Research Initiatives: Meyerson

The Project on Private Initiatives in Public Education

Debra Meyerson

Debra MeyersonThe past decade has witnessed the rise of privately funded and managed entrepreneurial ventures within education that explicitly aim to transform or replace traditional educational institutions. Many of these ventures are led by an emerging class of professionals within education – young, idealistic entrepreneurs, many with business backgrounds – who are launching organizations to recruit, prepare, and credential teachers and school leaders as alternatives to traditional professional pipelines and preparation programs. In parallel, this cadre of leaders has grown systems of charter and alternative schools throughout the country that not only aspire to provide a superior education for the children served by those schools, but to build the collective power to transform entire school systems.

I have launched a number of research projects that aim to address the cause and consequences of these shifts. Over the past few years, I have been working with graduate students to explore the role of foundations in shaping the trajectory and priorities of the charter school movement in California. We have focused on funders’ investment in the scaling of charter schools through the creation of charter management organizations as a window into general field-level dynamics, including the relationship between private initiatives and traditional educational institutions. The project also reveals a number of unintended consequences of transposing entrepreneurial priorities and strategies onto educational organizations and points to more and less effective methods of scaling in the charter school field.

I am beginning a related stream of research on the professionals who lead entrepreneurial organizations in education and the professionalization processes that have established a new professional elite within education, many of which were sponsored by foundations or intermediary funding organizations, such as NewSchools Venture Fund. As part of this research, I will examine the cultural and professional tensions experienced by educational leaders trained in other sectors and the levers they use to bridge professional and cultural divides. This strand of research builds on my earlier work on "tempered radicalism," which focuses on the tactics used by outsiders within established institutions. I am particularly interested in the paths taken by entrepreneurs who have assumed leadership roles within traditional educational institutions, examining whether and how they sustain their entrepreneurial edge, how they implement their approach from the inside, and challenges they face in sustaining their "outsider" identities.

As part of the larger project on private reform initiatives in public education, I intend to host a number of forums to bring together leading scholars, practitioners, and philanthropists on specific topic areas related to the project.