More than 25 years after the publication of A Nation at Risk, a report that found the educational foundations of American society were being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity, US students continue to perform less well than their peers in other industrial nations and an education achievement gap continues to haunt our public school systems. The moral and economic consequences of maintaining the status quo have major social and economic consequences for our nation. The varying performance of schools serving similar students shows that race and poverty need not be determining factors. Leaders of public school systems and charter school organizations are trying bold new strategies. They are changing how their schools recruit, train and reward highly effectively teachers as well as school leaders. They are using technology to redefine the school experience. These innovations are proving to be critical levers for change, yet they often face significant political challenges.
As education reformers across the country continue to create a sense of urgency to fundamentally change our schools, stakeholders and experts are offering differing views as to how best to “fix the system” and drive both higher and more equitable outcomes. The federal government has significantly changed its role in attempting to incent change, many states are also redefining their roles as regulators and innovators, and many of our largest schools districts are undergoing major restructurings.
With the largest U.S. school system as our backdrop, the NYC Department of Education (DOE) serves more than 1.1 million students in over 1,500 schools with an operating budget in excess of $17 billion dollars annually. Since the Mayor gained control of this system, this organization has gone through what constitutes the most ambitious transformation undertaken in America. As the Mayor’s third term comes to an end, many are wondering what kind of lasting impact these reforms will have. Meanwhile, a much smaller district, just across the river in Newark, New Jersey, is also the focus of national attention. There, the Governor and Mayor, along with ambitious new state and district leaders and a significant investment from Mark Zuckerberg, are looking to turn a system of failing schools into a high performing portfolio of schools under challenging circumstances.
The Education Consulting class offers students a rare opportunity to examine what constitutes successful innovation, and an up-close view of many educational reform efforts currently underway in the United States. Students will have unique access to initiatives occurring in New York City and Newark public schools. Students will learn about efforts underway by the federal government, state education departments, school districts, as well as both the private and non-profit sector. In order to provide a context for this work, as well as introduce students to the rapidly growing education consulting sector, experts will appear as guest speakers and work directly with student teams. Most students will work as consultants assigned to projects within the region’s school systems, charter school management organizations, and education non-profit organizations and be asked to advise their client on a real time problem. Other students will be asked to research and prepare a case presentation of a particular reform that has been implemented, offer a diagnostic evaluation and provide advice to decision makers moving forward.
Looking at the key levers of change being used to improve student outcomes for these systems, the course will provide an overview of what is going on nationally during this transformative period in K-12 education. Case studies and other readings drawn from both the popular media as well as research publications will be the basis for discussion and opportunities to learn first-hand from visits from leaders who have emerged in this space. In addition, all students will have an opportunity to work first-hand in this space through consulting projects that will be the capstone of their work.
The course will be supplemented by cases and readings which are drawn largely from popular media, well-regarded research publications and reports.
Amy Rosen was a Columbia Business School faculty member from to 2013.
Laura Smith was a Columbia Business School faculty member from to 2011.