Sad In(deed)

The common comparison to business and education is oil and water as  oil is immiscible in water.  The reality  is much more complex. Business and education are more akin to taking sludge from a landfill, adding it to  water  and wondering why nothing grows.  If the sludge has nothing living in it and can not photosynthesize food, it can not live and grow. Business people lack the understanding of why you need to start with something living and feed it or expect the organism to photosynthesize. What a business person sees is some dirt which they wish to monetize if they could just force it to grow……

A business person will do everything in their power to force the sludge to grow, in spite of every scientist stating it can not happen. Business people hire marketing teams and business development specialists who tell them to ‘plant trees’ and the sludge kills off the forest and then some. The board  will then hire more marketing and business development people (who tell them to plant different trees) and the routine continues as they make money off the planted trees while they stay alive.The problem of the murkiness in the water eludes them. Instead of talking to a scientist, they make up explanations and continue to believe they can sell their idea.

The best marketing, business development and sales teams are those which can help in suspending belief long enough for the business to metaphorically grow and be sold.

Not all businesses in education function this way. It is the indiscriminate use of resources which fails the business idea, not the fact it is related to education.  The resources are misappropriated as a business person can not logistically interact with an educator under any pretense other than money. An educator generally commodifies education as a process, journey, undertaking for life which has no explicit monetary value. In fact, education is seen as its own reward to most educators.

The best example I have of where business and education mixed to make something wonderful: Khan Academy. The dream started so small and became something so large AND the money followed instead of directed what Khan Academy did as an organizations.

My experiences of businesses and education have proven  out. at least twice, they do not work together and in fact, business is toxic to education. In addition, all I have to do is read the news about for profit schools and feel equally nauseated.

I have been involved with organizations who have knowingly done the type of ‘deal’ where they even obtained not for profit status, as if this would some how cleanse the soil, so to speak. Aspire Public Schools, a charter school venture and now Wyzant, an online tutoring site which decided to walk down Wall St. with Accel Partners have both attempted to grow the trees and neither one has a forest worthy of even making toothpicks.

Aspire Public Schools has used taxpayer money and investment money to mis-educate children under a premise they could never demonstrate as advertised/marketed when they began. They have not been able to do anything substantially different from any other public school, including getting kids THROUGH college to graduation. In the case of Aspire Public Schools, what is so insidious is the level at which they have marketed their program to the most dis-enfranchised and have not delivered.  In the case of Wyzant, I have hopes they will catch on to what will be part of their reputation if they do not right the ship.

Both organizations in my example were founded by people with a simple-minded and limited view of education.  In the case of Aspire, almost anyone of any worth ran far and fast from being affiliated with them.  This includes Stanford University and many people, such as myself, who taught at Aspire under what were found to be false pretenses. This involves professors from universities and principals/administrators who were misled.

With Wyzant, it was not until Accel Partners came in and laid down the behavior expected that things became turbid.  There was some degree of transparency and trees were being planted. Accel Partners ruined that by convincing Mike and Drew they could ‘sell out’. What started as something which may have had (I am not sure) some degree of morality, became a system to make a profit off of students and their families.

Wyzant went from allowing anyone access to a variety of tutors at different price points, even those of us who take on students and reduce price in many situations and try to work out a deal, to a system where Wyzant selects tutors who are at lower commission splits unless the consumer is SAVVY enough to do their own computer search and apply to different tutors.  By directing clients to these tutors, the vulnerable students/parents are given what Wyzant has not yet been able to shape or form with sufficient reviews and other metrics. This means in many instances, the student(s) are not getting the ‘best’ possible tutors, rather, they are getting the tutors which are profitable to Wyzant.

At first I thought this situation was unique to me. Then, suddenly, something which had been long brewing – allowing tutors to have access to one another, happened. We began to share our stories and found out we were all experiencing similar issues.

Amazingly, with the openness of the social media (LinkedIn) conversation, not once has Wyzant flinched at this conversation and probably has no intention of doing anything as they are happy to be rid of those of us who obtain too much of their asset pie. The real issue is, those of us who stuck around are the ones with the good reputation, the outstanding work with students and the tutors who are so much more than Kaplan and Mathnasium storefronts, etc.

Once you lose your reputation, it is a challenge to regain it. In the meanwhile, those of us who stick with Wyzant end up carrying the burden of their poor business decisions and some icky moral/ethical baggage.


Where are my social dividends?

