Better Parent BATNA Now – The Real AI Transforming Education As We Know It

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Last Friday’s post had the highest open rates we’ve seen in months. 51% and counting. I’m not sure what to attribute that to. It’s been a while since I’ve been disciplined enough to get a post out at 5 am PT on a Friday. Maybe that was it.

Whatever it was, we continue to have open rates here at CharterFolk that industry standards would suggest are strikingly high. I thank you all once again for your continued support.

As we head into ’23, you may notice me doubling down on attempts to keep to a pre-set publishing calendar, with regular posts going out at 5 am PT on Tuesdays and Fridays, and a Contributor Column going out at the same time on Thursdays. My other work responsibilities are growing considerably, as is my travel. So to better balance things and increase predictability for you all, I’m going to shoot for greater scheduling rigidity. You may also see posts be somewhat shorter this year as I try to reign in scope a bit.

Meanwhile, we saw a lot of interesting news in charterland come out over the long weekend. The Biden Administration attempted a reposition on charter schools. The courts opened a path to greater reform aggressiveness in Texas. The supreme court mulled getting involved in charter schools. Arizona’s new governor threw blue meat. While Michigan’s continuing governor threw a blue meat axe.

In recent weeks, we’ve also seen a significant increase in the number of stories about authorizers wanting to close charter schools for academic reasons. It’s the beginning of a wave I’ve seen coming for a while and for which I think we need to get better prepared. This is a theme you’ll see me take on in upcoming posts.

Last week I concluded a post about ed reform lessons learned in India with the following observation:

While it is true that many countries see a divergence in approach to overcoming public education’s equity and excellence problems, it is also true that there is a new force that is bringing all reform efforts together in a way unlike anything we have seen before.

How that convergence is happening is the topic I turn to next.

Let’s turn our attention to that subject now.

Better Parent BATNA Now – The Real AI Transforming Education As We Know It

One of the hallmark concepts they teach you in business school is BATNA.

It’s a term and a concept that was coined in the famous book by Fisher and Ury from the 80’s.

BATNA stands for “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement,” or “Best Alternative to Not Agreeing,” as it’s sometimes described.

The basic idea is that negotiators should know what their BATNA is before starting to negotiate, and if there is time, to improve their BATNAs before going into a big negotiation. The more you know what your own back up plan is, and the more attractive your back up plan is, the better people tend to do in negotiations.

It’s not a concept I have always mastered, even since my MBA days. A big negotiation I had soon after business school was buying a mini-van for the family before Quentin was born. I was driving a junker at the time. When I pulled into the dealership to negotiate, the junker died heading up the driveway. I literally had to go into the showroom and ask a couple salespeople to help me push it out of traffic. To this day, I still associate my memory of those people with circling sharks .

They started their negotiation with me knowing that I had an absolutely terrible BATNA. So I’m sure I ended up spending more on the Sienna than I could have if I had had my act together more. Fortunately, I’ve had the van for 18 years and nearly 300,000 miles. So I’ve been able to amortize the cost of my bad negotiating strategy over a heck of a lot of time and miles.

As it relates to public education, though, you almost never hear anyone talk about the concept of BATNA.

Indeed, googling “BATNA and public education,” or perhaps more importantly “BATNA, parents and public education,” literally nothing comes up.

And yet, if there is any concept that describes well the balance that public education hangs within right now, it is BATNA.

When there is a disconnect as profound as the one we see these days between what public education offers and the minimum that parents will accept …

… everything will be determined by parent BATNA.

Of course, it’s been this way for generations. Parents have long had to wrestle with the challenge of what to do when they are not happy with the public school option that is afforded them. Many more affluent parents have had a better BATNA – private school. Others have been able to homeschool, but there’s obviously considerable cost associated with educating your own kids at home, and for many parents who have to work. homeschooling is simply not an option. For many parents unable to afford private school or to homeschool, their BATNA was extremely low. So, many stuck with public education despite the fact that they were fundamentally unhappy with it.

To some extent, we could say that the entire charter school movement has been one massive effort to improve parent BATNA. Figuratively, supporters of the movement have seen that many parents have been put in the position of pushing a junker onto the public education sales lot every time they decide where to enroll their kids, and if we could just give them the option of driving something else off the lot, not only would many end up getting millions of kids into better education vehicles, but the entire public education dealership would be pressured to improve the fleet of options they offer writ large.

And to a very real degree that is what the charter school movement has achieved over the past three decades: Improved BATNA for millions of families in communities across the United States.

In recent years, though, we have seen parents reassessing public schools and their own BATNAs at whole new levels, and many are determining that “not agreeing” – i.e. deciding not to enroll their kids in public schools at all – is in fact a viable alternative after all.

Parents abandoning public education altogether was only intensified by the fact many of the charter schools that parents most wanted their kids to attend …

… were the very schools that policy makers prevented parents and students from accessing during the pandemic.

