Dec. 8, 2022

639: The Rise of the Educational Entrepreneur

As schools and universities closed their doors, many educators took the opportunity to start their own businesses, providing online learning resources and services.

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On today's episode, I'm once again joined by Kerry McDonald, Senior Education Fellow from FEE (the Foundation for Economic Education)!

In this episode, we explore the rise of educational entrepreneurship during the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools and universities closed their doors, many educators took the opportunity to start their own businesses, providing online learning resources and services.

With the future of education uncertain, educational entrepreneurship offers a viable career option for educators looking to take control of their own destiny.

Tune in to learn more about this exciting trend and how you can join the ranks of successful educational entrepreneurs.

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Brian Nichols  0:17  
Creating a world of educational entrepreneurs. Let's talk about that. Instead of focusing on winning arguments, we're teaching the basic fundamentals of sales and marketing and how we can use them to win in the world of politics, teaching you how to meet people where they're at on the issues they care about. Welcome to The Brian Nichols Show. Well, happy Thursday there, folks, Brian Nichols here on The Brian Nichols Show. And thank you for joining us on a course another fun filled episode. I am as always, your humble host joining you live from our Stratus ip studios, here in lovely, lovely Eastern Indiana, don't let cyber attacks or outdated Business Technology put your company at risk. Learn more at the Brian Nichols forward slash Stratus ip. All right, so let's talk about this over the past. I don't know going on three years almost at this point, which is kind of hard to imagine. We've seen a lot of folks realize exactly what it is that their kids are learning behind the scenes when they're sending their children off to the public schools or as our good friend, Cory Daniels refers to them as the government schools because that's exactly what they are. But let's look at what the average parent got to experience behind the scenes. They got to see what it was that their teachers were promoting from a curriculum standpoint and wasn't actually curriculum. They're seeing what books that children were bringing home and reading. And were they necessarily suitable for children their age, most definitely not. And a bunch of other just absolutely mind blowing things that parents were suddenly being awakened to. Well, lo and behold, it opened up a brand new marketplace out there for educational entrepreneurs. And joining us once again today to talk about that and more. Carrie McDonald, welcome to the program. How are things going?

Kerry McDonald  2:01  
Oh, it's great to be back with you, Brian. I'm very jealous of your festive microphone. I feel like I need to keep up that is impressive.

Brian Nichols  2:10  
Tis the season to be married and have some fun along the way. Yeah. So you are busy. And I say that literally as we're recording today, here on Tuesday sneak peek behind the scenes. You just sat down and had a conversation with former Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. How was that conversation?

Kerry McDonald  2:27  
That was so great. Yeah, so your your listeners and viewers could be able to listen to that episode on the Pioneer Institute's Learning Curve podcast. Tanisha, Allen and I guest co hosted that podcast and had a chance to speak with former secretary Betsy DeVos about her new book hostages no more, which I highly recommend. She really talks about the roadblocks that she encountered coming into the Department of Education really attempting, desiring to reduce the size and scope of the federal government's role in education and being stymied at every step really, based on kind of that administrative state and the sort of bureaucracy that she encountered there.

Brian Nichols  3:12  
Oh, and you, man, you want to talk about bureaucracies? We've just seen the bureaucracies over the past three years across the board, education, health care, the you look at the current government state as it is, with all the regulations that are there, the red tape, businesses being shut down, determined who was considered essential and non essential. Yeah, everybody felt the red tape and the bureaucracy in some way, shape, or form over the past three years. And then actually, let's go towards our topic of conversation today carry and that is the idea that some folks saw an opportunity in that, that I would say weird kind of situation we all found ourselves in in this case, it was an opportunity to help educate kids, where the state was failing when they have their own little monopoly. And in this case, it created an opportunity for folks to become entrepreneurs or talk to us about that. What is an educational entrepreneur? And how does it look like in this new era of education?

