★ Needed: Education Entrepreneurs

In private, I have often argued that if you want to improve something, you need money and the right people. In order to improve the education system in Germany and many other countries, we need more: We need money, the right people, and more regulatory freedom.

In my previous post on education, I argued for high-level regulatory changes to existing education systems—giving the systems more freedom and thus allowing for a diversity of education.

If changes to the regulation of the education system are one cornerstone of a new education system, money is the second one. Money is important not only for its power to acquire goods and to incentivize, but also because it makes people think in possibilities rather than barriers. However, it alone doesn’t make the cut. Steve Jobs, college dropout and highly successful entrepreneur, makes a good argument for that in a 1996 interview with Wired:

I have a 17-year-old daughter who went to a private school for a few years before high school. This private school is the best school I've seen in my life. It was judged one of the 100 best schools in America. It was phenomenal. The tuition was $5,500 a year, which is a lot of money for most parents. But the teachers were paid less than public school teachers - so it's not about money at the teacher level. I asked the state treasurer that year what California pays on average to send kids to school, and I believe it was $4,400. While there are not many parents who could come up with $5,500 a year, there are many who could come up with $1,000 a year.

It is shocking how big the difference between some state-run schools and high-tier private schools can be. Does the difference really lie in the $1,100? Is that the critical threshold? I don’t think so.

Steve Jobs continues by proposing a full voucher system. Instead of sending your kids to a state-run school or paying for a private school in full, all parents get school vouchers worth the cost of public education.

With these vouchers, parents (and children) can pick the school of their choosing, use their voucher and pay any extra tuition on top of that. This would not only make more diverse education available to more people, but also create business opportunities:

If we gave vouchers to parents for $4,400 a year, schools would be starting right and left. People would get out of college and say, "Let's start a school." You could have a track at Stanford within the MBA program on how to be the businessperson of a school. And that MBA would get together with somebody else, and they'd start schools. And you'd have these young, idealistic people starting schools, working for pennies.

This constitutes the third cornerstone of a new education system: the right people. We desperately need the right people to become interested in education. People with new ideas, energy, and the skills to execute on their dreams—entrepreneurs. 

Without changes, these will be hard to come by. They tend to go where opportunities are. In education right now, entrepreneurs have to struggle with an inflexible, outdated system and mostly settle with the state’s curriculum. Overall, this is hardly a place where energetic and skilled people go. I admire those who have gone there anyway.

You'd be crazy to work in a school today. You don't get to do what you want. You don't get to pick your books, your curriculum. You get to teach one narrow specialization. Who would ever want to do that?

Education needs to change, and people should be enabled to try out their ideas. For that, we need the three things: money, the right people, and new regulation. Money is the resource, the right people have the power to use it well to change education, and new regulation removes the barriers.

Then, educators can be paired up with business entrepreneurs who focus on administration, business, finance, and marketing and bring the energy to build something from scratch. As education entrepreneurs, they can realize their ideas on education.

They'd do it because they'd be able to set the curriculum. When you have kids you think, What exactly do I want them to learn? Most of the stuff they study in school is completely useless. But some incredibly valuable things you don't learn until you're older - yet you could learn them when you're younger. And you start to think, What would I do if I set a curriculum for a school?