Parents deciding to leave public education in recent year arose, sadly, not from those parents feeling that they had suddenly discovered some great new option that improved their BATNA. Rather, they saw how the quality of public school options available to them was imploding. So they had no choice but to …

… flee.

Or as Fisher and Ury would describe it, to “not agree.”

The exodus we have seen out of public schools in the United States has been enormous. But the “Great Disconnect” we have seen in many other countries has been even more extreme.

In India over the past couple years, tens of thousands of low-cost private schools have closed.

It has created a circumstance where literally tens of millions of parents have had their BATNAs taken from them.

It’s an inherently unstable situation. Something’s had to give.

Now Comes Along AI

Against this general backdrop we saw last month massive new attention cast on the stunning new capabilities of chatbots run by artificial intelligence.

There’s been lots of discussion and handwringing over what all this means for education. Most attention has focused on how teachers are going to police the use of AI so as to prevent students from cheating.

There’s also been the predictable posturing about whether improved AI will somehow render teachers obsolete.

Most of this I find beside the point.

Of course, teachers are not going to be replaced by chatbots. We’ll figure out how kids can use chatbot technology to complement, not undermine, assignments, and we’ll need effective teachers to manage whatever changes are necessary. The very best schools will have the very best teachers figure out how to incorporate the very best artificial intelligence capacities into their instructional programs. In this way, the emergence of chatbot technologies will run the same course as all technologies. The best schools will benefit most from the new capacities, and the worst schools will benefit the least, exacerbating equity concerns.

For me, the more profound ed reform considerations regarding the emergence of AI concern not how things are going to change inside classrooms or in inside schools.

But how things are going to change outside classrooms and schools.

Specifically for those parents who are seeking better BATNA.

For them, the “AI” they find most important has nothing to do with “artificial intelligence.”

The real AI they seek is “alternative instruction.”

Anything that will help them escape the instruction they find intolerable within the options that had been currently made available to them.

Like homeschoolers in the United States.

Some of them seem positively giddy about the way that chatbot technologies will make it far easier for them to manage getting their kids higher quality home lessons.

Like this homeschool coach …

… posting this week about how ChatGPT …

… can be used to help parents develop lesson plans …

… and suggested student assignments …

… and hands-on activities.

It’s a tool for accessing alternate instruction unlike anything homeschoolers have seen before, a use-case for ChatGPT very similar to the one that is being touted in India right now …

… where many parents by sheer necessity are being forced to send their kids back to government schools but where they are supplementing their kids’ learning through private tutoring programs …

… that are now in the process of being revolutionized by ChatGPT.

The scope of coaching/tutoring activity that is emerging in India in response to covid-era changes in education is stunning to behold.

The popularity of private tutoring has led to a rise of coaching centres; in India, their number may run into the hundreds of thousands.

It’s these dynamics that result in India beginning to refer to itself as a “Tuition Republic.”

The Economic Times reports that India’s current highest value startup is a tutoring company called BYJU …

… which established 500 new physical coaching centers in 2022 across the country designed to serve pods of 4-10 students.

And like virtually all the other private tutoring companies in India, BYJU is absolutely all over ChatGPT. Literally one day after the Washington Post was attempting to explain to U.S. readers what chatbots are …

… BYJU was releasing videos on youtube explaining to parents how chatbot technologies were already being incorporated into the services that the company provides to students.

It all underscores that the AI that really matters in India right now is Alternate Instruction.

It is proliferating at unprecedented scope and speed, improving BATNA for tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of parents in the now most populous nation on earth.

Coda – The Coming Convergence: Disruptive BATNA Improvement Is On Its Way to the U.S.

Another of the foundational texts that MBA programs acquaint students with is Clayton Christiansen’s seminal work.

A hallmark of the theory is that disruption originates in segments that are overlooked by market leaders.

Disruptive innovations originate in low-end or new-market footholds.

Disruptive innovations are made possible because they get started in two types of markets that incumbents overlook. Low-end footholds exist because incumbents typically try to provide their most profitable and demanding customers with ever-improving products and services, and they pay less attention to less-demanding customers. In fact, incumbents’ offerings often overshoot the performance requirements of the latter. This opens the door to a disrupter focused (at first) on providing those low-end customers with a “good enough” product.

The idea that U.S. parents would have interest in educational offerings that are now being developed to help parents in India compensate for a meltdown in educational offerings during covid seems laughable at first.

But when you recognize that a lot of what is being built in India today is being created in English, you begin to see that “Tuition Republic” is exactly the space within which Christiansen predicts disruptive change would be born.

It’s why I’m convinced that a new convergence is emerging:

Parent BATNA in the United States is on the cusp of radical transformation, a transformation born of changes happening on the other side of the world.