13 February 2015

Education for Entrepreneurship

Yong Zhao, in two of his recent books, points out that we can PREVENT entrepreneurship through high-stakes testing. That is the experience that China, Zhao's native land, has had for about 2000 years. They want more entrepreneurship and are eliminating testing as part of their plan to get it. Professor Zhao, in his book World Class Learners, points to democratic schools like Sudbury Valley School (SVS) as examples of places that do produce entrepreneurs. Based on a study of SVS alumni a friend and I figured that they produce about twice as many entrepreneurs compared to the national average. The study data is only suggestive since it was produced by SVS, but Zhao's exploration of what is required for entrepreneurship makes the claim more credible. SVS does not force children (its a K-12 school) to take any classes. The only requirement is participation in the democratic governance of the community itself. Students of all ages have the opportunity to participate in every aspect of the operations of the school including hiring and firing staff. More importantly they are empowered to make and enforce all the rules that govern day-to-day life. The children are "forced" to be self-directed in their learning due to the lack of traditional instructional requirements but within a democratic social structure that reinforces awareness of how any actions they choose might negatively affect others. Access to resources is explicitly codified so that they understand that if they wanting funding they have to either make a case for being given funds or earn the funds directly by providing value to others. Other types of resources also involve systems that balance access with reasonable preservation of the asset along with management of controversy and safety, if necessary. Another line of evidence from my own work also suggests that democratic schools like SVS and home schoolers provide important supports for students that would lead to more entrepreneurism. I am a psychological researcher and in 2013 a colleague and I published a paper showing that a home school resource center and a democratic school (similar to Sudbury Valley School) accomplished something that all the mainstream public and private schools studied for the last thirty years have not. Those schools maintained the intrinsic motivation of their students. This is important because, first, intrinsic motivation is the gold standards for learning and, second, the levels of intrinsic motivation are an indirect indicator of psychological well-being. Those schools are nurturing their children in ways that mainstream schools do not. The way you get intrinsic motivation is to support students to satisfy their primary needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. For the goal of encouraging entrepreneurship this is critical because entrepreneurs must exhibit a balance of independent thinking (autonomy), ability to act effectively to achieve goals (competence), and fit their ideas, products, or services into the needs of the market (relatedness). I do not have data on entrepreneurship amongst home schoolers, but I suspect it is also higher than the national average. My new book is called Every Parent’s Dilemma: Why Do We Ignore Schools That Nurture Children? Other researchers also found similar results for other democratic schools and a charter school network. But all the models put together serve less that 5% of children in the USA. My book proposes that that our education system should stop ignoring these models by presenting a policy proposal that would lay a groundwork for schools to learn from these types of schools that have pioneered methods of maintaining the intrinsic motivation and engagement of their students. Check out the 3.5 minute video about my book and the crowd funding campaign that ends Saturday (Valentine’s Day, 2015) here: http://igg.me/at/parents-dilemma -- Yong Zhaos Other Recent Book Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?: Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World

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