I’m typing this in the Jackson Hole, Wyoming airport. Over the past five days I have had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go on a retreat with a group of corporate leaders from all over the globe (e.g., United States, Great Britain, Italy, Israel, Russia). We engaged in a number of recreational activities (e.g., fly-fishing, hiking, ATV riding, trips to Yellowstone). Most of us also facilitated a discussion session for the rest of the group (mine was on transitioning schools into the 21st century). As a result of this long weekend, I’m now on a first-name basis with CEOs, presidents, vice presidents, etc. from about fifteen different technology, media, and venture capital companies. Nearly all of these folks have a net worth in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. All of them are creative, talented, smart people: exemplars of the Creative Class.

So what did I learn from these corporate titans, these folks who have money, power, and political influence at levels that most of us can barely imagine?

  • Their dissatisfaction with the public schools is extremely high;
  • There was a widespread consensus in the group that the current system of how we do public schools cannot be fixed;
  • As a result, all but one of them sends their children to private school;
  • The only thing that can be done is to "blow up" the system and start anew; and
  • Charter schools and private schools are popular options with these folks because they are perceived as mechanisms that retain the possibility for innovation, differentiation, and responsiveness to parent and student needs.

Of course this sample is small and may not reflect the views of corporate leaders generally, but I’m guessing that they’re fairly consistent with their peers. And while much of this may be nothing new, hearing these people talk about public schools was nonetheless illuminating and dismaying.

We have big challenges ahead of us.