Kerry McDonald  4:09  
Yeah, so it was one of the few positive outcomes of the past couple of years of societal disruption during the COVID response, and specifically the education disruption with schools being shut down. And then this prolonged remote schooling over zoom. That was really just a disaster for so many students and families. But the positive was that it enabled many families, as you said, to take a look at what was actually happening in their children's classrooms, and then realize that they had to take matters into their own hands that schools were going to stay shuttered for a long period of time they were dissatisfied with the quality of the product that they were getting remotely and I think it also made them realize that maybe the in person quality wasn't wasn't that great either. And so it really I think empowered a lot of parents, too. To seek out and demand other education options, and many of them started to create back in 2020, what were known as pandemic pods, these little kind of spontaneous learning communities of families coming together realizing they wanted their kids to continue to learn and have some social interaction at a time when so much was shut down. And so they got together in these small mixed age learning communities, often in people's private homes or taking turns in homes, either with parents facilitating a curriculum or with hiring an educator. And in many cases, those pods turned into full fledged micro schools, which are sort of these again, mixed stage one room schoolhouse kinds of models, but typically in a commercially leased space with hired educators. And the microscope movement was gaining traction well before 2020, but really took off over the past couple of years. And I can give you sort of an anecdote about what I mean by these education entrepreneurs, these micro school founders. In many cases, they're just parents and educators solving a problem for their family and their community. One example is Jill Perez, is a longtime public school teacher in New Jersey. And she when schools shut down in 2020, she ended up creating a pandemic pod with some families in her neighborhood, it became so popular with other families hearing about what she was doing, and that the kids were meeting and having fun and still continuing to learn when everything else was shut down around them. That they urged her to do something more formal, more structured. And so she ended up leasing a building. Last year in New Jersey, she opened a micro school mixed age micro School last fall with about 45 kids. And that was so successful. And it continued to expand that she ended up purchasing her own building nearby for this year. And so she's been able to expand there. And as as sort of related to that Jill recruited teachers to teach at her micro school who were New York City public school teachers, who were just burnt out and fed up with a couple of years of COVID policies and remote remote schooling. They wanted to have their creativity and their freedom back. And so those she said those are some of her best teachers. Those are her thinking teachers, as she would say, so great to see that kind of innovation,

Brian Nichols  7:26  
then, I'm so glad Carrie, you focused on this. And you brought this up that there has been not just the demand from parents, but also a demand from teachers, right for a different way of doing things. And I think this is one area we can do a lot better job in the liberty movement is looking at the teachers as potential advocates and allies in reaching out to them. All right, everybody stay with me on the issues they care about. I know and let's talk about that they don't like and I'm sure if you were in New York State, you heard this as well. Teachers up there, they don't like being restricted to have to teach for the New York State Regents. And they always said, Well, you got to have to learn this. And I have to teach for the test. But here's what else you have to know. And I'm like, wait, here's what else I have to know, Can we can we talk about that? No, we have to go on to the next thing for the test. And I saw that the teachers, these, the light in their eyes just evaporates. And it makes you sad, like as a student, because you're you're supposed to be encouraged and you're supposed to be challenged. And then you're seeing your teachers lose their ability to challenge you because they're structured into really just getting good little sheep to come into the school, take the standardized test and then go off into the world to be good little button pushers. And that is something I think right now, a lot of teachers are saying enough. And not only that, you look at the benefits side of things, teachers who leave the public schooling system, and they start having competitive options are earning more money, they're getting better benefits. And with that they're having better outcomes for their students, because they're no longer restricted to that the shackles that they weren't were held to from the state run a public school. And so then I guess the question is, Carrie, why aren't we funding this? Why is this not something that we're having more of a conversation about more frequently?

