Shaking Up Public Education

Last week Kris Allen wrote an intriguing article for the Richmond Times Dispatch titled “What Public Schools Could Learn from Amazon’s Move into Groceries.”  Allen, who is President of the Virginia Education Coalition, wrote that

“Education and grocery stores are different businesses, but both have much to learn from Amazon. Like traditional grocers, public education’s business model is based on a command-and-control, geographically based, product delivery system that has worked the same for decades. Both take advantage of technology to improve their business model, but in different ways. Grocers use technology to minimize product delivery costs to the store, squeeze 2 percent profit margin from high-volume sales, and compete on price. Public education uses technology to expand and enable its administrative state, increase cost, and compete as a geographic monopoly…

“Amazon’s disruption of the grocery industry is possible because, in a free market, competitive advantage depends upon product differentiation and the lowest cost to deliver the value proposition; firms that provide complementary or substitute products are allowed; and competitors’ barriers to market entry and exit are low. Unlike public education competitors, Amazon entered the grocery industry without being required to build a chain of brick-and-mortar stores, which were required by law to serve a specific zip code — nor was it subjected to compliance with ubiquitous and ever-growing requirements imposed upon it by the industry it disrupted.

“…A similar positive disruption in public education is possible, if the barriers-to-entry are eliminated and parents are allowed to choose their child’s mode of education.”

Allen then cites the example of Summit Public Schools, a charter school with operations in the San Francisco Bay area and in Washington State.  Summit’s pedagogical model is individualized, project-based, and self-directed.  Teachers, mentors and technological resources provide support and content delivery.

The article concludes

“The Summit model is scalable, inclusive, and effective. Today, nine schools are in operation, serving 2,500 students in grades 6 through 12. Eighty percent of [the students] are non-white; 42 percent are low-income; and 12 percent are English language learners.  Per pupil expenditure is $7,000, compared to Virginia’s $11,745. Ninety-six percent of Summit’s graduates are accepted to four-year colleges.  If Virginians want educational outcomes like Summit’s, they must demand that elected representatives remove the barriers to entry for non-traditional educational solutions.”

This is definitely something to consider as we approach the Virginia gubernatorial election.  Read the whole thing here: