Sleepless in Seattle…and NYC, San Francisco

Like 30,000 others nationwide, I’ve been deep in reading applications for mezzanine grant funding for scalable improvement interventions in an obsolete education system–otherwise known as i3. After reviewing
a dozen a i3 apps–hypotheses, interventions seeking validation, sustainability strategies, and budgets–it is clear that the grant program should be called investing in improvement. Given the way the grant program is designed, there will be few innovations (chalk that up to the legislative language inherited by the crack team running this).
That’s not all bad, there is little growth capital in education. Foundations (who had a terrible year in 2009) lose interest in nonprofits that fail to build a scalable model. So i3 will help programs like Teach for America, New Leaders, Communities in Schools get a little bigger. Good charter networks like KIPP, Success Charter Network, Brighter Choice, and Achievement First will grow.
More of ‘what works’ is a good thing–good for kids and good for the economy. But this is not venture investing–and it should have been. Our kids deserve a new generation of tools that make learning engaging, personalized, and effective.
I spent the morning at Edmodo (a Revolution portfolio company). The small team has accomplished more in a year with $1m than any investment I’ve been involved with. They built a Facebook-like toolset for teachers and made learning fun and effective for thousands of kids. Incentives for speed, quality and scale drove the team listen to teachers, follow early traffic, add talent and functionality where needed, and abandon what didn’t work. I’m sorry, but I don’t think a nonprofit could have done this in three years with $5m.
A small fund of funds with $65m would have produced dozens of companies like Edmodo and probably more long term impact than this $650m consultant employment act. Back to home stretch edits.

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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