Forewarning: I do not have a strong statistical background so I am always skeptical when I read something as I need to think about and evaluate the information a bit longer than others to make sure I understand. If I miss a detail, please be kind enough to send a correction.

Charter schools are a business entity. They are considered non-profit due to how they re-apply their ‘earnings’ instead of giving the earnings to shareholders. In what one might call a twist up of words, non-profits are supposed to be for the benefit of the community which is why they have certain tax advantages, etc. This means instead of being an individual shareholder obtaining dividends, you in effect become a stakeholder in your community and should receive the type of social dividends which benefit your community and make it better.

 With this in mind, I find it important for charter schools to be accurate in reporting their statistics in the same manner a for profit corporation on the NYSE reports. There are GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) rules and any accountant should be able to read and interpret the information in the same way if the books are not cooked and the aim of the company is not to mislead the shareholders. Unfortunately, charter schools are by and large allowed manipulate the books in a variety of ways (this includes grant reporting and ADA monies) and they do. This then allows them to also manipulate and actually distort the data as there are even less people willing to spend the time on non-financial information evaluations.  Charter schools follow ‘data’ on how to appeal to specific groups of people as indicated by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey  which was conducted June 21 through July 22, 2013. This data demonstrates how different categories of parents think, hence, it is easier to market targeted materials.

 The issue at hand is how charter schools report out students who go to college, graduate college and indeed produce a social dividend for a community.  This is how all great non-profits should be evaluated. Unfortunately, charter schools have never been called to prove the social dividend. I had to question this issue as I worked for a charter school and later continued questioning the morality and ethics of charter schools based on what I now know about the background story.  The story of self promotion to those who wish to promote charter schools rarely matches the reality, thus, there must be a marketing department to distort and mis-convey the facts.

Here is another look at data from a different view.

According to Jill Tucker over at The San Francisco Chronicle, I should note there is a difference  between college ready, expecting to get a high school diploma or taking the GED.  I believe this is called journalist clarity.

In 2009, about 600 African American males started high school in the Oakland school district with Thomas and Olajuwon. Of those, an estimated 80 to 100 graduated college-ready. Another 200 were expected to get their diplomas, but not with UC or CSU admission requirements. Others took the GED, or would continue in adult school. Still others spent time in jail.

During those same four years, 31 Oakland public school students ages 11 to 19 were killed across the city. Most of them were shot and most were African American males.

I note this as college ready does not mean the same thing as going to college, completing college, obtaining a degree and providing social dividend.  For charter schools to actually do something different from any other public school, they need to produce the same amount or greater of students who actually attend college and graduate as every other public school in America is charged with getting students college ready – the goal of public education.  This being said, it should be easy peasy for Aspire Public Schools (the largest in California) and KIPP to produce statistics which demonstrate this trend.  This, to my knowledge has not occurred. In fact, what has occurred is the actual removal from Aspire Public Schools of the map showing where their graduates go to college and no evidence can be found on the website for how many students (after 20 years in business) have graduated college, producing a societal dividend substantially different from other public schools.

Out on 21 August 2013 is data from ACT showing:

“The readiness of students leaves a lot to be desired,” said Jon Erickson, president of the Iowa-based company’s education division.

The ACT reported that 31 percent of all high school graduates tested were not ready for any college coursework requiring English, science, math or reading skills. The other 69 percent of test takers met at least one of the four subject-area standards.

Just a quarter of this year’s high school graduates cleared the bar in all four subjects, demonstrating the skills they’ll need for college or a career, according to company data. The numbers are even worse for black high school graduates: Only 5 percent were deemed fully ready for life after high school.

The report’s findings suggest that many students will struggle when they arrive on campus or they’ll be forced to take remedial courses — often without earning credits — to catch their peers.

The data reveal a downturn in overall student scores since 2009. Company officials attribute the slide to updated standards and more students taking the exams — including many with no intention of attending two- or four-year colleges.

Under ACT’s definition, a young adult is ready to start college or trade school if he or she has the knowledge to succeed without taking remedial courses. Success is defined as the student’s having a 75 percent chance of earning a C grade and a 50 percent chance of earning a B, based on results on each of the four ACT subject areas, which are measured on a scale from 1 to 36 points.

My sense would be every charter school in the U.S. would wish to report out their great ACT and SAT scores for the reason it resonates to some extent the READINESS for any college coursework requiring English, science, math or reading skills.  Any charter school should be tooting their horn regarding the average scores of their students.

