8 ways B Schools are different than Ed Schools

Both struggling for relevance in the learning revolution, business schools and schools of education are different animals. Serving different sectors, they have unique and discipline-based approaches. With the recession and corporate alternatives, B schools have been losing enrollment. Alternative certification has endangered the monopoly status of Ed Schools.
Despite the fact that every company should be a learning organization and every school should be driving productivity improvement, there are cultural differences that make it challenging for B schools and Ed schools to work together.
Visiting the College of Education at Florida State University last week, I was pleased to learn about their focus on innovation and entrepreneurship but a little tension around the new focus was evident. Does entrepreneurship necessarily mean working outside the system? Does enterprise mean exploitation?
There are at least eight differences between B schools and Ed schools:
1. Mindset. The Ed school versus B school difference starts with a public versus private sector mindset. In Systems of Survival, Jane Jacob outlined the public sector Guardian Syndrome which contains 15 precepts like, “Shun Trading,” and “Adhere to Tradition.” In contrast, Jacobs suggests the Commercial Syndrome has 15 principles like, “Shun Force,” and “Compete.” As I noted in Getting Smart, the Commercial Syndrome (in Smart Cities I call it  innovation mindset) isn’t limited to the private sector, the bias toward openness, initiative, and enterprise is also common among all the scaled education and social nonprofits.
The FSU Ed school is incorporating an innovation mindset into its programming and, like any good Ed school, they are focused on student learning and sector impact. There are a few B schools that focus on ethics, impact, and social enterprise but there’s lots of room for growth in terms of B schools applying their capabilities to social benefit.
2. Practice. Author of the groundbreaking Preparing School Teachers and president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Dr. Arthur Levine works with both Ed Schools and B schools. “I find education schools to value the preparation of practitioners less than B schools. Ed schools rank the prep of teachers and school leaders as among their less prestigious activities,” said Levine. “Their faculties are less engaged with practice than b school faculty.”
3. Pressure. Levine noted that “Ed schools operate in a far more regulated industry which places less pressure on them to change. There is less marketplace competition for product innovation.” That may account for why, “Ed schools model themselves after colleges of arts and sciences rather than B schools or other professional schools,” according to Levine.
4. Productivity. B schools are obsessed with productivity and what I call CapEx Thinking. Businesses aggregate capital (using retained earnings, equity or debt) to invest in assets or initiatives likely to produce a return on investment. Finance courses teach several different ways to evaluate the likely return against the cost of capital.
Most school districts don’t think about investing to improve productivity. They may propose a technology levy to improve learning but all too often the technology gets layered on top of the old budget rather than changing delivery in fundamental ways that make teachers and schools more productive. I haven’t seen any evidence of Ed schools talking about productivity.
The education conversation started to change during the Great Recession. The Alliance for Excellent Education was early to note that, “Schools must dramatically improve productivity.”  Michael Horn and Clay Christensen encourage schools to stop adding technology without considering opportunities for dramatic improvement. NGLC grants require applicants to consider sustainability and scalability. Ohio’s Straight A Fund grants required schools to consider innovation and sustainability.
5. Marketing. B schools are obsessed with selling. They teach strategic positioning, brand development, marketing and sales strategies. CapEx thinking is all about the bottom line, marketing is all about driving top line (revenue) results.
Education is heading toward a world of full and part time options where everyone is in marketing but I don’t see much evidence of that conversation at Ed Schools. They could do a better job of helping educators communicate a value proposition.
6. Cross industry perspective. Ryan Olson, Kern Family Foundation, noted that B schools have created the advantage of cultivating cross-industry cohorts that can be valuable for learning to think from new perspectives and for peer network idea exchange. Because most innovation is lateral rather than primary, this cross fertilization makes for frequent analogizing in business (e.g., what’s the Uber for dentistry? Or as I asked last week, What’s the Uber for Education?). It’s the cross fertilization that seeds disruptive innovation.
7. Problem analysis. Tony Wagner said that good B schools (and law schools, med schools, and engineering schools) teach young people how to think about problems in their discipline. There may be lots of content but it’s in support of ways of attacking problems. There also appears to be more frequent use of the case study method in B schools compared to Ed schools. Darden and HBS use cases exclusively for everything –including accounting–and it seems to be popular and effective. The case method exemplifies a common intellectual mission and shared pedagogy–something oddly lacking from most Ed schools.
8. Entrepreneurship. B schools have historically trained corporate managers (more General Motors than General Assembly) but with the rejuvenation of the venture market many are adding an emphasis on entrepreneurship and startups.  It’s great to see Stanford, Harvard and now FSU thinking more broadly about sector leadership opportunities–but that is rare.
To Do. So what’s an Ed school to do? The first question to address is, “What do educators need to know and be able to do?” As we noted in Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning, educator preparation and development is becoming blended, personalized and competency-based. Ed schools should work with local districts and national partners to build a competency map for teachers, leaders, and related positions. As EdFuel (@EdFuelOrg) notes in Mind the Gap, there are a growing number of supporting leadership roles in technology, advocacy, and network operations. Given the breadth of roles in the education sector, it would be useful to invite the B school to join the competency mapping project.
With a customer defined competency map, Ed schools should pilot competency-based progressions–perhaps an alternative teacher certification program or a professional learning program in a developing category.
The third project Ed schools should consider are ways to model and inculcate a innovation mindset, a combination of growth, maker and team mindset. If we want learning environments that encourage effort, initiative, and collaboration, we need to create learning environments and experiences for aspiring teachers where we develop the same dispositions.
Ed schools could encourage entrepreneurial thinking across the curriculum by encouraging aspiring teachers to consider ways a startup (.org or .com) would address opportunities and challenges associated with a class. Students could blog answers and the best ideas could earn a prize or a slot in a university based incubator–another great place for the Ed schools and B school to partner.
Like B schools, Ed schools are (or should be) fighting for relevance. Helping educators develop critical competencies and an innovation mindset would be a good place to start.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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