The following is a column by Mark Shiver, host of the “What Matters in North Carolina” podcast.
Leaders in public education could learn a lot from a successful North Carolina developer – assuming they actually do want to put the best interests of students first.
Marty Kotis, one of North Carolina’s most successful developers and a member of the UNC-Board of Governors (BOG), was a guest on the “What Matters in North Carolina” podcast Wednesday, Feb. 15. He addressed a number of topics relating to education in the state, bringing the fresh air of a businessman’s common sense to the topic.
There is a bill filed in the NC General Assembly that would reduce the BOG from 32 to 24 members. “I think that’s a good idea. When you get to that large of a board it’s very difficult for everyone to weigh in.” Kotis said. “Making the board a more manageable size makes a lot of sense.”
The editorial board of the News & Observer posted an editorial on Feb. 12 entitled, “In reducing UNC board’s size, increase its diversity.” Their assertion was, “Any plan to address the size of the board has to address that political, racial and gender diversity.”
Kotis said, “I think there’s plenty of diversity in the room, in terms of different viewpoints being expressed. And that’s really the only diversity to me that is important, when you’re covering ideas and how to run a business, [and that] is diversity of ideas and suggestions out there.”
Kotis added, “I don’t think there’s any difference in terms of opinions that are coming out of a person’s mouth whether they’re one race or another or one gender or another. So I’m not sure that really means anything other than appearances.”
Obviously in business the bottom line is important, and successful developers like Kotis would focus more about whether an idea is good than where it came from. Leaders in education should be more concerned with their bottom line – the successful teaching and growth of students – and less about appearances.
Drawing from the business well again, Kotis supports the idea of competition being good for education. He said, “We’re not in the business of having a monopoly on education. We’re in the business of educating the people of the state in the form or fashion they want. It’s not our job to run this as a monopoly and protect the economic interest of the university.”
Oftentimes leaders of a bureaucracy forget that job and become protective of their programs or their school and are averse to competition. A perfect example is the resistance to the demand for school choice among parents who want was is best for their children.
Status quo traditional public school bureaucrats hate the idea of school choice. Forward-thinkers see it as an opportunity for traditional public schools to embrace competition and ask, “How can we get better?”
Online education presents a similar specter of competition to traditional bricks and mortar universities. Kotis said that some schools are embracing it, but others are not, with resistance often being driven by money. He said, “Oftentimes people are squabbling about dollars and they’re forgetting about the students.
Kotis shared a couple of simple but hugely profound thoughts which he has implemented into his own successful business. If the leaders in the public education system in North Carolina were to value ideas over appearances, and to embrace competition as a chance to improve, then the students from K-12 through higher education would be the winners.
Perhaps education folks need to pay attention to our state’s successful business owners, and implement some of their proven practices that have led to their success, bearing in mind that educating the people of North Carolina is the job, as well as the goal.