I do not have the documentation (hopefully as you read this, you will be able to supply it to me if you know the piece I am referring to), however, I did hear a piece on KQED which regarded how getting a student to college is not enough. In fact, not all colleges are the same and getting children of color to college if the college is not top tier, does not improve rocking the boat and changing the social dividends – in stead it perpetuates it as status quo.

Aspire Public Schools has managed to use data from CREDO (The Center for Research on Education Outcomes – Stanford University) in an odd context. When I read the full report, noted in the URL above, there is a distortion of how one would perceive what is in the full report vs. the carefully selected portions Aspire pulled out to use.

CREDO uses data to show the minute detail of how charter schools have developed their students over time in comparison to other similar schools.  In looking at the data over a 20 year time period, there is an improvement although I would be negligent in stating this improvement is earth shattering or worth of great praise. I will let the data speak for itself.

The national study shows the following for reading and math: Although there is study improvement, 56% of charter school students have no significant difference in reading scores as measured by CREDO than regular public school students. 25% have shown a significant improved difference and 19% show a significantly worse difference.   There is no specific data from Aspire as they are lumped into the national study. In either way, they neither benefit from or substantially detract from the rather sad statistics.

If I break this down, it means only 25% of students in charter schools have shown gains while 75% of students in charter schools were comparable or worse……..Is the effect of changing 25% of students enough social dividend in reading? Should the amount of students positively effected be greater as Aspire has been around for 20 years. Aspire touts how they have the best teachers, systems and data….the statistics are not demonstrating, in my mind, substantial social dividends which I could not have gotten with just improving the public schools over all.

For math, the data is even worse. 40% of charter school students showed no significant difference in gains for math, 31% of students in charter schools fared significantly worse and 29% of students fared better. This means 29% of students in charter schools nationally had improvement while 71% fared the same or worse. Again, this is not sufficient data to show any charter school has leveraged a better system overall.

When more students show no benefit or worse benefit, there is something wrong with your program. It should be the other way around.  If this were a business having to report to shareholders instead of stakeholders, this company would fold.

As a social investment, I am not seeing where charter schools are delivering the goods.

Careful where you set your aim. The charter sector is getting better on average, but not because existing schools are getting dramatically better; it is mainly driven by opening higher- performing schools and by closing those that underperform. Our analysis suggests that the standards of performance are set too low, as evidenced by the large number of underperforming charter schools that persist. The point here is that, as with students, setting and holding high expectations is an important feature of school policies and practices. More focus is required of authorizers and charter school governing boards to set high performance and accountability standards and hold charter schools to them. – CREDO

This is where the Papa John’s piece on Yahoo comes in.  You can call your ‘ingredients’ whatever you wish. You should also be willing to let outsiders examine the ingredients and most of all, you should be proud enough to add in your own data as comparison. In this instance, Aspire Public Schools has failed. I am guessing this is the same for other charter schools as there have been no interesting news flashes in any of the usual educational journals which would love to pounce on this great news.

Another aspect of this issue is how Aspire is spreading to Tennessee.  Aspire needed to do this as financially they could not make it on the same budget as other public schools in California. They were ‘drowning’ and in fact have not merited the same amount of donations year over year as they had hoped for.  The CFO has been cautious in how he couches this scenario, however, the original goal of Aspire was to EXCEED the other schools in the region on the same budget. This has not happened or at least not in a statistically relevant manner.  This relates to the piece from The New York Times on how Philadelphia is borrowing money to open the schools and people are questioning if the schools are even worth opening, which leads back to the quote two paragraphs up from CREDO.

While charter schools continue to advertise their wares, I continue to be skeptical.  I need to see the following and wish CREDO could produce the data:

Just how many students of charter schools have gone to college, how many have graduated in 4, 5, 6 years?

After 20 years, I would think Aspire Public Schools has to have some of this substantially important data.

This would tell me if the taxes I pay which pays the ADA of charter schools is yielding social dividends in my community.

Dear Ms. Rhee 29 August 2012

Dear Ms. Rhee,

I write to you often but I am not even sure you pay attention as you have never responded. If you responded, I would be shocked as it would mean you had to deal with facts which were presented. Since you are more inclined to manipulate facts, I am not expecting responses any time soon.

