Though education entrepreneurs may differ in their opinions of President Donald Trump and the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, they can agree on one thing: This new administration will mean a significant shift in American education policy.
Because federal education policy impacts school budgets, standards, curriculum and evaluation metrics, a new public policy direction can have a major impact on education organizations and entrepreneurs.
This impact is especially pertinent for those who define their business model narrowly on one set of policies which, if repealed or modified, can force education organizations to completely redefine themselves.
The rise and fall of Common Core?
While the election of President Trump means a potentially favorable rollback of regulations for businesses in other industries, the rollback in education standards may not be so favorable for organizations invested in education. Consider Common Core standards, which President Trump has pledged to eliminate, and DeVos also claimed she does not support.
With $200 million in start-up money from the Gates Foundation and $4.35 billion in Race to the Top federal grants to support its implementation and adoption, the Common Core aspired to serve as a universal framework for standards-based education. While controversial and often misunderstood from the start, Common Core garnered both conservative and liberal support for a more rigorous set of national college and career readiness standards that would lift public education in America.
Swept up in this tremendous gravitational pull of education reform and private and federal funding, many education companies rushed to align to Common Core in their curriculum, assessments, and professional development services to help teachers and school leaders adapt to the new standards. An explosion of entrepreneurship followed as education companies large and small retooled entire curricula and technologies to serve as vendors to states and districts making the Common Core transition.
As support of Common Core declines, not only are these companies at risk of failing, but the students, teachers and school leaders using their products could also lose valuable time and resources. The dilemma highlights two inherent problems in education reform:
The deep-seated frustration of educators who strive to build sustainable growth in their schools but are repeatedly undermined by changes outside of their control
The risk that education entrepreneurs take on in building educational services that are too narrowly tied to policies in flux
In the end, then, no matter the party in power, education entrepreneurs should strive to build businesses that can withstand policy change.
Preparing for change
So how can education entrepreneurs weather upcoming policy changes and provide services and resources to help schools do the same?
Education entrepreneurs should spend the time to gain a thorough understanding of existing policy and potential policy changes and avoid building their offerings to serve one given policy exclusively. Entrepreneurs should develop products or services of lasting value that can persist even in light of likely policy change and stand the test of time.
Ultimately, the most important thing for any education organization to do is to hone in on the academic value at the core of its offerings. While education policy is volatile, core academic values are largely shared across political groups. Whether the country is currently moving to increase or decrease standardized testing or shift test from one to another, students still need to develop grammar, mathematics, and critical reading skills, so they can interpret complex material and successfully problem solve.
What’s more, teachers speak in a skills-based nomenclature about their students that is not captured perfectly in any national or state standard system. For example, a teaching strategy or education organization that can measurably help a student recognize and correct sentence fragments, run-ons, and misplaced modifiers will last. Why? Not because of its standards alignment, but because it is good, effective teaching that can be proven to make students more accurate readers, writers, and editors.
If entrepreneurs focus first and foremost on delivering enduring, educational value — value that leads to growth in skills and achievement however measured — they can continue to adapt how that value is delivered to fit the specifics of current policy and help school leaders, teachers, and students navigate these transitions.
Image credit: Pexels
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of the test preparation company Academic Approach.