Expanding the Supply of High-Quality Public Schools

Susan Colby, The Bridgespan Group
Kim Smith, NewSchools Venture Fund
Jim Shelton, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
September 2005

The buzz phrase is "taking it to scale." The question behind it is straightforward: "How do reform leaders grow the number of high-performing public schools serving children?" This short paper describes the school-development landscape so that potential funders and advocates might better understand the models currently used to start or replicate schools. Often the schools referred to are charters, though not always. The authors group the organizational models into categories, depending upon whether their operators exhibit "tight" or "loose" control over each school's design, and whether they exert tight or loose management controls. The key conclusion the report reaches is that the tighter the management that suppliers exercise over the schools being replicated (e.g. an Education Management Organization such as Edison Schools), the better the results - i.e., a greater chance of creating a high-quality school. But there's a downside. It also leads to slower, more costly execution. Loose control (such as an "association" or "design team" model would practice) is faster but also more apt to yield wide variations in quality. The authors add helpful descriptions of BayCES, KIPP, and Aspire Schools, among others, to illustrate their categories and make their points. It's an interesting paper, from three organizations that can speak with authority on this topic, and it brings some analytic thinking to a tricky subject. You can find it online here.

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