Saturday, February 27, 2010

Schools as B Corporations

For our school book club we're reading Drive. Note to colleagues: Book discussion is Tuesday. Bring an appetizer.

Just quickly, I can't say I was in love with Drive. It didn't include anything particularly groundbreaking. I'd find myself breezing through pages thinking I've read that before. I don't know how many times I can read about 20% time or the invention of the Post-it. That being said there are a couple of things that are stuck in my head.

Fedex days: In the book, Dan Pink mentions a company called Atlassian. They have Fedex days. The premise of these is that you have 1.5 to deliver something. It can be anything product related and has to be out of your normal work responsibilities. I LOVE this idea for schools. I don't know how many useless PD sessions I've sat through just clocking time. What if instead our administrators got us together in the morning and said, "Come back at 3pm with something to make our school better." I imagine it could be an unconference setup where there's a big whiteboard and we rush up with our ideas or sign on to ones we're interested in. It'd have to be something out of our normal day to day so nothing like, "Our school will be better if I catch up on my grading and finish hanging posters in my room." We go out with our teams and come back with something. We do our pitch and listen to others. I'm not actually sure how Atlassian decides what to pursue further but I imagine there are ideas that just grab people. I'm getting excited just typing this.

Schools as businesses:
Nancy Flanagan has a very insightful post on the "run schools like a business" premise. Read it first. I'll wait......

B Corporations: Nancy Flanagan quotes Roxanna Elden who says that "test scores are the product." Our profit is measured by test scores. That unrelenting drive to increase test scores has led to schools behaving like businesses: rampant cheating by all, sacrificing long-term values for short-term gains, and treating innovation like intellectual property. On the other hand, I'm not with the totally-anti-fight-the-world-all-testing-is-bad crowd. One thing testing has done is helped uncover those groups we let slip by. One of the high performing schools near me has a 90% proficiency rate. It's in an affluent area that is attended by kids who have parents that are professors at one the best universities in the entire world.  However, less than a quarter of their Hispanic population is proficient. Pre-testing, they would ignored those kids. Now, they have to address it.
Also, testing exists. I don't think it's going away and I don't think it's productive to ignore or fully resist. This is where the B Corp idea comes in. A B Corp has a primary responsibility not to shareholders, but to stakeholders.  Profit, while good, is not the primary driver. You must consider your employees, the environment, and the community. Schools can and should be the same way. Our profit (test scores) should be considered. We should try to raise them. However, it shouldn't be our primary motive. We should be able to consider the needs of our students, teachers, and the community FIRST while at the same time raising test scores. They don't need to be mutually exclusive. We must address the needs of our stakeholders while delivering a profit.

Anyone else who read Drive, I'd love to hear what you thought. If you're not at my school, you can leave a comment and I can bring it in and share it on Tuesday.

Addendum: I've been obsessing about the FedEx days and have decided to pitch it to my school for our next PD. What I'd like is some ideas to help them understand what might be done. I'm also wondering about structure. I think an unconference format would probably be too inefficient given that we'd only have from 8-3. At the two corporations I've worked for we had a Digg-like system for posting ideas, commenting on them, and voting them up or down. Perhaps something like that ahead of time would be better.

I think my school actually might go for it. Not so much because it might be great, but because they wouldn't have to pay for a speaker and because they can always blame me if it doesn't work. "That was just another of Jason's crazy ideas."

What would you deliver? What structures or guidelines would you have in place? Comment or twitter.

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