Mike Feinberg at Reynoso graduation

Effective Schools in Underserved Communities

Imagine 30 autonomous, effective school organizations in a city’s underserved communities, each educating between 500 – 15,000 families, totaling over 100,000 children.  With such numbers, Houston or any city in our country would be well on its way to becoming the first major city in the US to be able to boast it has a system of effective schools to serve all children well.  And those numbers are not from a far-fetched dream; over the past 20 years, this is how KIPP has expanded across the country:  by starting autonomous and diverse legal entities and joining with other quality education organizations to prove the possible in communities where college and career preparation was not present.  While that growth has been impactful to so many children who indeed are now college and career ready, as we think about educating another generation of children and building on the prove-the-possible mantra we have created, we need an updated strategy to complement what has come before.

The dominant strategy in education reform has been to have a singular goal – college graduation – and create large scale organizations spanning multiple geographic locations with a relentless focus on that goal. We believe it is time to create a different, complementary growth strategy, one that has a diverse set of goals – college graduation, vocational and technical training, character development, rehabilitation, serving special needs students – and concentrated in specific geographic locations. While many of us were inspired by the idea of all children going to college, it is even more inspiring to consider multiple paths to productive participation in the American experiment of self-governance. That is the next frontier in education reform.

However, we have not forgotten the lessons we have learned from the past two decades of education reform. Most importantly, we have learned that a great school – not a great program or great central administrative function – is the unit of change.  Seeding a city with dozens of diverse and quality school options is how we take the next step to build upon the excellent work we have accomplished in the past 20 years.

The TX School Venture Fund’s mission is to increase the supply and diversity of great schools in communities where families want more options, thereby getting to the day when there is enough quality and diversity in school options so that communities truly can boast an effective system of schools for all children.

Why hasn’t this outcome already happened after 20 years of hard and productive work?  Starting a new school and successfully growing it to sustainability is a difficult task, even if the focus is just on academics and culture; it is a task that cannot be accomplished in any single political term or grant cycle, thus requiring a blend of urgency and patience.  The facility, business operations, and related funding challenges add even more difficulty, thus creating the current reality where parental demand for great schools (whether traditional district, magnet, charter, or private) far out-strips supply.  And while there are quality efforts in many areas, there are simply not enough school leaders who have knowledge of how to do it all:  start a school, start a business, secure an initial facility, grow with quality, finance a permanent facility, build a permanent facility, and repeat (if needed).  And where this work has happened well – like Houston –success has increased the desire and expectation of parents in those communities, making it impossible to keep up with the demand for more seats, as evidenced by the growing waitlists at excellent schools across the country.

TX School Venture Fund (TXSVF) serves as a catalyst to the creation of innovative and responsive schools, bringing our expertise in the entire cycle of school startup and replication: working with educators and groups on starting new schools, helping single-site schools start to grow, helping networks of schools continue to grow through replication with quality, advising schools and organizations as they compete for valuable human, financial, and PR resources, providing leadership coaching and mentorship, and working to improve the policy environment to set everyone up for success.