New School Ecosystems

There are interesting parallels between charter schools in the US and affordable private school in India.  Both focus on the urban poor, promote choice, and often develop within an entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Whether it’s New Orleans or Hyderabad, there are a dozen accelerants that promote access and quality:
1. Incubation support for new/existing operators with multi-campus potential.  including planning support and seed funding (e.g., New School Venture Fund, Charter School Growth Fund, NY Charter School Center).  Mumbai-based Dasra incubates social entrepreneurs but with limited access to seed capital.
2. Access to growth capital: grants, debt and equity investment.  New Schools and CSGF partially fulfill this need as does Indian School Finance Corp; both markets could use a more robust capital market for schools.
3. Leadership development (e.g., New Leaders, Advance Innovative Education)
4. Teacher recruitment (e.g., Teach for America, Teach for India)
5. Network aligned teacher preparation and development (e.g., High Tech High Graduate School, Teacher Foundation)
6. Facilities development (e.g., Pacific Charter School Development and  Civic Builders)
7. Back office support (e.g., ExEd and 4th Sector)
8. Technology development (including open content repositories like NROC, free textbooks like CK12, learning communities like Edmodo, and lesson sharing like Better Lesson)
9. Instructional services (including curriculum, assessment and professional development, e.g., EmpathyLearning, a company James Tooley formed to serve low cost schools.
10. School management services that combine leadership, instruction, back office; in India that includes EduComp, Rumi, SKS, and Pearson.
11. Parent information and rating system like GreatSchools with incentives for adoption/use like Gray Matters Capital is developing in India.
12. State & national advocacy (e.g., Centre for Civil Society in Delhi, ConnCan, Education Equality Project, DFER,, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools).
Depending on funding/capacity, an incubator could incorporate the first 4 or 5 items.  A solid local ecosystem example is New Schools New Orleans which is housed with TFA, NLNS, TNTP a policy institute, and the state charter association.  Something similar could be formed in Hyderabad for $1m over three years.  Microfinance could support single school operator needs for facilities, technology, and instructional services. Venture capital will be most attracted to school management and instructional platforms.
These ecosystems won’t develop without focused philanthropy—intentional efforts to cluster capabilities in high need markets where initiative has been demonstrated.  They won’t be sustained without barrier reduction and public support from state and national government.
Independent public schools, private schools, and voucher proposals create resistance from the status quo, but there is no better way to quickly respond to the educational needs of urban poor than entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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