Reinvention Without Compromise?

The New York Times recently ran an article about Catholic primary and secondary schools “rebranding” successfully. So, how does a Catholic school become anything other than a Catholic school? The article highlighted St. Stephen of Hungary on the Upper East Side of Manhattan as a pointed example of how a parochial school can honor tradition and also start anew.

Once facing the plight of many other Catholic schools (dropped enrollment and reduced funding – sound familiar?), St. Stephen has re-imagined the role it can and does play in the education of young New Yorkers. To be sure, the school is still Catholic and rife with prayer and crucifixes; however, St. Stephen now offers the bells and whistles of an independent (i.e., private) school education at a lower price-point. At one-quarter of the tuition of an independent school education, St. Stephen’s students benefit from low student-teacher ratios, collaborative learning environments, violin lessons, iPads in classrooms, and faith-based value systems.  As St. Stephen, Reverend Angelo Gambatese explains “Our competition or our standard isn’t another good Catholic school…[our competition is] the best independent schools in Manhattan.”

Reverend Gambatese’s sentiment, coupled with the marketability of the revitalized St. Stephen, seems to be a lesson worth exploring. St. Stephen suggests successful marketability in education is as simple as understanding and honoring your competition. Instead of playing the martyr (no pun intended), the administrators at St. Stephen took action. They looked carefully at where prospective students (or, at least, desirable prospective students who are less likely to need financial assistance) were choosing to enroll and learned what drove that choice; the school also brought fresh talent into administrative positions. Now, St. Stephen has many accomplishments to boast, such as the ability to hire more full-time faculty members and increase its fundraising yield exponentially. In short, by understanding and, to some degree, emulating its competition, St. Stephen can stay in business.

There are tradeoffs: St. Stephen’s student body has grown less diverse. While there are several viable explanations for why this might be, it is a reminder that business savvy and marketability are not inherently synonymous with today’s buzzwords in education like access and inclusion.

Caveats aside, can this model apply to higher education? Of course, colleges and universities are larger—and ostensibly less nimble—than a K-8 school such as St. Stephen. At the same time, who’s to stop a college from identifying its greatest competition and incorporating some of the competition’s practices into their own?  Not only could these efforts breathe life into stale programming but they also represent a fundamental business strategy that may have gotten lost in the shuffle of accreditation, tenure and budget cuts.

A New Community for Classroom Teachers

Recently, there has been a flurry of headlines about the development of online platforms where teachers can share professional resources ranging from lesson plans to summative assessments across multiple disciplines and age-levels.

Prominently, the American Federation of Teachers has partnered with TSL Education, a British publishing firm, to invest $10 million into Share My Lesson.

On its website, Share My Lesson explains that “developed by teachers for teachers, this free platform gives access to high-quality teaching resources and provides an online community where teachers can collaborate with, encourage and inspire each other.” Share My Lesson further highlights its value-add as a means to support teachers as they make the transition to Common Core Standards. (Perhaps there is an implication here that teachers might not be receiving ample support elsewhere?)

Share My Lesson allows teachers to upload and access classroom materials; it also allows teachers to rate the material uploaded by others. Thus, the online platform enables teachers—who have many critics these days—to critique one another and foster productive conversations about what actually works in a classroom while transcending state and district boundaries. Share My Lesson also clearly acknowledges the twin concerns of how to create classrooms that embrace Common Core and how support experienced teachers as they transition to Common Core.

In many ways, Share My Lesson is not a novel idea. In less than one second, a Google search of “lesson plan” yields near twenty-four million results, which suggests that many other people have used and are using the internet to distribute teaching materials.  What does appear to be novel, though, is the venture’s commitment to facilitating dialogue and building a community of educators…and its effort to address a topic—Common Core—that many in education and teacher preparation may not know how to address. Should Share My Lesson be the only opportunity for educators to communicate in this capacity?  What if a school or college of education built a similar platform for its students and alumni? Alumni at various points in their careers could support one another, teach each other, and reinforce their relationship with their alma mater. In an ideal scenario, alumni could even have the chance to connect to former professors or contribute to the creation of curriculum for incoming college students. Time will tell, but perhaps the greatest merit of the virtual community is its ability to reinforce the actual community.

Takeaways from Eduventures Annual Member Meeting

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Now that the Eduventures team has returned to its Boston office—and you all have returned to your respective colleges and universities across the country—we want to reflect on some of the big takeaways from our SOE-LC sessions at the Annual Member Meeting.

Social media, websites, and the course catalogue are crucial to connecting with your students.

