Sad In(deed)

The common comparison to business and education is oil and water as  oil is immiscible in water.  The reality  is much more complex. Business and education are more akin to taking sludge from a landfill, adding it to  water  and wondering why nothing grows.  If the sludge has nothing living in it and can not photosynthesize food, it can not live and grow. Business people lack the understanding of why you need to start with something living and feed it or expect the organism to photosynthesize. What a business person sees is some dirt which they wish to monetize if they could just force it to grow……

A business person will do everything in their power to force the sludge to grow, in spite of every scientist stating it can not happen. Business people hire marketing teams and business development specialists who tell them to ‘plant trees’ and the sludge kills off the forest and then some. The board  will then hire more marketing and business development people (who tell them to plant different trees) and the routine continues as they make money off the planted trees while they stay alive.The problem of the murkiness in the water eludes them. Instead of talking to a scientist, they make up explanations and continue to believe they can sell their idea.

The best marketing, business development and sales teams are those which can help in suspending belief long enough for the business to metaphorically grow and be sold.

Not all businesses in education function this way. It is the indiscriminate use of resources which fails the business idea, not the fact it is related to education.  The resources are misappropriated as a business person can not logistically interact with an educator under any pretense other than money. An educator generally commodifies education as a process, journey, undertaking for life which has no explicit monetary value. In fact, education is seen as its own reward to most educators.

The best example I have of where business and education mixed to make something wonderful: Khan Academy. The dream started so small and became something so large AND the money followed instead of directed what Khan Academy did as an organizations.

My experiences of businesses and education have proven  out. at least twice, they do not work together and in fact, business is toxic to education. In addition, all I have to do is read the news about for profit schools and feel equally nauseated.

I have been involved with organizations who have knowingly done the type of ‘deal’ where they even obtained not for profit status, as if this would some how cleanse the soil, so to speak. Aspire Public Schools, a charter school venture and now Wyzant, an online tutoring site which decided to walk down Wall St. with Accel Partners have both attempted to grow the trees and neither one has a forest worthy of even making toothpicks.

Aspire Public Schools has used taxpayer money and investment money to mis-educate children under a premise they could never demonstrate as advertised/marketed when they began. They have not been able to do anything substantially different from any other public school, including getting kids THROUGH college to graduation. In the case of Aspire Public Schools, what is so insidious is the level at which they have marketed their program to the most dis-enfranchised and have not delivered.  In the case of Wyzant, I have hopes they will catch on to what will be part of their reputation if they do not right the ship.

Both organizations in my example were founded by people with a simple-minded and limited view of education.  In the case of Aspire, almost anyone of any worth ran far and fast from being affiliated with them.  This includes Stanford University and many people, such as myself, who taught at Aspire under what were found to be false pretenses. This involves professors from universities and principals/administrators who were misled.

With Wyzant, it was not until Accel Partners came in and laid down the behavior expected that things became turbid.  There was some degree of transparency and trees were being planted. Accel Partners ruined that by convincing Mike and Drew they could ‘sell out’. What started as something which may have had (I am not sure) some degree of morality, became a system to make a profit off of students and their families.

Wyzant went from allowing anyone access to a variety of tutors at different price points, even those of us who take on students and reduce price in many situations and try to work out a deal, to a system where Wyzant selects tutors who are at lower commission splits unless the consumer is SAVVY enough to do their own computer search and apply to different tutors.  By directing clients to these tutors, the vulnerable students/parents are given what Wyzant has not yet been able to shape or form with sufficient reviews and other metrics. This means in many instances, the student(s) are not getting the ‘best’ possible tutors, rather, they are getting the tutors which are profitable to Wyzant.

At first I thought this situation was unique to me. Then, suddenly, something which had been long brewing – allowing tutors to have access to one another, happened. We began to share our stories and found out we were all experiencing similar issues.

Amazingly, with the openness of the social media (LinkedIn) conversation, not once has Wyzant flinched at this conversation and probably has no intention of doing anything as they are happy to be rid of those of us who obtain too much of their asset pie. The real issue is, those of us who stuck around are the ones with the good reputation, the outstanding work with students and the tutors who are so much more than Kaplan and Mathnasium storefronts, etc.

Once you lose your reputation, it is a challenge to regain it. In the meanwhile, those of us who stick with Wyzant end up carrying the burden of their poor business decisions and some icky moral/ethical baggage.

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