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The role of social entrepreneurship in transforming U.S.A. public education pattern breaking change
Jacqueline Beretta

November, 2008

The Harvard Global Business Summit we attended a couple of weeks ago provided opportunities to hear some of the world's finest experts. 

An intriguing panel was one on education with Michelle Rhee,  Chancellor of Education for the Washington D.C. Public School System;  Wendy Kopp, CEO and Founder of Teach for America;   Steven Barr, CEO of the highly successful Green Dot Public Schools in California, and the NBA’s Kevin Johnson, CEO of St. Hope, a nonprofit community development corporation in Sacramento, California.

Michele Rhee and the Washington D.C. public schools

The Facts:

1)      D.C. schools are listed as high risk by the US Department of Education

2)      D.C. schools currently have 144 schools

3)      D.C. schools currently have 50,000 students

4)      D.C. schools currently have 4,000 teachers

5)      D.C. schools have an acheivement gap of 70% between wealthy and low income students

6)      9 % of D.C. public school students graduate from college in 5 years

7)      Of 8th graders: 8% are proficient in math and 12% are proficient in reading

8)      D.C. school kindergarteners who start out with a bang are failing by 3rd grade

9)      So….it might be better for the children just to stay home….

Gruesome isn’t it?

Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee

The bureaucratic environment did not give much hope for reform…that is until Mayor Adrian M. Fenty appointed Michelle Rhee in 2007 and determined they would be the changelings in the education scene in D.C. Rhee has previously transformed many urban public schools through her work with the New Teacher Project (TNTP) in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, New York, oakland, and Philadelphia. TNTP collaborated with school districts, statewide agencies, nonprofits, and unions to transform the way schools and other organizations recruit, select, and train highly qualitfied teachers in difficult-to-staff schools.  

Realizing that the quality of teachers is paramount to high student achievement, the mayor and Rhee put together a plan to transform learning outcomes in Washington D.C.  Their intent was to create a culture so every adult would have a personal stake in children’s success.  

Their plan

Before we go any further, you should know that Rhee is an alumna of Teach for America in a Baltimore classroom in 1992. Thus, her mission is “with the right teacher, students in urban classrooms can meet teachers’ high expectations for achievement, and the driving force behind achievement is the quality of the teacher who works inside it.”

Rhee develops effective measurements to track student achievement and teacher quality; talks with teachers and principals one-on-one; develops new measures to hold herself and staff acountable for their roles in student acheivement; travels throughout the community to engage parents and other stakeholders in the schools; establishes partnerships with neighborhood organizations; meets with business leaders; and ensures that the needed repairs are completed to create physical learning environments that serve students.

Today, with much resistance from teachers and unions in D.C., Rhee has given teachers contracts based on effectiveness and success in the classroom. They get a raise and cash incentives for excellence in teaching. The goal is to move our poor performing teachers.

Just this last week teachers and staff at 7 D.C. schools received more than $1.5 million in performance bonuses for helping boost standardized student test scores in math and reading by more than 20%. Recipeints received an average of $3,600 each. The awards are funded by the U.S. Department of Education and are administered by the city and the Washington Teachers' Union and the nonprofit New Leaders for New Schools.

It is painful but it is possible – especially when they got rid of the school boards.  That was a good idea because many times school board members are there only for the prestige and power they get from the position, and the resulting bureaucracy tends to slow things down.  Now Rhee is accountable only to the mayor.


Wendy Kopp and Teach for America

Kopp wrote of her desire to create Teach for America in her undergraduate thesis in 1989, and has spent the alst 19 years working on the program.  Teach for America, is a national corps of recent college graduates who commit 2 years to teaching in urban and rural public schools and become lifelong leaders in pursuit of educational excellence and equity.

Today top colleges and universities are contributing graduates to Teach for America.  In this school year, more than 6,000 corps members are teaching in America’s neediest communities, reaching more than 400,000 students.  Alumni numbers total 14,000 individuals, many of whom are assuming leadership roles in education. this last year over 25,000 young teachers applied for the program….and they dohope to grow to meet the needs.

She stated, “This problem of teaching inequity is so massive. We need to challenge our countries leadership to commit to teach in high poverty school districts.”Support comes form private, corporate and government entities.

Kevin Johnson and St. Hope

In May 2000, after 16 seasons in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns, Kevin Johnson returned home to Sacramento and assumed the role of CEO at St. Hope, a nonprofit community development corporation he had founded in 1989 to revitalize inner-city communities through public education, economic development, civic leadership, and arts enrichment. His dream is to revitalize the inner city community and give a good education to poor children so that could determine their own future.  Johnson said “prisons are built based on 3rd graders reading scores.” Determined to turn the entire community around he took a holistic approach, working to turn each component of the community around.

His organization operates the St. Hope Public Schools, a system serving 1,500 students from PreK – 12 to provide a complete learning continuum. To do this St. Hope assumed Sacramento’s failing high school and turned it into a high-performing charter school focused on sending all students to 4-year colleges.  Originally, 20% of the students were accepted to college compared to 80% today. 

St. Hope has had a major impact on the community of Oak Park, iincluding he addition of 14 buisnesses, 282 jobs, and $11M in development. Supporting its multifaceted approach to community revitalization, the St. Hope economic development division completed the rehabilitation of the 40 AcresArt Gallery and Cultural Center, a 25,000 square foot, mixed use facility in the heart of Oak Park’s commercial district. Housing an art gallery, a 225-seat theater, a bookstore, a barbershop, a Starbucks, and 12 loft apartments, this successful project provides internship opportunities to young people and exposes the community to many forms of art.

In the current spirit of change, Kevin Johnson is running for Mayor of Sacramento, with a platform of making Sacramento “a city that works for everyone.”

Steve Barr and the Green Dot Schools

An innovator, Steve Barr co-founded Rock the Vote in 1990, whose campaigns and field efforts led to the first increase in voting among 18-24-year-olds since the passage of the 26th amendment.

Barr founded Green Dot Public Schools in 1999 with the aim of transforming public education in California by creating a number of high-performiing charter high schools using available public dollars.  He aimed “to build an army of people who want to be accountable.”  Green Dot built one of the first comprehensive public high schools in the Los Angeles area in 30 years and a second high school 2 years later. In the most recent API ranking, Green Dot’s first school schored a 10 out of 10.

Green Dot’s goal is to create and operate high-achieving public schools where nearly all students graduate and go on to college; to help parents throughout the city organize to strengthen their neighborhood schools; and finally, to push the Los Angeles Unified School District to move boldly to improve the city's public schools.  Green Dot Schools now number 18, and are showing a 90% graduation rate and a 2/3 college acceptance rate. They are spreading across the country.

Green Dot's "Six Tenets of High Performing Schools"

1) Small, Safe, Personalized Schools

2) High Expectations for All Students

3) Locally Managed Schools

4) Increased Parent Participation

5) Maximum Funding to the Classroom

6) Keep Schools Open Later 

This model enables Green Dot schools to consistently outperform comparable schools on nearly every academic performance measure. 

Green Dot is achieving its results while serving similar student populations as the lowest-performing schools in LAUSD and without fundraising to pay for ongoing school operations.  As Green Dot schools continue to improve, the Six Tenets school model is setting an important standard for urban public education.


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