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‘Business Report’ Publisher: Schools and government need disruption

February 1, 2017
By Rolfe McCollister
Originally Posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

Some things seem pretty evident to anyone in business or just observing the world we live in. “Disruption” seems to rule the day. Wikipedia states, “A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances.”

Tech Crunch explains that startling reality, noting, “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”

The point was made again in a recent Pew Research Center survey conducted at the end of 2016, which asked for the public’s “main source of news about the 2016 campaigns.” The 24-hour cable news networks, Fox and CNN, took first and second, followed by Facebook, which finished ahead of all three traditional TV networks (ABC, CBS and NBC). Facebook, a social media platform, doubled the percentage received by CBS, which was started in 1927 and once led the news business with anchorman Walter Cronkite. Not anymore.

“Disruption” due to technology, the internet, and changing markets, demographics and lifestyles is impacting everything from the way we watch movies and shop to the way we take photos, bank, order take-out and read books. So why does our government and public education resist, instead of embracing the idea of thinking different—and innovating to offer more choices and conveniences to customers? It is what the consumer expects. It is the power they are demanding—and deserve.

Resistance to change among the establishment and protecting “the way we’ve always done it before” is sinking sand. We never thought we would see Sears closing stores or Kodak and the printed Encyclopaedia Britannica disappearing. But it happened. The market changed. The rules changed. Technology changed. Disruption can cause a paradigm shift. We all must deal with it, including our government and public education.

Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack penned a column recently on this topic. “Personal choice, and the ever-increasing ease in acting upon it, is not going away and government will eventually have to evolve or get the heck out of the way,” he wrote. “The legacy bureaucracies of the past cannot just be put on autopilot to automatically become the government of our future because they become increasingly unaffordable, ineffective and unpopular by the day.”

So why does our government and public education resist, instead of embracing the idea of thinking different—and innovating to offer more choices and conveniences to customers? It is what the consumer expects. It is the power they are demanding—and deserve.

In business, most are learning you adapt, innovate, and respond to the customer and the marketplace—or get left behind and become irrelevant. Is the latter the direction our public schools are headed?

Not if East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake can help it. He discussed ideas recently at a forum with Mayor Sharon Weston Broome. Drake has met with parents in southeast Baton Rouge (as will Broome) in an effort to create solutions to address these customers’ concerns. He spoke of the New Advance Placement Capstone diploma added at Baton Rouge Magnet High School here, making it one of 1,000 select schools in the world to offer such courses on critical thinking and research. (The only other school in Louisiana offering this is Lusher Charter School in New Orleans.) Drake also mentioned the future opening of The Career Academy, which will teach medical, computer science and manufacturing, and will tie into the Automotive training center, a collaboration with Baton Rouge Community College. These are ideas that can disrupt the status quo.

As you will notice, there are very few monopolies left today. Government in many cases won’t go away, and there are some roles government should be responsible for.

But with taxpayers fed up and pressure on government to get lean, public-private partnerships are becoming more popular to gain efficiencies, speed and better customer service. And that is as it should be.

Public schools (better described as “government-run schools”) is still one of the last monopolies where government holds most of the dollars and controls who gets them—minimizing any competition and innovation. The school system often dictates to customers (children and parents) where they must go for services, whether they are satisfied or not. It is usually determined by your ZIP code. 

National School Choice Week was held in January, and we could celebrate that in Louisiana. The school choice initiative (which is an example of disruption) began slowly in our state over 20 years ago but has picked up momentum since 2008—and parents are getting the power to choose their children’s education. The money is meant for the child and follows the child—and the school must meet their needs or parents can take their child and their money elsewhere. It has been a fierce battle, but many have been standing up to point out that public education exists for the children and their parents, who desire a better future for them. It’s not an employment agency for adults or playground for teachers unions. The monopoly has failed generations of children and that’s tragic.

What’s even more tragic is that despite other states looking at Louisiana’s progress as a model, there are those here who want to turn back the clock, reverse reforms, reduce choices—and put the establishment and unions back in charge, instead of parents. And sadly, that includes our governor, who set up his own task force.

The Louisiana Federation for Children, headed by former state Sen. Ann Duplessis, has been an advocate for choice and has worked closely in Louisiana with Betsy DeVos, who I hope will be confirmed as the secretary of education for President Donald Trump. The federation recently pointed out that “A majority of Louisiana voters support school choice. A 2015 LAPCS [Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools] survey of registered voters showed 62% supporting charter schools. A 2015 BAEO [Black Alliance for Educational Options] survey of black voters in the state indicated strong across the board support for choice programs—78% supported parental choice, 66% approved of charter schools and 63% favored vouchers/scholarships.”

One size does not fit all like “back in the old days.” School choice includes public charter schools, traditional public schools, vouchers, online schools and homeschooling. The federation points out that 20 years after the Louisiana Legislature enacted the first charter school law (championed by Jim Geiser), more than 70,000 students attend 140 charter schools in 34 cities across the state. The Louisiana Scholarship Program (vouchers) helps 6,500 low-income students.

I was pleased to see recently that the New Orleans Public School Board is about to convert its last five schools to charter schools. This will mean that 100% of the public schools in New Orleans are charter schools. This is a first in the history of America. Choice—and the disruption of education—is alive and well in the Crescent City, which means better schools for our children.

But that type of disruption in our status quo public education system is the exception, not the rule—and that applies to higher education and government in general. That must change, and taxpayers and voters must demand it.

Government and public education was established to take care of the people, not the other way around. As Waguespack points out, “Consumer choice is now the backbone of everything we do as a society and as individuals. Government cannot be immune from this reality forever … not unless they want to one day go the way of Kodak.”

Amen to that.

Who will be the “leaders of disruption” in the public sector? They deserve and need our support.


Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated recently and I found a quote of his that I thought spoke to these times.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”