CEO Coaching: Going to School on Organizational Design

A recent report from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes based on millions of students and 14 years of data highlights that “most charter schools produce superior student gains despite enrolling a more challenging student population.” (If that makes you squirm, I get it. My mother was a school teacher, and she’d have a hard time accepting the results.)

Why and what does this tell us about organizational design? These are my thoughts, and note that the study effectively points to the outcome (correlation) but cannot yet provide evidence of why. However, I work with for-profit executives, and in that role it’s best to use what results and evidence you have and take your best shot.

Traditional public schools and school systems are bureaucratic and sclerotic. Charter schools have discretion in operations and design while still being held accountable. Learning for leaders: Tell people what results you want, and get out of their way! 

Charter schools are focused on student success (i.e., their customers) and not bound by union complexity (in most schools). As a parent, I had several bad experiences (among many great ones!) when a “known” bad teacher was tolerated, and I had to jump through high hoops to get my kid out of her classroom. Learning for leaders: Take good care of your coworkers (those who perform), but make sure your customers are winning above all else!

Online education underperforms face-to-face. I’ve covered this point many times over the past several years, but the message for leaders is: Get your people together! Remote-only environments harm culture and onboarding.

Charter schools that are part of Charter Management Organizations perform better than stand-alone charter schools. Message for leaders: Accountability and support from “headquarters” can provide great benefit, but don’t forget the first point about bureaucracy!

Charter schools initially underperformed traditional public schools but gradually came to significantly overperform. Message to leaders (and board members and impatient investors): Changes take time! Short-term thinking has probably killed as many great ideas as bad ideas. Some things are just complex and take time to formulate and execute.

If you’re a parent, had a parent, went to school, or pay taxes, read the report (here’s the link again). If you’re a leader, this is a large-scale, longitudinal study on organizational effectiveness, and you can learn from it.

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