Edited by Frederick M. Hess, Harvard Education Press, 2006
"Educational Entrepreneurship: Realities, Challenges, Possibilities,"
features conference papers presented at the American Enterprise Institute on
Nov. 14, 2005. Revised and edited for publication, the essays serve as a lively
discussion of the state of contemporary education and the means by which it may
According to several of the volume’s 12 essays, the chief problem facing
education is institutional inertia brought about by administrative bureaucracy,
government over-regulation, faculty burnout and union protection of
underperforming teachers. The majority of authors encourage entrepreneurship —
the movement of economic resources from lower to higher productivity and greater
yield, according to French economist J.B. Say — from without and
intrapreneurship from within as means by which inertia may be overcome.
As examples, they cite the initial successes of the Edison Schools management
enterprise; Teach for America, which places recent college graduates in
inner-city teaching positions; and the Knowledge is Power Program, which
operates open-enrollment college preparatory public schools for mostly
low-income minority students.
In the book’s final essay, editor Frederick M. Hess makes the claim that
"entrepreneurs can have an enormous impact on the education debates simply by
providing visions of what is possible, and proof points that analysts and
reformers can use in the course of public debate. TFA and the KIPP Academies,
for instance, have fundamentally altered discussions about teacher recruitment
and urban schooling and students."
And yet. ...
"Educational Entrepreneurship" also presents points of view that vigorously
defend the status quo. Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford
University, asserts that entrepreneurship has accomplished little since the
educational reforms of the early 20th century. Alex Molnar, professor of
education policy and director of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at
Arizona State University, likewise presents a laundry list of the failures of
certain charter schools and the corruption of some entrepreneurial programs as
if these flaws were somehow endemic to any system that challenges the status
quo. Molnar fails to balance his arguments with a much longer list of the myriad
and far more egregious failings of our conventional public school system.
Hess, getting in the volume’s last words, counters: "Risk is the price of
progress. Failed ideas, providers and schools are indeed a high price to pay.
They are only worth paying when compared to the alternative, to the stagnation
and the ceaseless, pointless tinkering that have for so long been the face of
Bruce Edward Walker is
science editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and is co-author of
"What Can You Do With a Major in Education? Real People. Real Jobs. Real
Rewards," Wiley Publishing, 2005.