According to Eduventures student preferences research, potential students rely primarily on your institution’s website and online course catalogue to gather information and, ultimately, make a decision about where to invest in their own education. Accordingly, it is essential that your SOE website engage students, be easy to navigate, and provide essential details about program requirements, cost, and application procedures. Not only is your online presence important to potential students—it’s important to current students and alumni! Check out this infographic for an overview of how higher education has used social media to its advantage, or learn about the front-runners in the use of social media from StudentAdvisor’s rankings.

SOE-LC alumni of teacher preparation programs do feel prepared for the professional challenges they face in the classroom. Art Levine and Arne Duncan have gotten great mileage out of their “62% of teacher education alumni believe that SOEs don’t prepare graduates for classroom realities” statistic, which is drawn from a 2006 research report. Meanwhile, preliminary analysis of Eduventures’ 2012 Annual Alumni Survey suggests a different reality. Indeed, 88% of SOE-LC members’ alumni feel that their initial teacher education program prepared them to be a successful teacher.  (Be sure to join our webinar on October 24 when we discuss the findings in more detail!)

While this finding doesn’t mean SOEs are perfect, it does suggest that many SOEs are able to provide strong preparation for future teachers. With continued investment and commitment to refining program portfolios, addressing student needs and supporting faculty innovation, SOEs can continue to offer valuable, rigorous and thorough preparation for their students in a multitude of fields.

Assessment and outcomes data is valuable for purposes other than accreditation. Many SOEs find the accreditation process draining. Across our membership, institutions report pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the accreditation process, hiring dozens of new employees to support the work, and juggling multiple methods of measurement to negotiate the demands of different accrediting bodies. SOEs are not alone—earlier this month the American Council on Education released a report making recommendations on how to streamline the accreditation process for all types of colleges and universities. Although many feel the report does not take a sufficiently critical approach (its recommendations seem to work within the current system, as opposed to break it down), the report does offer some thought-provoking insights about how to streamline the accreditation process.

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For those of you who were able to attend our AMM session “Making Use of Assessment Data,” you heard from our member-panelists about the ways in which they have used assessment data to support faculty work in program revision, communicate with external (i.e., non-university) stakeholders, and collaborate with district school administrators. Hopefully, their comments enabled you to think outside the box and discover ways in which you might maximize your R.O.I. in assessment. The SOE-LC team will continue its research in this area, with a focus on what SOEs are currently doing to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of their assessment and outcomes data collection.

As always, we welcome any and all feedback you have about the meeting. Please share any thoughts on what worked and what didn’t with your client services advisor. You can submit specific feedback for an individual session via survey on the AMM website, and download any of the reports here.

Building New Revenue Through Technology Transfer at Schools of Education

Today’s EdWeek highlights the recent infusion of venture capital into the education sector, and profiles the story of the development of a research-based literacy tool created by faculty at the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development into a start-up company called Early Learning Labs, launched this month:

Universities Generate Ideas, Support for K-12 Startup Companies (EdWeek, May 15, 2012)

Eduventures research suggests that opportunity exists for schools and colleges of education to develop research-based tools and products into profit through similar means.  In June 2011, Eduventures released the report Understanding and Identifying Innovative and Entrepreneurial Business Models for Schools of Education, which outlined several methods for Deans and SOE leaders to consider to build revenue outside of tuition dollars, including developing marketable products and/or partnering with for-profit companies to do so.  These partnerships are common across schools of business, engineering, or medicine, but are still rare among schools of education.  However, as the “education industry” grows, so does the opportunity for revenue through these means for universities.

In addition to the University of Minnesota example profiled by EdWeek in the article cited above, a few examples of this have surfaced through Eduventures relationships with institutions and organizations across the country.  For example, Stanford University and Pearson have partnered to develop and market new performance assessment measures for schools of education, namely, the “TPA” which is currently being piloted in several states.  In addition, 2Tor partnered with USC to successfully co-develop and co-market USC’s fast growing online MAT program that leads to initial teacher certification.

What potential might exist to build revenue through similar “technology transfer” at your school/college of education?  Ask yourself these questions as you consider the scholarly work that your faculty are currently engaging in – there could be more opportunity than you think.  Also, take the time to talk with fellow Deans and leaders at your university in business, engineering, or medicine to learn more about how they have developed revenue via these means in the past.

Eduventures members of the Schools of Education Learning Collaborative can download the full report, Understanding and Identifying Innovative and Entrepreneurial Business Models for Schools of Education, by clicking here.