So, it would appear that Aspire Public Schools has taken a page, well maybe a chapter from the playbook of  regular public schools. This is not the first time I caught the problem; I have addressed this issue at other junctures. I just keep pointing out the facts so that you don’t lose track of them as you campaign against teachers. is the URL I used on 29 August 2012 to check that once again, Aspire was exceeding what a regular public school would be doing at this time in the school year as Aspire indicates IT IS SUPERIOR to what is down the street.

Here is what I found at 10:45 AM-

12 open teaching positions, including the sciences and language arts K-12 AND things such as music, Gr 9-12, journalism and so forth. This did not include the four open substitute position postings or the Dean of Educational Capacity (clearly a name for a position which is  in no way living up to its potential), two HR managers (assumedly it is their job to find the teachers to fill the classrooms), three residency campus recruiters (to find even more teachers to fill classrooms), five substitute positions-one of which was long-term, college readiness teacher (who knew that Aspire needed a teacher to do the task of a counselor….), Senior Manager of Talent (apparently also responsible for filling empty classrooms), two recruiters…. to find teachers which the residency campus recruiters could not find??, and two SPED teachers. I did not list every open position as I pretty much matched My true love gave to me (sung to the 12 Days of Christmas) chorus usually reserved for public schools.

And so I begin to ask myself the following questions, in no particular order:

(1) There is 8.5% unemployment in the U.S. (rhetorical of course as the RNC has been bandying this about for weeks).

(2) Why don’t teachers wish to work for a charter school (Aspire is not the only gig in town, just the most self promoted in CA and now TN)?

(3) How is Aspire’s problem different from regular public schools as charter schools are supposed to be better and these numbers of empty positions after school has started indicate equal to or worse than.

(4) Why are my tax dollars paying for this unacceptable level of administration of an education program and why is Aspire not shut down when it is NOT meeting its own goals?

(5) Does anyone else know or am I the only person  who has an actual interest in education?

(6) Did Ms. Rhee or James Wilcox ever manage to read “The First Days of School” by Harry K. Wong (the supposed handbook Aspire support(s)/supported?

The list continued, however it became general reflection as to why I still believe charter schools are not an answer to what ails the American education system.

I know you like the word anomaly and use it to explain data which you are unable to manipulate to your liking so I understand you might wish to use it in this example. My problem is that something is an anomaly when it happens once or rarely  (deviation from the common rule)- not regularly so it is not appropriate this time….the problem(s) cited above are regular and ongoing.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

While you were all looking at test scores and Michelle Rhee was blaming teachers……..

The above item would have flown right under the radar had some one not pointed it out to me. It would not have even occurred to me that this would be an Aspire Public Schools issue.  Of course, I gave Aspire the benefit of the doubt and looked at and as I believe all parties should have an opportunity to weigh in on the subject.

From what I can gather, Fitch sees Aspire as being not transparent enough. From what I read about (written by others), Aspire refuses to be honest, which has nothing to do with tenure or all the other rigamarow Ms. Rhee constantly complains about.  Aspire seems to be anti-competitive, which is anti-Michelle Rhee and anti-Jeffrey Canada. This all makes for some interesting conversation.  I can find no mention of the bond issue nor the lawsuit issue.  No where can I find Michelle Rhee’s commentary………so I will leave the interpretation of all of this to the reader.

This demonstrates to me once again that charter schools have been so busy marketing and touting themselves that reality never had a chance. Aspire is a not for profit CORPORATION. By reasonable standards, people should be flinching about the lack of competitiveness Aspire Public Schools operates under.  The message may well be that test scores really do not tell the whole story, even though Aspire and Michelle Rhee would have us believe otherwise with propaganda.

This is Aspire 15 years out. I have to wonder if this is what Don Shalvey, James Wilcox, Wayne Hilty and Elise Darwish prepared for in advance and escaping to Tennessee is not the entire answer. It would seem that abandoning  part or all they sought to change in CA is definitely not a good answer for students, investors and  public education.  With Wall St. having brought down the economy,  limited and insufficient disclosure to Fitch does not seem to be in line with what the public would like to know.


Under the bonds’ continuing disclosure agreement, the lawsuit does not       appear to qualify as a ‘significant event.’ However, given Aspire’s significant concerns regarding the lawsuit, Fitch views the lack of       communication until after the proposed statement of decision negatively.       In addition, the March 21, 2012 disclosure statement made no reference   to the serious risks, including possible default, cited by management in       its declarations to the court.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for June 8. Fitch will   continue to monitor developments in the lawsuit and their potential   ramifications for bondholders.

