Tag Archives: education

HBS Centennial: Social Entrepreneurship In Education

Below are my notes from a panel during this week’s HBS Centennial Celebration.

The Panel, hosted by HBS Professor Stacey Childress, featured 4 of the leading entrepreneurs making changes in education nationwide.

Steve Barr - Founder of Green Dot; Kevin Johnson – Founder of St. Hope and Sacramental Mayoral candidate;  Michelle Rhee - Washington D.C. Schools superintendent, and Wendy Kopp founder of Teach For America.


The definition of Social Entrpreneurship: pursuing social change, regardless of the resources you currently control.

Some stats about our educational system:  3 million teachers and 50 million students. 40 percent of poor are in largest 100. We spend $450 billion annually. This has doubled over 30 years but the outcomes have declined.

Our students are tops in the world in math and science in the 4th grade,  but by high school they fall to 25th in math (out of 30).

There are 4 general areas we need to address:

1) Achievement gap.

2) People problems.

3) Performance tools.

4) Institutions.

Steve Barr – founder of Green Dot

Founded it himself (with his Chocolate lab) after a death in the family. When you lose your family, you get bolder.

In the old days – high school was enough. His, brother dropped out. He was jock.

Looking back on his experience he decided he wanted to create schools where everyone gets attention – not just the cool kids and the jocks.

Most schools are very undemocratic – centralized. In contrast, small private schools have: high expectations, college acceptance, no big office downtown, accountability, call back, connected.

He wanted to replicate this private school environment. So he started with one school…built from there. Now at 19 schools. Now he wants to create political will to change current system.

Kevin Johnson- St. Hope

Grew up in Oak Park Sacremento. After high school he got a scholarship to Berkeley. Realized he was totally unprepared. Played for Suns in NBA – visited cities nationwide. Started St. Hope after school program for kids while playing for the Suns…but the schools were so bad, he realized that is not enough.

All poor places were the same – kids were told they weren’t allowed to have same opportunities just because of where they were born.

3rd graders that are behind 80 percent never caught up. We build prison systems based on these reading scores.

Finally decided to create new schools.

Wants to revitalize a community. Public schools, economic development, return and the arts. Focused on one area in a community. Pre-k through twelve. Need a continuum. Runs Sacramento High School -2nd oldest high school in the country. Took college acceptance rate from 20-30 percent to 80 percent.

Michelle Rhee – Washington D.C. Schools

50k students. Highest risk school in the entire country. 70 percentage point achievement gap. 12th percentile in reading and 8 percentile in math. Kindergartners start close close to their peers…by 3rd grade they are far behind. Schools are so bad they make kids worse off the longer they stay.

Money was not the issue: they spent a lot of money per pupil, but had bad results.

Transformational focus 2 areas:

Accountability. The Adult has responsibility and stake in success. Pay based on performance. Red tier or green tier. Green tier – 40 percent raise + upside possibilities…up to 131k in salary. People backlashed. You have to give up tenure.

Leadership. No school board. Just mayor. She hates boards. Change will take different kind of leadership. Must reject compromise. Need decisive change…she received advice from someone who said “soften your message.” She said, “I totally disagree…we spend too much time softening our message. We don’t do a good enough job calling out the issues.”

Wendy Kopp – Teach For America

Problem of educational iniquity is so big, we need to channel future leaders into they system.

The program: commit 2 years to high poverty communities. Both helps kids and shapes leaders.

This is a solvable problem. Kids do have the potential. She rejects silver bullet theories. It will take hard work. 2/3rds of her people end up staying in education, but some leave. And that is good too.

Goal is to keep growing. Last year 25,000 applicants. 7,000 teachers next year. We are seeing reasons for hope – schools are improving…snowball is rolling. New Orleans is changing.

General Thoughts

Warren Buffett: if you want to fix public schools, make private schools illegal.

We need political will.

Change is necessary.

Need reform from within plus political will. Takeaway from Aspen Ideas Festival. Someone needs to be a chancellor, someone needs to be a mayor.

Michelle has a billion dollar budget, showing that big institutions can help to make change because of their resources if organized properly.

Leaders are putting kids first.

Cities are incubators for nationwide change (i.e. a one-sized fits all approach might not work).

Political will is absolutely crucial: Michelle *needs* Fenti (mayor) to make it work. Closed 15 restructured 27 fired 1/3 of principals. Most politicians fold under the pressure.

We need unrelenting leaders like Kevin.

Ms. Rhee’s compensation system is being funded by foundations…charter schools are worried, but ultimately public school competition is necessary.

The end goal: we are so far from where we need to go. We need systems of schools to have systems like what we have in GE. We need much better efficiency.

Limit is not the kids: it is the getting the right adults.

Leadership is important. Adrian Fenti saw Klein in New York did it…followed him. We need a different kind of leadership. Elect Kevin.

How can graduate schools of ed help? People are taking watered down approach. We need the systems themselves to retain, attract, train best talent. Need more research.

We have not embraced the technological revolution enough. Someone needs to pioneer the technology revolution in schools.

We have a crisis. We need to make people realize the implications: Economic development, public safety etc.

How are we going to save the economy? Education.