4 Strategies For Scaling A Successful Program

Run a good school or program? Thinking about how to increase your impact? Replicating the program is just one of a dozen strategies for extending impact. There are four basic scaling strategies for instructional programs: school operator, school developer, advocacy, and program. Each includes a couple variations.

School Operator

Control staffing & resource allocation, provide student supervision.

  • Multi-district program operated under district contract.
    • Moderately difficult to form, provides moderate control.
    • Risk of being discontinued with regime change (i.e., less sticky than having a school code).
    • Example: AdvancePath operates contract dropout recovery academies.
  • Career center program operated under contract.
    • Leverage policy/finance/transportation infrastructure of local career centers.
    • Moderately difficult to form, low-risk long term, and small potential (perhaps dozens of sites).
  • Charter management organization
    • Moderate to high difficulty to achieve local or state authorization (varies by state).
    • Challenging relationship with districts but relatively low-risk of losing a charter with effective operations (i.e., less risk than contract operation).
    • Even though charters typically receive lower reimbursement than districts, charter operation may provide more or at least more flexible funding than operating under a contract.
    • Best opportunity to innovate learning experiences and associated technology.
    • Examples: Managed high school networks in California include Alliance, Green Dot, and Summit (see list of 40 national CMO).

School Developer

Support development of schools but without operating control.

  • Franchise network: Comprehensive program requirements and supports but without direct management control.
    • KIPP Foundation provides design principles, leadership development, technical and philanthropic support, and convening. All KIPP schools operate as public charters.
    • Big Picture Learning provides design principles, leadership development, technical support, and convening. Schools are charter or district contract.
  • Platform-centric network: Support schools that share a platform and services.
    • New Tech Network provides design principles, a learning platform, technical assistance, and convening. (Schools are 90% district operated; $400k startup cost).
    • Nexus Academies is a network of individual charter high schools that share Connections Education platform and support.
  • Certification-centric network: National Academies Foundation (NAF) supports 667 high school career academies with common design and support services. They are rolling out a new college and work ready certification program that incorporates a body of work including an internship (see feature).
  • Grant-centric network: YouthBuild is a network of high school programs aimed at boosting employability in construction-related trades. Most of the schools are recipients of a federal grant and affiliate with YouthBuild USA for technical assistance.

Advocacy Organization

Potential for big reach but no programmatic control; typically 100% philanthropic support.


Provide curriculum, technical assistance, convening, and professional development; moderate potential for reach, implementation fidelity varies widely, but this approach is potentially self-sufficient.

  • Curriculum: Project Lead The Way.
  • Advising: AVID provides a guidance structure with curriculum and professional services.
  • Professional services:

The following table summarizes scaling options ranging from limited to comprehensive school designs (Y axis) and the level of control and support (X axis). Low requirement and low support solutions are the easiest to scale but yield highly variability results (e.g., Alliance Future Ready initiative). Managed networks offer high fidelity execution and great opportunity for R&D work but they are labor and capital intensive to scale.

Low Support/Control        >        High Support/Control
Comprehensive requirements Design network: New Tech Network Franchise network: KIPP & Big Picture Managed network: Summit Public Schools
Limited requirements Alliance #FutureReady Design network: NAF Chicago International

As noted above, NAF’s addition of a certification program adds value to network membership and makes affiliation stickier. As employers begin to adopt the certification, it will build demand for network membership (more on using pull marketing in the next post).

What’s the right scaling strategy for your school or program? The answer might be dictated by your ability to raise money. Each strategy has a different fund raising profile (e.g., some funders will only support charters, some will only support district programs) and every region is different. To the extent possible, test the efficacy of strategies and the funding viability before betting the ranch on national expansion.

For more on scaling, check out:

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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