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Education sector in the United States… system going hollow from the inside

April 15, 2013 Leave a comment

I have had different touch points that got me really curious to learn about the education sector here in the United States…
1. My business school work with companies serving in this space offering tools and resources
2. My discussions with people from work (consultants doing pro-bono work in this space, family/ friends working in this sector)
3. My own decision process as a parent of a soon-to-be-schooled kid

My inquiry process started with a simple question on – “How do I find which school district is the best performing in my area?”

Three fundamental problems surfaced…

A. Defining the school district boundary is arbitrary… it changes every few years based on the “subjective judgment” of the education administrators in the government. One prime example: the city of Chicago has one of the largest school districts in the US with a wide range of school performance and demographics. A few years earlier, some of the high-income neighborhoods worked out something whereby there are these pockets of school districts geographically within the large Chicago school district to ensure their high performance is not lost in the averages.

B. Funding and performance is a vicious never-ending cycle… Schools perform better with high funding, funding is high when the property taxes are high, taxes are high when the real estate is high, real estate is high when people are willing to pay more to buy/ rent a property because of the school district, school district is attractive since the school(s) within are better performing. And so the vicious cycle continues. Once a bad school, always a bad school is how it turns out to be.

C. Using technology to improve assessments and align them with the learning development goals… two sub-problems here include schools taking unethical routes to show higher scores (read the recent news article on how the education administrator in Atlanta city colluded with schools to alter student responses to increase scores) and then technology capabilities not sufficient to provide a timely feedback on student performance even though the level of data gathered is the most advanced it can get (e.g., schools collect some amazing level of data on assessments but then it takes almost a year to document that data, analyze it and understand potential implications for student learning plans by when the student has already graduated to the next class).

During my conversations, all that I have heard of work happening in this sector is on problem C which is an enabler problem… but no attention is given to even acknowledge the other two problems (A and B) and then go about solving it. It’s a matter of will I suppose… where there’s a will, there’s a way!

More on what tactical lessons I learnt in choosing a school in one of my future posts.

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First year at Columbia Business School… the highs and lows!!!

May 7, 2011 5 comments

As I write this, I just have 2 exams that separate me from the well-deserved (at least I think so) trip across the atlantic. Nonetheless, I am very happy for how this academic year has gone by… and as most of my graduating seniors vouch for, it is definitely not in glee that CBS students transition from the first year to second year. After all, half of the most amazing time I am going to have in years to come is reaching an end… and the next year is definitely going to be more valued than ever.

Columbia has really been a harbinger of all that I wished to achieve from this stint… whether it be related to career, professional development, social networking, or fun. Starting with the “out-of-the-world” orientation week whereby 9 senior students act as Peer Advisors for every cluster (a section with around 60-70 students) to basically get everyone on board… it went into hardcore academics with its own dose of fun.

First semester, I exempted out of a few courses (after all, had done some coursework while at IIM) to get a chance to take electives right away. Most of my peers say that I did the right thing by exempting out of courses like Strategy Formulation and Operations Management. Instead of that, I took two electives – Pricing & Revenue Optimization, and Strategy Consulting Skills. These courses turned out to be amazing useful in terms of arming myself with a practical toolkit. Taking electives with second year students has its own ups and downs… sometimes you find the senior so chilled out that you find the course discussions to be very collaborative and useful. The downside is that being amongst the handful of first years, you’re most often teamed up with seniors for assignments and you end up doing most of the homework.

Nonetheless, my major priority in the first semester was recruiting. I came to Columbia hoping to get into a top tier strategy consulting firm (a dream I cherished since the beginning of my career). So, most of my time went in hanging around CMC advisors and career coaches to polish my resume, my pitch. And for the rest of the time, I was busy trying to get some face time with alumni and recruiters from the target firms. Alongside all this, I was part of a few student organizations to hone my leadership skills and also get involved in something important at school. As if that wasn’t enough, I decided to put my consulting skills to test by taking up projects in the Small Business Consulting Program and the Pangea Advisory Program. While one was with a corporate client in New York, the other one was an international development project based in Congo. In all this crazy schedule, academics was also definitely on my radar so I did struggle to make sure I do well. At the end of the day, your credentials are what get you a foot in the door of every opportunity.

Come second term, I had successfully navigated the recruiting process… having landed internship offers from all the top tier strategy consulting firms. After lot of deliberations, I was stuck between BCG and McKinsey for my eventual decision… each of these firms made great efforts to help me understand the firm and also evaluate based on my personal decision criteria. In the end, it was a close call but I accepted the McKinsey offer since it seemed the right thing for me to do.

This milestone was a great beginning to the second semester…  and then the same routine got back into action. Again I exempted out of another core class – Decision Models – since it was essentially a class teaching two tools – problem solver, crystal ball. Instead of that, I took up some more interesting electives – Economics of Strategic Behavior (ESB), and Economics of Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals. ESB is one of the most vied-after class at Columbia being taught by Prof. Bruce Greenwald, the “guru of wall street gurus”. Since I learnt that Prof. Greenwald is going to be on a sabbatical next year, this was my only chance to do this course so I ended up enrolling in his EMBA course. This did end up costing me 25% of my bid points that I have for the complete program. No regrets whatsoever!!!! Another advantage of taking this with EMBA was that… I had a light workload during the week with this course happening over weekends (that too alternate weekends). With internship lined up, this semester was more peaceful with me focusing more on parenting and other extra-curricular activities on campus.

Standing at the midpoint of this program, I find this investment of time and money to be really worth it… And lying ahead of me is this exciting internship at McKinsey followed by another two semesters of fun and learning.

For all those who are at the throes of deciding which business school to pursue an MBA at, my advice is two fold:
If you see your career as a positive sloping line, then the choice of school decides
– What your y-intercept is (better school means a better start to career)
– What the slope of your career is (better school means a faster career progression)

With that I rest my case… see you in the summer!