Education, Creativity, and the Economy

How can venture economists and venture capitalists influence education, particularly early education? We frequently hear the term ‘invest’ in education, but how do we do it?

I ran into an interesting article today via ma.tt. In “Asleep at the Wheel of Creative Destruction,” Umair Haque speculates that our economic problems are due to a lack of innovation. To some extent I would agree. However, I think Haque only briefly touched on another source of our problems:

“Here’s how pervasive the venture economy’s failure is […] Education is failing – but we don’t have a more productive system of schools and universities.”

How can venture economists and venture capitalists influence education, particularly early education? We frequently hear the term ‘invest’ in education, but how do we do it? I don’t see capitalists being able to actually invest when education by nature doesn’t turn a tangible profit.

Private schools are too expensive for most folks, and one-size-fits-all public schools often churn out frustrated kids who are either underchallenged or overlooked. Where are our terrific new ideas and innovations supposed to come from when kids’ innate curiosity and creativity are so often squashed by our school systems before they’re even old enough to drive?

Charter schools are a great solution because parents actually have an opportunity to shop around for a school that works with their child’s unique learning style. When my kids were finally chosen from waiting lists, we had TWO schools to pick from; one with a military style lecture-directly-from-the-books-while-the-kids-kneel (yes kneel!) at their desks, and another that was all about hands-on experiential learning. I chose the latter, and my kids are incredibly happy there. But I feel lucky to have even been given a choice in the first place. It’s hard to get into a charter school because they’re so scarce, and I’m sure that’s because of the enormous personal risk involved in starting one.

The parents who started Renaissance Academy had to mortgage their homes to get a building, hire staff, and promote the school enough to get the enrollment the state requires. Once the school was successfully up and rolling, they were reimbursed by public education funds, but they still have to pour massive amounts of time and energy into keeping things running with their vision. Moreover, they still don’t get all the same funding and perks of a regular public school. So they must heavily rely on parent volunteers to accomplish things most public and private schools could simply hire out. For example, I’m personally working on cleaning up the web site and converting it to WordPress right now. I’ll post a link when that’s done.

But in the meantime, I’m truly curious as to how venture capitalists could and should influence education.

Corporate donations are just about the only ‘investment’ medium I’m aware of, and while there really isn’t a profit to be turned, it’s extremely helpful to education. At the public school where my mom teaches, a few companies sponsored the leveled reading library – in return, we stamped a thank-you to those businesses in every book. Hopefully some of the parents thank those sponsors with their business. Still, that’s not something investors really have control over either. If there truly were a way to ‘invest’ in education, I would love to hear about it.

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