Of course the real concern is how did these people NOT have an appropriate long term business plan in place knowing CA politics?  What are the board of directors thinking? I have to wonder if even Superman can make this better considering charter schools have touted that their composition is based on their ability to do it better for less.  Jeffrey Canada, are you paying attention?

My Race ‘Lessons’

Two very important things have happened in my life which helped me clarify the difference  between race and behavior and how behavior can indeed be related to a race by ‘their’ choice, not by my observation.  Fortunately for me I was raised in what now seems an idealized heterogeneous world………meaning every possible combination of race, religion, disability, sexuality and all the other isms.  Currently I live in what has to be the Craig Venter lab for heterogeneity – N. California bay area -if you can not find it here, it plain does not exist.

My parents raised me in such a way as I did not understand people were different other than good or bad. You were either a good person (however you qualify that) or a bad person, again how you qualify the description. I don’t remember my family using race as a qualifier – it had to do with being involved in the community, being a nice person just because you were and equally, if you were bad, you were bad at the bone, not at the skin. I had a father who made sure I saw the inside of every possible organized religious center (except Mormon, for obvious reasons) and was told he did not care what I grew up to believe as I long as I respected everyone elses views which were sure to be in some ways different from mine.

In addition, I was pretty convinced at a young age I was ‘African’ because we all came out of Africa and I just happened to be lighter skinned (obviously this will upset some one and I am sorry, but I have read the anthropology).  By time I was 10 years old, I knew I was going to the continent of Africa (and I knew it was a continent with very different people as I had met Africans- Muslims, Christians and Animists) and ultimately I did with Peace Corps. My Peace Corps grandmothers looked like me – skin color and nappy hair. They were more surprised their Peace Corps Volunteer was not white and did not have a red one piece Speedo (all the re-runs sold to various African countries of Baywatch). I was ecstatic they looked like me – it was confirmation I was from Africa.

None of this prepared me for two major events which helped me understand behavior.

In graduate school I developed  great friendships with two very important women. One was a light-skinned black women who was a naturalized Jamaican. Her mother had been a maid for white families. When she was 10, she came to America. She gave nobody any excuses for not getting educated and held herself to high standards.  She taught me poverty was a circumstance; being educated was a choice.  I consider this woman my ‘twin’ separated at birth and it is unfortunate we are a few shades off in skin color or we could pass this way!

The other friend was an American/Kenyan.  She was born here to parents who were Kenyan and studied at Cornell University during the time the U.S. wanted to help educate people from Third World Countries.   She grew up in Kenya and came to the U.S. only for graduate school and was going back to Kenya, to improve Kenya.  What I learned from this young woman was that black Americans act in a way that is uncomfortable for black people from other parts of the world.  I learned this when a black man asked her for some change on Broadway in NYC and she said, “You need to get a job and earn your money” and I was upset with her statement. I asked her how she could be that way and that became one of the best discussions of my life in understanding race versus behavior.

I taught for Aspire Public Schools in Oakland, CA when the principal(s) decided to use Your Black Muslim Bakery and affiliated organizations as our security guards.  Other than buying great sweet potato pies at the bakery, I was from S. California so did not know the ‘local’ history.  What I knew for certain was the men who were our guards, who dressed in suits with bow ties, acted oddly and made me more uncomfortable than the neighborhood.  (By this point in my life I had taught middle school in Compton, CA and lived/worked in Harlem, NY, lived in the burbs of Los Angeles and regularly was ‘around during various riots.)  I could not understand what made me uncomfortable – many of the men were attractive, they were somewhat polite but in an abstract way, they did not have Qurans….. So, during a staff meeting, I addressed my concerns in an open forum.  Another staff member supported me. I was later counseled privately  by my principal that I needed to ‘value the community I served’ as in, “You, young lady are racist and can not admit it.”  I was shocked that he was insinuating I was racist, so I went home and contacted my friends of the ‘United Nations’ (what I call my group of everyone from everywhere) and asked them to help me understand what I did that was racist. I told them I was going to make an appointment to see a psychologist to start working on this.   The next day I made the appointment.  I went to counseling. My friends could not give me any pointers then nor now as to what was wrong with me and they really did not think I was racist.  My psychologist felt I was pretty balanced, open-minded, willing to think through issues and did not fall under the typical classification of racist. This does not mean I am perfect, it means I took the situation seriously as I find racism offensive.

