Is education a good field for leaders, or just for managers?

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Who is a leader, and who is a manager? A leader creates change. She leads by example, through charisma, persuasion, and reason, and is concerned with effectiveness and ultimate goals. A manager is someone who implements change. He coordinates, directs, and is concerned with efficiency, with means rather than ends, and with control rather than trust.

In short, everyone wants to be a leader. And though they may be necessary, no one loves managers. 

Education Pioneers is a nonprofit dedicated to headhunting freshly minted Harvard MBAs and Stanford Law school graduates and employing them as administrators within charter school organizations and public school districts. Their goal is to recruit 10,000 such professionals from top education, business, and law graduate programs by 2023. According to their mission statement,

Education Pioneers exists to identify, train, connect, and inspire a new generation of leaders dedicated to transforming our education system so that all students receive a quality education.

Here are the assumptions embedded in that mission and taken from elsewhere on the website. There are common threads with the Gates Foundation agenda I discussed last week.

1) Education is in crisis.

2) Our education system needs to be transformed, particularly schools serving high-needs students.

3) The school bureaucracy outside the classroom, not principals or teachers, are a key lever for this transformation.

4) Those professionals are best identified not by their experience with students but by experiences and qualifications earned far from the education system.

To that end, Education Pioneers today released a glossy sheaf of research reporting that the education field presents prime opportunities for the ambitious Ivy League or equivalent grad. This is a sector with 6 million jobs managing $600 billion in public revenues. There are some 55000 education-related nonprofits representing perhaps as many as 2 million more jobs.  And there are dozens of education-related for-profit startups recruiting and hiring as well.

Education Pioneers makes the case that these are great jobs that top students should be angling for. In a survey of its alumni, Education Pioneers found that young professionals working in this sector were twice as likely to have high-level responsibility, managing other managers, entire functions, groups or organizations–23 percent had this level of responsibility, vs. 12 percent in the private sector. In addition, Black and Latino alumni employed in education were four times as likely to be managing a group as their peers in the private sector (20 percent vs. 4 percent).

This touting of the vast professional opportunities for managers in the education system makes an interesting contrast with another research article in the Journal of Education and Training Studies, released last week. This was a national survey of education and classroom leaders on their attitudes toward No Child Left Behind, the 2001 legislation that imposed Adequate Yearly Progress standards on school districts based on annual standardized tests. Overwhelmingly the respondents identified that NCLB and AYP had reduced the opportunities for leadership in their schools while increasing the responsibilities for managers. Principals and teachers alike reported that they felt compelled to focus on compliance with these external performance standards, rather than working on building consensus for real changes that would directly benefit students. Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 3.38.35 PM

“In 2002, it appears principals were more focused on being instructional leaders while in 2011, demands of NCLB have forced principals to be more focused on managerial tasks and less on instructional leadership.”

The educational nonprofit world is thick with references to “transformational leadership.” But no matter how many top-tier MBAs, Ed.Ds or JDs get hired, as long as the system relies on a single set of metrics, the scope for true leadership will be severely compromised.



POSTED BY Anya Kamenetz ON July 24, 2013

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Tim McClung

It is not a shortage of leadership in education. It is a shortage of education in leadership. As Pynchon said, as long as they keep asking the wrong questions, the answers really don’t matter.

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