Kerry McDonald  9:17  
Well, I wanted to get to your funding question in a minute, because that's really the crux of the issue. But just to sort of reinforce what you're saying around teachers being caught up in the same bureaucratic system. It's so true. You know, I have a podcast where I interview education entrepreneurs, microscale, founders, education, kind of thought leaders in this space and alternative education. And I hear over and over that the key reason that these educators left the public schools, I would say the vast majority of micro school founders are former public school teachers. The main reason that they left was they got tired of this teach to the test mentality, they had zero creativity. I just wrote an article this week in my Forbes column talking about a micro School founder out in Utah, who, you know, was a high school biology teacher in public schools there, she wanted to do some lessons around the biology of eating disorders, because so many of her sophomore students were struggling with eating disorders. And she was told there's absolutely no time in the curriculum for this. So she was able to squeeze in a tiny little bit, but not nearly enough, and not nearly what she could do if she was really being a responsive, creative teacher. And just imagine the kind of learning that those kids would have had if it was a teacher and given that kind of freedom and flexibility to create and craft a curriculum around what really is meaningful to them. So just an important point, I wanted to echo your your observation there that that teachers are finding so much freedom outside of the system, in addition to parents and children. And that gets to your question about access, which is, you know, this, luckily, again, another kind of positive outcome of the education disruption of the past couple of years has been the growth in school choice policies. So we now have many states introducing and expanding school choice policies that enable education funding to follow students instead of going to these bureaucratic school systems. Arizona just passed the country's most expansive education Choice Program in history, a universal education savings account, that allows every family to have access to about 90% of state funding, which is between 60 $507,000 per student, every child is eligible, Arizona had led the way for a while in other school choice policies that were focused on kind of key demographics of kids who were in failing school districts, or who had special needs. Now, this is universal. And we're seeing some state competition. So West Virginia just passed a nearly universal education savings account that applies to more than 90% of K to 12 students in that state. So I think the future's bright for education choice, I think it's politically popular, a lot of politicians run on it and find success there. And frankly, parents demand it.

Brian Nichols  12:05  
I can just hear Cory de Angeles out there just screaming at the podcast, the Milton Friedman quote, We have to make it. So it's politically popular for politicians to do, what is it the unpopular political things, I just butchered the quote, but more or less, we have to make it so it's easy for these politicians to do the politically popular thing by changing the culture and changing the way we're having these conversations. And frankly, I think it goes with just doing it right. And this, this is the thing about the entrepreneurial spirit that I love is just just going out and doing it making the change. When you see the need, when you see that there is a problem. There is something that needs to be done in order to solve this problem, to be the one to bring the solution to the table and ask, you know, ask permission afterwards and maybe ask for forgiveness instead. Because at this point, we need to just get the innovation ball rolling, because I guess at the end of the day, what's the alternative? Right? We're just gonna keep funneling all of our hard earned money towards this just giant Leviathan of a state government run public schooling system that just consistently gets worse. And the records show for that. Like we look at our students and their their grades, and they're just plummeting across the board ever since 1971. What happened in 1971? Carry? Do you know what there's some organization that was founded out there, Department of something education, is that the one and ever since then? stats have been going down. And by the way, you can get the what happened in 1971 shirt over in our shop proud libertarian from Brian Nichols. forward slash shop, just saying. But Carrie, I mean, it is something we see right now that it's all coming home to roost, right. Like you just can't keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. That is literally the definition of insanity.

Kerry McDonald  13:51  
Yeah, I think that's right. You know, it's interesting in my we brought up earlier my conversation with Secretary DeVos and talked about really wanting to eliminate the US Department of Education, I believe it was, it was there were started to be rumblings of wanting to create the department in the early 70s. It wasn't till the 1979 1980 that it actually was formed. So relatively recent development and

Brian Nichols  14:14  
bad ideas in the early 70s. What the, as you would say,

Kerry McDonald  14:17  
and you would agree, you know, no, no constitutional role for the federal government in education. It's definitely a state and local issue. But you know, it's interesting to see sort of the interplay or intersection between school choice policies and education, entrepreneurship. So I've been traveling the country meeting with these micro school founders and these entrepreneurs and seeing these incredible learning communities that they're building. And in areas where there are robust school choice policies, there is an even greater proliferation of these micro schools and innovative learning models. They're they're happening everywhere, but they're concentrated largely in areas that have this record of school choice and I think For example, Florida, I was down in the Fort Lauderdale area where there's a cluster of micro schools there, many of which have just launched over the past couple of years, many of run by former public school teachers who themselves became disillusioned during the COVID response and remote learning and wanted to do something different. And they will say that they're their students, many of their students wouldn't be able to attend their micro schools, if it wasn't for Florida's tax credit scholarship programs, or the robust education choice programs there. And in the south Florida cluster that I visited its majority minority owned micro schools and majority minority students, many of which, again, are low income, and so wouldn't have the ability to pay for these micro schools, which are, interestingly, a quarter or, in some cases, a fifth of the cost of a traditional private school. So they're already more accessible to more families financially just because of their lower price tag, but still out of touch for a lot of low income families.

