Who Will Lead the Suburban Charter School Network Movement?


I grew up in Valparaiso, IN. It’s a town of about 30,000 people that’s located 55 miles outside of Chicago.

The public schools I attended were decent but not exceptional. The quality of the schools paled into comparison to the best charter schools I visit today. I would have benefited from increased choice and quality in public schooling in my town. The same is probably true for the millions of students who currently attend public schools in the suburbs.


Right now, the best charter schools are often launched and scaled in cities. CREDO data shows that urban charters are the highest performing part of the sector.

What would it take in order for this to change? What would it take for there to be 20-30 national class CMOs serving suburban students?

I’m not sure, but in considering charter growth, I often think about the entrepreneur profile of a given network.

To date, the high-performing urban charter movement has largely been driven by mission driven entrepreneurs who are drawn to serving students in poverty.

My guess is that the entrepreneurial profile will look different in the suburbs:

1. For-profit Entrepreneurs

While mission driven entrepreneurs might be more compelled to work with students in poverty, for-profit entrepreneurs might simply be drawn to a market opportunity. Chains such as Sylvan Learning provide some insight into how its possible to scale in suburban environments.

2. School Could be So Much Better Entrepreneurs 

Organizations such as Alt School, Acton Academy, and Basis seem to be born out of the recognition that schools that serve middle and upper class children can be significantly improved.

The entrepreneurs launching these schools seem to be driven more by building world class, innovative educational institutions than by serving students in poverty.


Foundations and non-profit venture funds should think about how to further support and incentivize high-quality entrepreneurs that fit into these profiles.


My main worry is that the regulatory hurdles to scaling in the suburbs will be very difficult to overcome. Each suburban public school district is a fiefdom of its own, and given the small size of many of these districts, even one new charter school could severely impact a district’s budget.

As such, perhaps vouchers will be ultimately be a more politically viable option for school choice in the suburbs. Given the better off student population (less worries of creaming), the educational culture of suburbs (private schools are already accepted), and I’m guessing voting patterns that are more conservative than big cities – vouchers could be the way forward.

So maybe the title of this post is asking the wrong question.

Rather, perhaps we should be asking: what political entrepreneurs will scale vouchers across suburban communities?

4 thoughts on “Who Will Lead the Suburban Charter School Network Movement?

    1. nkingsl

      Thx for type-o support :)

      Sound great. Seems like NSVF could be well situated to accelerate some of this entrepreneurial work.

  1. Mike G

    Clay Christensen’s disruption starts with: serve the people the market doesn’t want to serve. E.g., new supplies in Japan made started by trying to make the low-end steel, doing it better than Pittsburgh. US Steel shrugged – we care about the customers that like the high-end stuff.

    Urban charters don’t disrupt by that definition. We serve arguably the same, arguably slightly better off or a little worse off kids.

    I’ve always wanted to be part of a suburban CMO that specifically said: “We want to serve regular ed kids who are in the low reading groups in elementary school, or who once report cards start getting issued, are the C students; we can turn that around.” Bring Collegiate Academy caliber excellence to those kids (and watch them often ‘lap’ the regular district kids). That, I think, could be disruptive. Because then parents of ‘B’ students start asking – hmm….maybe I want that rigor for my kid. And in the end, as in Japanese steel, the ‘A’ students come calling too….


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