This article investigates the rationales and activities of nine nonprofit intermediary organizations operating in Israeli public schools, under similar missions of promoting school entrepreneurship. I apply a multiple case study qualitative methodology with in-depth interviews and complementary content analysis to investigate how those intermediaries operate and thrive. I depict how the concept of school entrepreneurship is formed and facilitated and reveal how state policy and intermediaries’ activities interact and shape schools’ realm, as shown in three specific paradoxes emerging from my analysis.
Clearly, the discourse about entrepreneurship is expanding in education systems worldwide. Yet despite this mounting discourse, only minimal scholarly attention has been paid to the role of intermediary organizations that aim to promote entrepreneurship in education systems, and little is known about the means, rationales, and attitudes of such actions in public education.
This study intends to address this lacuna by presenting an analysis of interviews with CEOs and management teams of nine major intermediaries working within the Israeli education system, all aiming to promote entrepreneurship and agency “from within”. This study, like other strategic case studies, is limited in its potential for generalization.
Nonetheless, this study raises a number of issues and questions that education professionals and policy-makers might productively engage with in the contemporary environment in which the importance of entrepreneurship is constantly increasing and the role of external agencies in education is growing (Trujillo, 2014).
In particular, I show how school entrepreneurship is conceptualized in the interplay between three different paradoxes: neoliberal business-like measures versus emotional advancements; internal empowerment as a stated goal that is promoted in practice by external agents; and skepticism regarding top-down entrepreneurship-promoting policies vis-a`-vis a method of action that involves precisely the same policies.
Moreover, I show how inequality may be reproduced and reinforced – usually unintentionally – through the mode of action that these intermediaries adopt. Thus, a certain level of hypocrisy can be detected in the discourse of the intermediaries’ representatives: they refer to neoliberalism and privatization as the consequences of actions of other actors, while claiming that their own actions are natural extensions of the public system, that they are helping the system help itself; yet in their choice on working only in schools with a certain capacity, they actually act to preserve or even intensify systemic inequalities. While participation at most of those programs grants certain resources and capabilities to schools through channeling of public funding, this participation is conditioned and defined by the intermediaries according to their own context-specific agenda.
The global policyscape of neoliberal business-like policy advocacy is what makes the discourse surrounding entrepreneurship in education viable (Carney, 2009). While school entrepreneurship and agency comprise powerful tools to transform and improve schools, I show how intermediaries’ mitigation of such agency somewhat removes it from the schools to these external agents, enabling private agendas, conflicting values, and systemic inequality to penetrate public education.