Brian Nichols  16:02  
So let's talk about the future. Because why not? That's what we do here at the show, because we want to give people a positive future to look forward to, or the very least what the worst case scenario could look. And I think they're already seeing the worst case scenarios. Let's not go the doom and gloom, it's like you rewind to 2019 you're like, well, the worst case scenario could be I know, a pandemic globally, where all the kids are sent home, and they have to work remotely. And you see the worst things you can possibly think your kids are learning in school, that's the worst case scenario, and the kids would be like, okay, like, that's going to happen. And the parents would be like, okay, conspiracy theorists. It happened. So we saw the worst case scenario, Carrie, let's talk about the future from an entrepreneurial education standpoint. What does it look like? Do we see this industry growing? Do we see more and more folks getting excited about becoming educational entrepreneurs? What are your thoughts?

Kerry McDonald  16:51  
Absolutely. You know, I'm just so inspired by these founders. And these entrepreneurs. I mean, they are the ones who are so committed to creating new learning models and expanding I mean, it's really interesting, these micro schools, which are typically kind of fewer than 50 Kids mixed age, again, sort of the modern, one room schoolhouse, these founders want to expand, they want to scale, but they're planning to scale laterally to scale horizontally, not vertically, they don't want to go bigger. They don't want to be a big private school. They realize that the what makes these micro schools so special, in terms of children's development, happiness, academic performance, is that small environment, that kind of personalized learning piece. And so they want to, to go big, but they want to go big laterally with many, many micro schools. One microscope founder in South Florida said she wants one of these in every county, another South Florida micro school founder said she expects to open 100 Micro schools in 10 years. So they have broad and lofty goals, and I have no doubt they'll reach them. And that's why I'm so optimistic for the future of education in this country.

Brian Nichols  17:59  
Wow. So and let's like talk about the long term ramifications beyond kids getting better school, schooling and better education, truly education scores across the board going up for test scores. But let's talk about from a cultural standpoint, because we always talk about this on the show, the great great, Andrew Breitbart, what was his quote, politics is downstream from culture. And with that, when does culture really begin when you're a kid, and we've seen far too often, folks on the right, and that includes a lot of us in the liberty movement, we've neglected the culture, we think that our ideas are just so great, that we can good idea people with death and our facts, our logic, and our reason will be enough to win in the court of public opinion. But what we didn't realize is that how many years now decades have gone passed with children, quite literally being indoctrinated with your tax dollars at behest of the state to go against the very ideas you stand against. So being able to quite literally cut off the mechanism by which we are funding this apparatus, and instead, changing the way we're having this conversation, changing the competition. So we no longer have a monopoly when it comes to looking at education. And really, we're changing the game. And I think it's just it's so cool, Carrie, because where I was when I was a kid, where you were when you were a kid where our grandparents were when they were kids. I mean, it's like we're going back in time, but with the advancement and technology that we have today, and it's just it's really cool to be in this era where we're seeing the best of both worlds come together. You mentioned the ones one house schoolhouse or the the one room schoolhouse approach that right there. Like that is what worked. And I think back to the old small, the small communities. That's what they were they were the one the one room schoolhouse. And we still see that where I'm from in Northern New York. Amish is have the the one room schoolhouse everywhere and they have the most tight knit communities that you'd ever find. Everybody knows everything about everybody and they care. They're there for each other and that matters and And I think in an era where we've seen so much, just nonsense happen, it's important for us to find communities about folks who actually care about us. But that's a different conversation for a different day. Carrie McDonald, this is a great conversation. And we could go on, and on and on. And I'm sure we will go on and on and on in future episodes. But alas, we must, unfortunately come to an end here. And I'm sure you're tired because you've been podcasting for a while here. So do us a favor, go ahead and let us know where folks can go ahead and follow you if they want to continue the conversation.

