend to do.”

The panel following Chabot’s speech discussed questions about globalization, equity, the influence of the Gig economy and social challenges that might be addressed to improve the economy and support the efforts of entrepreneurs. The questions that were not addressed were ones related to education that I hoped might be raised:

What type of knowledge best prepares students for adult life?

Does traditional preparation for the workforce take too long for the skills acquired?

How would you update education policy to address the future of the workforce?

Hearing the responses to these questions would have helped clarify the relationship between education and entrepreneurship—a relationship that challenges me every day.  

Entrepreneurship in education has a role to play in incubating and sustaining innovation and improvement efforts to advance education outcomes for children and adults. Questions like those above steer the public conversation toward how we might address some aspects of improvement in education. But more foundational areas of inquiry will help us examine the role entrepreneurs play and support them to focus innovation and development with requisite knowledge, opportunities for networking, skill development and capital. We need to talk about the barriers, both cultural and structural, to entrepreneurial development and sustainability of improvements in education. Further, we need to consider what might remove those barriers. What policies and practices do we need to examine to focus education entrepreneurs to the key problems faced by students, teachers, parents and schools?

The Kauffman Foundation is exploring approaches that apply what we know regarding entrepreneurship to the education sector. We want to inform and be informed by the conversation I outlined above. One way to support development of education entrepreneurs may be through the Innovation Clusters initiative at the U.S. Department of Education. Digital Promise, which is facilitating formation and development of Innovation Clusters, describes them as

“…local communities of practice that bring together educators, startups, policymakers, investors, researchers, and community groups across the usual boundaries that separate them. The goal is to improve the shared understanding of needs and opportunities so that more effective and more authentic tools and practices are developed to meet the challenges that face our schools.”  

But once a group like that begins to coalesce, how do we take the next step? What are the next steps? It is not enough to act strategically, we also need to think analytically. What is the best research agenda to examine and support an approach of collaborative entrepreneurial activity? Should we focus on emerging and early-stage education entrepreneurs? Should we support the rigorous evaluation of entrepreneurially developed solutions to education challenges? What do we need to understand so that education entrepreneurs will be successful at scale?

What other questions do you find compelling that will illuminate education as an entrepreneurial venture?

We will revisit this issue in a future post in which we will discuss research in entrepreneurial ecosystems and how we might apply those findings to education. Perhaps in future State of Entrepreneurship presentations, the education sector might win the draw for discussion of how entrepreneurship supports the economy. 

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Edith Gummer

Edith Gummer is an education research director in Education for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation where she oversees the development and implementation of the education research and policy initiatives that focus on strengthening innovation and entrepreneurship in education.