Sunday, July 30, 2017

Why Are Entrepreneurs Special

Entrepreneurship has been trampling up and down the fields of education, like some beautiful windswept unicorn.

Read the work of reformsters like Jeanne Allen of the charter-loving Center for Education Reform and you will begin to imagine that the fallow fields of education can only be brought back to life by the magical poop of these silver-maned uni-edu-preneurs, but loathsome teachers and miserable unions and the loathed "status quo" keep trying to harpoon the beautiful unicorn and wrap it up in a net of regulations tied down with straps of resistance. We are a bunch of grubby ponies trying to force those beautiful unicorns to lower themselves, to be haltered and hampered and forced to roam with the rest of our ordinary, ugly herd.

This narrative would lead one to believe that entrepreneurs are somehow imbued with a special quality, a quality that people who merely devoted their entire professional lives to education sorely lack. These entrepreneurs, whether they are launching charter schools or unveiling hot new programs or building up their new models of education, have some sort of secret special awesomeness, a genius that must not be restrained.

Because, you know-- entrepreneurs.

So what is so special about these majestical creatures? If only we could unlock the secret of what makes entrepreneurs, in and out of education, just so entrepreneury.

Well, it turns out researchers have been trying to reverse engineer that special unicorn sauce. There's an older study from back in 2013:

University of California, Berkeley economists Ross Levine and Rona Rubenstein analyzed the shared traits of entrepreneurs in a 2013 paper, and found that most were white, male, and highly educated. “If one does not have money in the form of a family with money, the chances of becoming an entrepreneur drop quite a bit,” Levine tells Quartz.

 Oh. That. Well how about a more recent study.

New research out this week from the National Bureau of Economic Research (paywall) looked at risk-taking in the stock market and found that environmental factors (not genetic) most influenced behavior, pointing to the fact that risk tolerance is conditioned over time (dispelling the myth of an elusive “entrepreneurship gene“).

What environmental factors influence risk-taking? Well, there's the 2012 re-examination of the famous marshmallow experiment (do some children have more ability to defer gratification than others) that concluded that the ability to defer gratification (a pretty simple type of risk taking) is deeply influenced by what history has taught you about how much of a risk you're taking.

Bill Gates can go start a computer company in the garage because the garage is attached to a really nice house and no matter what happens to the computers, his life is still going to be safe and comfortable. And being an entrepreneurial unicorn has its price as well:

For creative professions, starting a new venture is the ultimate privilege. Many startup founders do not take a salary for some time. The average cost to launch a startup is around $30,000, according to the Kauffman Foundation. Data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor show that more than 80% of funding for new businesses comes from personal savings and friends and family.

My point here is not big or complicated. These entrepreneurial are not unicorns who are somehow born to greater abilities and wisdom than the rest of our ordinary herd-- they're just a few more ordinary horses who have the money to buy fake gold-encrusted horns to wear. Entrepreneurs are not wiser or smarter or better, certainly not gifted with a gene that substitutes for experience or training in a field like education. No, they're just richer.And somehow, that isn't enough for me to think their unicorn poop is magical.


  1. Peter, your second paragraph is so metaphorically great, I can't tell if those two little human beings in your home are sleeping like angels, enabling you to write like this or if you're so sleep deprived you're simply channeling unicorn life.

    Wonderful post!

    Hope you and your family are well.

    Christine Langhoff

  2. Far from special, the billionaire entrepreneurial amateur show has failed, over and over again, to deliver in the world of education. Lots of bluster and bluff and financial investment – with little or nothing to show for it all. They sit in their board rooms believing that the problems in education can be solved using serious, adult-like solutions. Ha! That’s what they get for ignoring their real “customers”. Not teachers, administrators, or school board members – and not even the child they know from parenting or casual, one-on-one experience. They mistakenly envision their 50 million “customers” as eager and serious learners with a work ethic much like the people they know. What they fail to grasp is that the efforts of the majority of student are largely controlled by a group dynamic that gravitates to the path of least resistance and maximum fun. Student efforts are also affected by the daily grind of 1,500+ yearly class periods that are logistically limited, like most jobs, to fairly routine and repetitive activities. Magical lessons and teachable moments are few and far between. And truth be told, by middle school, the average student is kind of bored, socially distracted, rather jaded, and convinced that they are not very smart. Good luck solving these issues with a group of nerdy code writers!

  3. Pedro, ¡tú eres un unicornio de humor e ironía! Me encanta leer tus analogías perspicaces.

  4. It's the Ayn Randians that have imbued entrepreneurs with these mystical qualities, so much so that they themselves believe it.

  5. Beware the latest attempt by Achieve to profit from disruption. This “non-profit” entrepreneurial group is deep into the process of re-making the K to 12 science curriculum in the very image of Common Core math and ELA. Out with content and in with process skills. A formula for failure that will negatively impact US science education for every state that took the NGSS bait: the typical sky-is-falling mumbo jumbo nonsensical chain of misrepresentations and snake oil bullshit.
    They are trying desperately to bring back to life the debunked constructivist/discovery methodologies and continue to conflate the way professionally trained scientists do science with the way children learn science.

    Here’s the worn out laundry list of reasons that current science instruction needs disruption and reinvention:
    - We have to stop teaching science through rote memorization
    - We are falling behind other countries on PISA tests
    - We have to start teaching students to think like scientists
    - We have to show important connections, unifying themes, and cross-cutting concepts
    - We have to integrate disciplines like real scientists
    - We have to engage students so that they can construct or discover their own knowledge

    The Next Generation Science Standards will be a Common Core redux that wastes billions of dollars, millions of teacher hours, and a generation of innocent children fallen victim to all those duped by the entrepreneurs at Achieve, Fool us once shame on them. Fool us twice . . .