What Do Schools Do Well? First Peek

Home/Innovation in Education/What Do Schools Do Well? First Peek

What Do Schools Do Well? First Peek

This is a teaser of things to come, but I could not keep it to myself.  Over the last few months I have conducted workshops attended by hundreds of educators: teachers, business officers, and school CEO’s.  One of our collaborative exercises is to look critically at this institution we call “school” and ask what aspects  are utterly irreplaceable and which could be shifted to, or subsumed by, a competitor or collaborator, often at a lower cost.  I started asking this question after my discussions with Shoshana Zuboff of the Harvard Business School who argues compellingly that education is undergoing an industry-wide mutation characterized in part by the shift of non-unique assets from higher cost to lower cost actors.

I will be reporting more fully later, but here is the short and VERY compelling tale of the tape: the list of what “school” provides that is truly irreplaceable is really short. It is about relationships, mentoring, social interaction, and coaching that takes place between students and adults, and students and their peers. According to the collective input of a growing number of respondents, virtually EVERYTHING else that takes place at “school” can be replaced by some other entity, usually at a lower cost.  And in each workshop it took these educators less than 15 minutes to arrive at this conclusion.

Is it the apocalypse for “school as we know it”? Or is it an opportunity for rapid evolution of a new and stronger species that is better adapted to the current learning ecosystem? Stay tuned.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
By | 2013-07-05T15:11:59+00:00 July 5th, 2013|Innovation in Education|3 Comments

About the Author:


  1. Catherine Thiemann July 5, 2013 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    I agree that mentoring, coaching, relationships and social interaction are vital, but I don’t think “school” is a unique or irreplaceable source. My home-schooled son’s relationships are different than when he was in school, but in some sense those relationships are more natural now. In school, his “peers” were kids from a very narrow range of age, ability, and socio-economic background. Now, he interacts (in person and online) with people up to a decade younger or older, from a wider variety of backgrounds. His dad and I have transitioned from “homework enforcers” to true mentors.
    Certainly, as a home-schooling parent I have to work harder to make sure my son stays connected to peers and adults. But it’s a challenge worth making.
    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I look forward to learning more.

    • glichtman July 5, 2013 at 5:56 pm - Reply

      This is critical feedback that I will use as I work through this paradigm with many educators going forward. They struggle to think that what they do is replaceable; and yet that is the value proposition of schools that is changing so rapidly, as it has for you and your family!

  2. Tim Corkran July 9, 2013 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    Schools are the modern manifestation of an “institution” which has existed in every enduring tribe through human history: wisened elders mentor the young to develop the skills needed to become the type of tribe member who will help sustain the whole tribe. It’s a simple and enduring formula- because it involves the passing on of values and skills for no greater good than self-preservation of the “tribe,” the perpetuation of the culture. The tribes able to refine their understanding of which skills were obsolete in their changing environment thrived. Less-than-facile tribes- those which clung obstinately to obsolete skills for the sake of perpetuation of previous stabilities- stumbled along.
    Our culture-perpetuating institutions- school and colleges- are at a crossroads. Many of us are moving forward with a redefinition of the skills and values that we need to impart to our youth to sustain our culture. A large block of our society, however, is yet to acknowledge that such revision is in its’ best interest and worth the disruption required to embrace it.
    Those of us who consider ourselves part of the former will have to work really hard to help the massive latter understand the value of shucking the stable culture. To me, that is an exciting an honorable challenge.

Leave A Comment