I tried to capture the complexities in this chart:
Political Difficulty: high school turnaround > turnaround middle > new start high school > turnaround elementary > new start middle > new start elementary
Programmatic Complexity: high school turnaround > turnaround middle > new start high school > turnaround elementary > new start middle > new start elementary
Human Capital Requirements: high school turnaround > turnaround middle > turnaround elementary > new start high school > new start middle > new start elementary
1. Turnaround high schools are extremely, extremely difficult. This is probably intuitively obvious, but it’s worth understanding how the complexities of politics, program, and human capital all work together to make the job so difficult. The work is very challenging due to the combination of deep historical and political traditions, specialized content, incredibly wide degree of student performance, and weaker talent pools for more advance subjects.
2. Elementary turnarounds should get easier with market presence: Elementary turnarounds require a lot of initial human capital, but this human capital is less scarce. Moreover, the programmatic work, while complicated, benefits from more student level performance clustering (compared to variation in high school). Given this, elementary turnarounds should get easier over time based on scale. Turnarounds should be increasingly feasible once an operator establishes a presence in a region and: (a) has existing campuses to pull leaders and teachers from and (b) a sound programmatic model. The lower political costs also should make these easier to pull off.
3. Investment and authorization: I’m skeptical that we should be pushing more operators to do high school turnarounds. I’m open to the idea that we should increasingly encourage established operators to do more elementary school turnarounds, especially in regions where they have existing human capital that can be deployed.
4. It’s all very difficult: Don’t let the size and placement of the new start elementary bubble lead you to think that I believe any of this is easy. Opening an excellent new elementary school is very difficult. I have incredible admiration for the leaders who take any of these projects on.