Later, over about 10 months, I came to find out who/what The Black Muslim Bakery and subsidiaries was about.  In the 11th month, I learned they were part of the people responsible for murdering Chauncey Bailey. I realized what made me feel ‘ishy’.  I was not used to being around ex-cons.

The one thing my parents failed at was integrating me into a world where I would interact with cons/felons.   I was not too angry though – my dad actually taught classes at the State of CA Women’s Prison in Southern CA and talked about it, but always made it such that society had let these people down, not that they had done something wrong so how could I blame him?  He wanted me to understand it was up to me to shape my community, not that people were inherently bad (except for sociopaths, which was ‘organic’ brain disease).

I know what it means to be the hated/despised one as I have been to South Africa. Many of the white people there dislike Jews as much as they dislike black people.  When I was there, I was a bit scared due to the fact that almost every 7-11 equivalent openly sells neo-nazi propaganda magazines and it is nothing to see swastikas in the ‘ghetto’ and nice areas.  I understand hate as there are people right now running to lead my government in America who believe I am inherently bad because I believe in Buddhism, Judaism and Animism.

I hear elderly people say (parents, parents friends, people here in the bay area of all colors) they do not like when the youth is out and menacing.  It is awkward for the elderly to not feel uncomfortable when people run around with their hoodies up… they have something to hide?  Are we kind of living a bit of Clockwork Orange?  I am not old enough to be though of as elderly so I can only go by what I hear.  I do know that a ‘normal’ person feels at a minimum ‘awkward’ (if they are being honest with themselves) when they are in downtown Oakland, at night and see people with hoodies up, pants sagging, etc.  According to what I heard on Michael Krasney today (NPR) when he was talking with people from Castlemont High School in Oakland Unified SD, there are kids which are afraid of the people in their environment.

So, all of this being stated, when some one decides to play the race card(s) as has been done lately (Trayvon Martin), I want to hear what the other side is saying/thinking.  I did not say what the other side is saying or thinking is correct, I want to hear it so I can make a proper judgement call based on my experiences.

I encourage others to ‘hear out’ the other side in the form of what is being called ‘restorative justice’ and then be critical.   In order to address the problem, we really do need to know is it race or is it behavior.  Calling it ‘race’ makes it easier to deal with immediately but dampens the overall issue, clouds up judgement and prevents people from sorting through the layers.

In my opinion, we have more of a problem in this country based on people’s BEHAVIOR and self-respect than we do about color. Heck, we managed to elect a black President.

26 March 2012  Forum with Michael Krasney

Interview included:  Jabari Gray, James Taylor

And more has been revealed:

Particularly of interest is the fact the parents took out rights to trademarks involving their sons name…….

What happens when charter schools really can not do it on the same budget as public schools…..

Please note some things: (1) The blame is on the ‘adults’ (teachers) in this example and all the extra people Aspire required to suss out money (2) Aspire originally started out by stating they would STAY in CA….I guess they will be changing what they are really looking to do as a non-profit. Based on The Lion’s Aspiration from 2004 marketing materials, the ultimate goal was TO TIP CALIFORNIA. (3) Aspire found out that public schools (all the ones who just can not up and leave CA as the students are HERE) really are struggling with budgets.  Aspire PROMISED they could do better than any other public school in CA based on same finances, which is why principals were allowed to ‘manage’ their budget.  (4) It is almost impossible to believe the ‘need’ is more substantial in Nashville then Central California but apparently poverty is different(ly) funded in Tennessee.

Rosa Parks did something special in 1955. Most people would say it was something BIG.  In 1955, in my home state of Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus. It was small action that rippled far and wide. When she got on that bus that day, I’m sure she knew it would be important, but most people (maybe even her) didn’t realize how important.  What she did was HISTORIC, and when we look back at the times we’re in now at Aspire, we will say the same thing.  What may appear merely important, is BIG. And it is for all of us—especially the 12,000 students we serve together and the team around us every day.

We are expanding beyond California, and we’ll first go to a place where the need is deeper than most people can imagine.  Memphis has one of the highest concentrations of poverty and one of the lowest performing school systems in the country. The work we will do there will make another loud statement to everyone who cares about kids, our country, and the foundation that our public schools represent for the future. It will be as loud as the statement we’ve made in CA from Sacramento to LA, from Stockton to the Bay.  Our kids aren’t the issue.  Nor is it “our schools.” We, the adults, need to serve them better, and eliminate all of the obstacles that keep us from doing exactly that.

