The Big Picture
Nearly 50 million children attend public elementary and secondary schools in the United States, but our schools don’t serve them all equally well. As a result, organizations and school districts have stepped up their efforts to ensure that all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income level, have the opportunity to a high-quality public education.
While many reform efforts are aimed at K-12 public education, numerous organizations – including for-profit start-ups – are focused on disrupting the higher education space, especially through the strategic use of technology and data. Increasingly, school districts and other organizations are recognizing the value of managerial skills in overseeing non-academic functions in education, making education an attractive field for leaders passionate about making a difference in education from places other than the classroom.
- Each year, approximately 1.3 million students fail to graduate from high school; more than half are students of color.1
- 22% of children who have lived in poverty don’t graduate from high school, compared to only 6% of those who have never been poor.2
- Dropouts from the class of 2010 alone will cost the nation more than $337 billion in lost wages over the course of their lifetimes.3
What can you expect if you decide to go into education?
Mindset is key
Having what psychologist Carol Dweck calls a" growth mindset" – a belief that basic qualities such as intelligence or talent aren’t innate but can be developed through dedication and hard work – is an important trait that many die-hard education reformers share. If you don’t agree that all kids have the potential for high levels of achievement regardless of their background (in other words, you think kids are either born smart and talented, or they’re not) then education may not be the field for you.
It’s all about the kids…and the Benjamins
Given the challenging state of our schools, there’s a lot of work to be done – and fast. If the achievement gap and other issues of educational disparity don’t get you fired up, you may find it challenging to keep pace with your colleagues or put in the long hours required for success. At the same time, education systems are large business enterprises – they have multimillion dollar budgets, varied business functions, and a lot of data – so the field provides numerous opportunities for emerging leaders passionate about these issues to hone their analytical skills.
Education is a hot-button issue
The education reform space is filled with strong opinions – about the merits of charter schools, the best way to measure student achievement, and whether pay-for-performance incentives for teachers are a good thing. Groups with vested interests can cause the pace of change to be slower (and more bureaucratic), and the rhetoric to become heated. Be prepared to enter a politically-charged field that is frequently in the public eye.