Education is loaded with insiders. For outsiders, education seems like a monolith. The reality that is well known to insiders is that education is highly fragmented. Addressing fundamental challenges in education is the central mission of any leader’s work. With that in mind, here are the top four pain points across the education space.

  1. No question is more relevant than this one: who is best at running schools? Teachers, administrators, board members, business leaders, entrepreneurs, technology advocates and local, state and country leaders all have something to offer, but everyone-is-welcome models in education usually result in delays and denials. Having too many cooks in the kitchen doesn’t work. School leaders’ first priority is navigating politics, and any company that can help leaders get ahead of the politics is a winner.
  2. What are the primary goals of education? Higher education enrolls increasing numbers of academically challenged students borrowing a lot of money for degrees that don’t always lead to better careers. Elementary and secondary schools have ignored mission statements. Students who don’t attend traditional schools do as well as students who do. Albert Shanker said schools need to hold students accountable, but unions are more concerned about keeping jobs intact than achieving goals. Helping schools set a goal and stick with it is a major pain point for educational leaders.
  3. How do schools ensure that students progress from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, year-to-year and course-to-course? This is the 500-pound gorilla of challenges for educational leadership. Eighth grade math is not the same in every state, district, school, class period or even two classes across the hall from each other during the same class period. Students rarely get what they need when they need it. Students sign up for a teacher more than a class. Part of the challenge is a human one: people learn at different rates. The greatest challenge is building good leadership.
  4. How can education align incentives with goals? Lack of leadership is another major challenge for education. Certifications and licensures create significant barriers to entry and discourage risk-taking by those who have spent the time and money obtaining expensive licenses. Salary and benefits are based on a model used for teachers, mostly based on seniority and degrees, not reward for achieving goals. Leadership and management are different. The vast majority of administrators in schools today are managers. They check boxes off, one task at a time. Leaders are by definition non-traditional. Education has few leaders because incentives push leaders to be mere managers. One of the greatest challenges for education is moving to compensation systems based entirely on performance. Companies that can help are in high demand.

Big system solutions appear all the time. For the greatest challenges, however, effective solutions from companies, individuals, non-profits, legislators or educators are still rare. Any innovator seeking real educational transformation needs to start with these challenges.