When I think about our work today, and the 12,000 lives in our care every minute, every day, I know that this action– going to Memphis—is bpth small and BIG.  Going to another state will make another loud statement about what we know is possible. It will ripple far and wide, much like the ripples that moved across the South and our country when a 42 year old Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus.  What started with a small action, moved to a boycott, and grew to be a BIG movement that literally moved our country.  I don’t pretend that our schools in Memphis will be as historic as that simple action on cold day in Montgomery in 1955—but it will be important. It is historic for our organization, and it is BIG…even though for some time it will feel small.

This decision to expand to Memphis is part of a much bigger, longer term process to take control of our future. It sets us on a new path; a path that is as focused as ever on our kids here at home, and a path where we will be—over time—less at the mercy of a state that’s lost its way and forgotten that our public schools dictate our future. I want to share a few of the reasons why this small step, is BIG and IMPORTANT in many ways for all of us…both in the near term, and the medium term.

In the near term:

– Keep the funding we have that pays for the support our schools and our students share: today these funders pay for about $5M-$6M per year in support of our schools and our kids. From counselors to college classes, from coaches to our Residency program, from our Godzilla team to our payroll team, they pay the bill that our schools can’t afford to pay. With this decision to open schools in a place where public funding is sufficient to pay for the support they require, we can serve more students and likely keep this private funding in place.

– Keep growth opportunities for our team: many, many people in our organization are interested in new professional growth opportunities, whether it’s a chance to be a mentor teacher, a coach, a lead teacher, a principal, or a role at the Home Office.  When we continue to grow, these opportunities are created.  The chance to continue to grow, and take on new and different things, grows with our organization.

In the medium/longer term, the expansion is just as BIG, and IMPORTANT:

– New ways to get help for California, based on new and national impact:  with growth in a national hot spot for education reform like Memphis, we enter into a new realm with our supporters.  The highest performing, large CMO that leads in so many ways (us), is now part of a team in a place where policy, funding, federal, and state policy are aligned to do incredible work for kids—redefining what it means when we say “serve all kids well” and actually make strides towards doing it.  Coupled with the incredibly deep need in Memphis, and the history of a place known for an assassination that shook our country, and decades upon decades of poverty, racism, and “forgotteness,” it is a historic confluence of events. With our presence there, we have the ability to ask (and expect to be heard) for new ways and new sources of HELP for California.  One important one is what I’ve called “paying down our mortgage” or at least refinancing it.  Because we are able to help create great schools where our impact will ripple far and wide, we have our best shot to get a bold request filled…refinance “our mortgage” for our schools, and help us take dollars we pay today in interest payments, and give it to our team.

– Attract more funders, because we’re doing work “nationally” in more than one state: the fact that we are present in another state puts us on the national radar in a compelling way that may not seem appropriate given our success and scale in California—but it is real.  This national level of work helps us attract new partners and funders.

– More oars rowing, not the same boat…but a bigger boat: Just like our long time strategy in California, when we open more schools we’re able to offer more and better support for everyone. Think about Godzilla, our IT team, and others. When we were just a few schools, we didn’t have these things—ask the 7 and 10 year Aspire veterans and they’ll tell you.  Until this budget crisis, serving more students well meant better support for every school, and over time it meant the support our schools received cost even less.  Growth over time, in Memphis, will make this true again.  Over time we can shift to raising money for what we want for our kids, not just the basic needs we know they (and we) have.  This will take time, but it will again be true.

So what does all this mean for pay and compensation, James? Plain and simple, it’s unclear.  But know this—I go to bed every night thinking about our team, our sacrifices, and our determination. And it makes me ever more determined to make progress.  This remains a top priority, and our commitment to 75% of every dollar and recovery going to compensation remains strong (the last 25% goes to rebuilding our reserves). Over the next few months, we’ll get more clarity on projected funding rates for this year (yes, we still don’t know), and for the next school year. As soon as we know what they are, we’ll know what they mean for compensation.

To close, I am incredibly proud of what Memphis represents for all of us and our kids in every Aspire school.  It is a small, IMPORTANT, and BIG thing…all at the same time.  Like Rosa Parks, we are sitting down in the front of the bus…and the ripples from this decision will be both direct and indirect for all us, and for our kids.  Wait and see.   Here’s to all of us, and the work we do every day in spite of the odds and the challenges.  We’re changing futures and life opportunities for thousands…together.

And together we can, and will continue to do exactly that.

James Wilcox

Updated 25 April 2012: