This week is TED week – when some of the most relevant minds in society, business, and culture congregate to give speeches 18 minutes long sharing their ideas about how to change the world.
The series is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it gives us a fresh collective zeitgeist into which we can sink our minds, hopes, energies, and efforts – wiping the slate clean of past problems and upgrading to more novel ones – of sorts.
For surely, the challenges that we face might be brought to light in a mere 18 minutes, but could take a lifetime or more to solve – and for which there may never be a clear solution. Yet there is purpose in a cause greater than one’s self.
TED is also important for its endurance. Many of the talks shared even years ago still resonate. Education, the area about which I’m most passionate, will forever be a mainstay in the panoply of discussion topics. Sir Ken Robinson’s talks from 2006 and 2010 are today more significantly yardsticks against which to measure what we still haven’t accomplished in the evolution of education than they are to measure what we have.
While giving a TED talk is not on my agenda this year, if I had to prepare hypothetically for one, I would have picked right up where Sir Robinson left off and talked about my model for a new kind of school. Here goes.
First, education is not a bureaucratic expedient to advance the economic interests of the incumbency. Education is about creating a better future and opening children’s eyes to the possibilities of life and the power they have within themselves to create positive change in their lives and the lives of others. Children need something to believe in, and what they most need to believe in is themselves. Good teachers help bring out the best in children in this way.
I see a few main problems with education today, namely that we teach children to obey, to sit, to behave, to study for long periods of time before they are asked to produce a product. We don’t teach doing, and the only results that count are the ones that can be measured because they have been completed. Teachers themselves must also be held to a higher standard.
Therefore, the school I propose (grades 7-12) would be run as a business. I come from a finance background and would set my school up in two divisions linked closely together. The business division would handle the school’s monetary dealings and would be run similarly to a hedge fund model. The business would raise money that it would manage and use its fees and profits to subsidise the students’ tuition and offer higher salaries for younger teachers.*
The managers would be held accountable for their results, with the primary goal being to fund the future of education rather than their own personal accounts, and the students would become aware at a younger age of the fundamental concepts of business: margin, inflows equaling and exceeding outflows, and the importance of return on investment. (No matter what field you go into, a working knowledge of business concepts is a pre-requisite for enduring success.)
The second division would be the education division, which would handle the teaching of the students and curricula development. We would recruit teachers who are experienced educators with a proven track record of success, retired business and finance professionals, and young professionals with a resume of community involvement, leadership, achievement, and accountability.
One of the issues that education faces today is in finding good teachers, namely because of the pay scale. Young, bright people are often motivated to go into more lucrative industries such as law and finance where they can earn larger salaries, but where there tends to be a surfeit of supply. We need to recruit people that would otherwise go into these higher-paying fields into education using various incentives that they might be afforded in other industries.
The other issue is equitable remuneration to teachers for impact created. The results teachers produce are often viewed as intangible because the output is in the cultivation of students’ character, self-esteem, and critical thinking abilities – all things that are difficult to measure, but surely contribute to a student’s ability to create wealth.
In my model, I propose that my school would be entitled to a royalty on every dollar earned by our students over a certain threshold, and those dollars would essentially be distributed to teachers as bonuses for their contribution to students’ earning potential –similar to how an entrepreneur might be rewarded for selling a successful business a decade or two after he created it. In other words, the students would be required to pay a percentage of their income (over a certain amount) to the school to recycle that money back into the school in the form of a royalty or “management fee” of sorts for the education subsidy (in the form of tuition) and personal development that they received while matriculating.
My model solves a few main problems:
First, the problem of business mentorship. Successful business types are often exclusively made available to MBA programs from which they graduated, but mentors need to be more readily built into the framework of the daily learning process. With teachers that are industry professionals and veterans, students would learn the fundamentals of business and have access to invaluable mentorship every day.
Recruiting top talent to the education field. By offering higher pay and greater incentives, my school could recruit some of the top young minds and offer them long-term career prospects for which they could develop youth while also continuing to build their business careers.
Accountability. The school would only succeed if the investments made by the managers proved sound. Rather than invest with a mindset of leverage for mere personal profit, investments would be made with the school’s best interest in mind, thus inherently reducing risk and placing the priorities of education first and personal reward second.
Rewarding schools and teachers. A proper recycling of cash back into schools and a rewarding of teachers who often are the most influential people in all of our lives. Good schools and teachers are often largely responsible for students’ future successes, but don’t always receive the credit they deserve. My system would reward the schools with a perpetual annuity on alumni income earned that would go towards funding the school’s endowment, and give teachers an “equity claim” in the students they teach and the economic results those students achieve over the course of their careers.
Why is this model important? First, we need talented young people to invest their lives in developing the next generation of leaders and who can also continue to pursue their business interests in the context of their working environments. Let these young professionals, who would otherwise go onto an MBA program or Private Equity firm, teach students the skills they learned in their first few years of work while also learning from the portfolio managers who would be managing the business side of the school.
Moreover, we need to generate an increasing focus on the importance of ROI (return on investment) in all that we do. Results in the business world are measured through actions; the more value that each action produces, the greater the intrinsic worth of that action. By using a model of accountability with a focus on results, students will learn more about doing and will take action to produce results that actually matter: ones that are completed and thus can be measured for optimally efficient ROI.
This school model is a system that sustains itself, rewards fairly those that are a part of it, and provides opportunity for growth. The more effectively that the teachers can teach their students about leadership and producing meaningful results, the more the school and the students are rewarded. The emphasis remains on education. Furthermore, students’ talents are explored and developed earlier in life creating more evolved adults, thus increasing the lifetime value of their output and contribution to the economy and society.
While there would be a focus on economics, leadership, athletics, and service, many of the right-brain disciplines such as art, music, and dance would certainly be taught for they stimulate our creative sides and aid in the building of problem-solving skills and fulfilling relationships, which often further lend to our ability to create economic success and cultivate creativity. The thing is, when kids are encouraged to produce bodies of work, whether they are paintings or a calculus problem set, they learn how to prepare to be wrong, which is where originality emanates. My school is not conscripting a cadre of academic mercenaries, but rather developing a student body that will learn what talents it has and put them to good use early in life.
The days of giving students a month to write a paper and grading them on a select cohort of prosaic criteria is neither serving our children nor the world. We need to cultivate a group of critical thinkers, problem solvers, civic-minded citizens, and doers who view failure as a necessary – and welcome – by-product of pursuing a worthy cause and who will measure their success not merely by the money they earn, but by the lives they touch along the way. Having a greater appreciation for teachers shall accomplish this shift in values.
My model is surely not foolproof, but much in the spirit of TED, it addresses concretely a model for a better education system and plants the seed that can germinate through further probing, harvesting, and, of course, taking action.
*Here’s some maths backing my assumptions. If the fund were to raise $500,000,000 and earn 10% per year, that would be gross earnings of $50,000,000. If the school consisted of six classes, and each class comprised 100 students, that would make for 600 students in the school. That leaves $83,333 per student to cover tuition. If each student’s tuition cost $40,000, that’s a net overage of $26,000,000 (600 x $43,333.) If the school employed 100 teachers (one teacher for every six students) and paid each $100,000, that would still leave $16,000,000 left over for further investment. And these assumptions are just for the first year of operation and do not account for compound interest. Conversely, they do not account for losses.
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