Measuring Matters

It is no secret: what is measured tends to improve. Think tanks comprised of the most talented and bright minds in education are focused on this as a primary mechanism for shaping and guiding education and the impact it has on students and society. If you want to change education, change what is measured.

As we know, a good deal of policy is also focused on systems for measurement.  Take specifically the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and how it was recently replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Both robust educational policies were put in place to shape the country’s educational system by requiring, in part, specific measured outcomes. NCLB was replaced by ESSA’s new standards and requirements by instituting brand new school and student performance measures. This of course is no simple task, and involves deep layers of complexity, including the sheer volume of target outcomes, competing desires (both political and philosophical), different student learning styles…the list goes on.  And, it makes sense—what is put in place to measure our students’ performance is of enormous importance. Which brings me to how we are measuring entrepreneurship education.

The Rise of Entrepreneurship Education

My life’s work is around entrepreneurship and innovation education. I am focused on this field and closely monitor the trends that impact it. Of course, it is good news that interest in entrepreneurship is at an all-time high. According to The States of Entrepreneurship Education in America, As of 2017, 42 states have K-12 standards, guidelines or proficiencies in entrepreneurial education, up from 19 in 2009. Additionally, the number of states requiring entrepreneurship education courses offered in high school has risen from five to 18 over the same period. Even further, Gen-Yers (18- to 29-year-olds) are almost twice as likely to major in entrepreneurship compared to all bachelor’s degree holders in the U.S.  Plus, it’s now the third most popular major among current college students in the US. There is no doubt about it-the demand for entrepreneurial education is there. My concern though, is the delivery of most current entrepreneurial education programs, particularly in secondary schools.

Current Entrepreneurship Standards

Entrepreneurship standards in high schools most often tie to the CTE (career and technical education) category, and doing so holds entrepreneurship courses to CTE standards. Unfortunately, entrepreneurship CTE standards (such as CCR and NBEA ) are mostly tied to business mechanics and vocabulary, or fact based learning. Too often, these courses aren’t teaching the necessary mindset, skills and competencies that an entrepreneur needs. So the challenge is, we have a new generation of students clamoring to learn more about entrepreneurship, but a reality that too often, the current entrepreneurship programs aren’t preparing our students with the necessary real world skills that will aide in their future career success.

Measuring the Entrepreneurial Mindset

What I know: entrepreneurship is not about knowing a definition or entrepreneurial vocabulary words. It isn’t about knowing what the characteristics of a good entrepreneur are, or even knowing the names and history of famous entrepreneurs.  No. Entrepreneurship is about building a mindset, skills, and competencies that can be confidently applied in a work environment. It is about learning how to add and capture value in any setting.

Herein lies the challenge. If entrepreneurship is a mindset, a set of skills and competencies, resilience, and the ability to add value, then that is what we should be measuring in entrepreneurial education. Students need to exit entrepreneurship classes with a problem solving and problem seeking mindset.  Their mindset must believe that it can be done, and they can do it.  They need to have skills. They should be able to work in teams, communicate, and exhibit resourcefulness. They need to have resilience. They should be able to demonstrate their ability to persevere toward a higher goal.  Sure, reviewing famous entrepreneurs and discussing business mechanics is helpful knowledge; but if we don’t arm students by training their entrepreneurial mindset and competencies, we are doing them a disservice. And as we know, if we don’t change how we measure entrepreneurial education programs to include these critical components, we won’t be able to improve this system.

True College and Career Readiness

We know that students crave this kind of knowledge and true college and career readiness. A recent poll from Junior Achievement showed 91% of millennials say they wish they had greater access to entrepreneurial education programs. And it’s likely because millennials are experiencing a knowledge gap when they enter the college and the workforce. A report published by Gallup and Strada said only 13% of the general population strongly agree that college grads are prepared for the workforce.  Only 11% of C-level business people feel college graduates are well-prepared for the workforce. Most alarming, only 26% of college graduates strongly agree that their college experience was relevant to their current job.

The good news is, assessment tools are starting to be developed to adequately measure the non-cognitive social-emotional skills (the entrepreneurial mindset) that entrepreneurs need. A tool like the Entrepreneurial Mindset Index (EMI) is an ideal solution to replace the antiquated mechanical standards that are currently in place to measure entrepreneurial programs.  Using a tool like this, in place of technical standards that don’t measure or underscore the value and importance of the entrepreneurial mindset would be a critical shift in the right direction.

Entrepreneurship education holds immense power.  It can train a generation of Value Adders who start ventures or help transform existing organizations.  The power is clear.  The demand is there and growing, and we finally have the tools to use to more appropriately measure student success in our entrepreneurship programs.   We need to give students the chance to thrive in this new economy, not just survive. Let’s take the time to critically assess what we are currently using to measure these programs, and start making changes, so that we maximize the impact on our students.