Predicting CMO Size

I often think about how CMO sizes will evolve over time. I’ve written about it before but this exchange  between Marc Andreessen and Robin Hanson has me thinking about the issue again.

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One could imagine the same thing happening with charter school organizations: the most effective scale while boutique organizations specialize.

I’m unsure if this pattern will occur with CMOs. If it doesn’t occur, or it occurs at a lesser level, I expect it will be for these reasons:

1. Schools are everywhere.

Economic activity concentrates in cities; so does talent. And these relationships are not simply proportional to population; the effect is more than that. Economic activity and top talent are not geographically distributed equally by population.

This concentration of economic activity and talent allows for private sector firms to get high market share while only operating in major cities.

The number of schools in a location, on the other hand, is directly proportional to the population.

2. Non-profit incentives limit scale.

For-profit companies have a direct financial incentive to go where the customers are.

Non-profit companies have different incentives. These incentives can be very powerful, and many non-profit organizations have scaled despite large financial incentives; but my guess is that the lack of profit incentive, on average, reduces firm size.

3. Regulatory hurdles abound. 

Opening schools across different states carries a high regulatory burden. Unlike most for-profit organizations, a CMO is required to go through a strict vetting process to enter the state, as well as for each subsequent schools it opens.


Again, I’m not sure how the CMO market will unfold. We’re just starting to see numerous CMOs get above 10,000 children, so it’s hard to draw strong conclusions from the data.

But if do we see less scale in the CMO sector, the following may become greater needs:

1) Incubators: If the charter sector becomes dominated by small to mid-size CMOs, then we’ll need a lot of CMOs. This will require a lot of incubation.

2) Service Providers: Service providers can sometimes be easier to scale than charter organizations because service organizations require less frontline staff. Organizations such as Teach For America, Relay Graduate School of Education, and the Charter School Acclerator may play significant roles.

This is an issue that I will be tracking.

5 thoughts on “Predicting CMO Size

  1. Pam Kingsley

    Just a word of thanks for all the work you’re doing on behalf of equitable public education.
    In addition to charter incubators, are you aware of any localized constructs that provide comprehensive professional development services to charters like “board development,” “principal and teacher leadership,” “legislative compliance,” “parent and community involvement”?

  2. heidi landers

    The unions are now attempting to unionize the CMOs. (See what’s happening with the Alliance in L.A.) That may have a cooling effect on future CMOs if they are successful.

  3. Spencer Dickinson

    Another important consideration here is that though families/consumers behave like private sector consumers in that they have choices, they differ in that they don’t have the ability to control the amount they spend – they just bring their per student funding which they have no ability to control. In a traditional marketplace, the scale players offer non-differentiated products to typical consumers at a low price and the bespoke guys get a premium to compensate them for the additional cost of customizing a product to a consumer who is willing to pay for something more unique. Boutique offerings will only exist to the extent they can exists on the same cost platform as the scale guys (or attract philanthropic capital). This will likely result in fewer boutique offerings (and larger scale players) than observation of markets for other services would lead you to expect.


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