Kerry McDonald  20:30  
Great. Yeah, please visit me at the Foundation for Economic slash carry ke R y there you can see links to my articles and send me an email. You can also follow me on Twitter at Carey underscore edu, and listen to my podcast liberated or wherever you get your podcasts.

Brian Nichols  20:53  
Awesome. All right, and folks, you can follow me at BEA Nichols liberty, twitter, facebook, wherever it is really you find social media. You can find me over there. And then for my final thoughts today, by the way, yeah, I mentioned we have our what happened in 1971. Sure, we also have I'm wearing it today, our Michael Scott 2024 shirt. If you want to go ahead and grab these and more over at our amazing shop, which is hosted by proud libertarian, head over to the Brian Nichols forward slash shop and be sure to use code TBNS at checkout, it'll give you a nice discount there at your order when you go out to checkout. And by the way, we have lots of stuff here for the holidays as we're getting ready here. I know stocking stuffers folks are looking for last minute gifts for that Liberty lover or that freedom fanatic in their life. And if you're looking for our liberty legends shirt, we have our Now that's what I call tyranny. Klaus Schwab shirt. We have our magic money tree shirt. That's why I almost forgot about that one. That one's been flying like hotcakes. So if you guys want to go ahead and check those out one more time, Brian Nichols forward slash shop. That's my final thoughts for the episode today. Carrie, what do you have for us for your final thoughts.

Kerry McDonald  22:01  
I just think I'm so excited to see these education entrepreneurs criticized by creating right that I think we can wallow in everything that's wrong with education, and we can be frustrated and we can fight about it in school boards and on social media, or we can go out and build something new and better. And that's what really inspires me.

Brian Nichols  22:21  
Um, and well, and it requires us to do what we're doing, continue the conversation, but it also folks, it requires you so please go ahead and do your part. And with that, I would need you to go ahead and give today's episode a share. When you do please go ahead and tag yours truly. And also go ahead and tag carry. Like we said we include all those links in the show notes all you got to do if you're joining us here on the podcast version of the show, which I know 95% of you are just go ahead to your show notes or go to the Brian Nichols where you can find today's episode the entire transcript of today's episode plus all the other show links and the the social media links. And by the way, you'll also find the video version of the show which Yes, hi. If you did not know that we have a video version of the show. It'll bring you over to YouTube rumble or Odyssey Yes, I know there's a lot of you who are like no more YouTube, I get it. I totally get it. That's why we have the rumble in The Odyssey backups. And also, you never know if you're going to get the big X one day from YouTube. So it's good to have backup. So otherwise, you will go ahead hit that subscribe button and little notification bell so you don't miss a single time we go live and other than that, folks, we've had an amazing lineup of guests here this past week. I'm gonna go ahead and include some of those episodes here. If you're joining us on the video version, they're gonna pop up here somewhere below, so go ahead and hit those buttons there. Otherwise, like I said, all 637 Watch other episodes of The Brian Nichols Show over at Brian Nichols But with that being said, it's Brian Nichols signing off. You're on The Brian Nichols Show for Carrie McDonald. We'll see you tomorrow. Thanks for listening to The Brian Nichols Show. Find more episodes at Brian Nichols

Transcribed by

Kerry McDonaldProfile Photo

Kerry McDonald

Senior Fellow

Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education and author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press, 2019). She is also an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and a regular Forbes contributor. Kerry's research interests include homeschooling and alternatives to school, self-directed learning, education entrepreneurship, parent empowerment, school choice, and family and child policy. Her articles have appeared at The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, NPR, Education Next, Reason Magazine, City Journal, and Entrepreneur, among others. She has a master’s degree in education policy from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Bowdoin College. Kerry lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and four children.

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