Category Archives: Corporate Reform

This is the Business Community’s Greatest Educational Mistake

Crain’s Chicago Business just put out a list of 5 Big Ideas for Chicago’s Troubled Schools.

While surely well intentioned, I thought the ideas were terrible.

Here are the five ideas they proposed in their five day series:

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To sum up: Crain’s thinks that Chicago Public School can be fixed through better management.

Their strategies focus on reorganizing the bureaucracy, developing leaders, and using data in more sophisticated ways.

I do not think that better management will lead to sustainable gains in student learning.

At best, better management will lead to modest improvements that are constantly at risk of being undermined via political instability.

I believe that structural change is a much better strategy for reform.

By structural change, I mean letting educators operate schools via non-profits, allowing families to choose amongst these schools, and ensuring that government regulates for equity and performance.

Evidence from New Orleans and urban charter schools across the country provide some evidence that this strategy can work. Though, admittedly, it’s not a slam dunk case by any stretch of the imagination.

Much remains to be proven.


I do find it odd that the business community thinks that government monopolies will run better if these bureaucracies simply adopt business best practices.

Given that these practices are not a secret, the business community needs to ask the question: why isn’t the government already implementing these practices?

The most likely answer is: structure.

The source of the business community’s error, I think, is that at heart they are organizational leaders and not policy makers. Their instincts are operational and not structural.

For the same reason corporate CEOs probably wouldn’t make good Fed Chairs, the business community seems to have a lot of weak ideas about educational policy.

All this being said, business communities are vitally important stakeholders for education reform, and the goal should be outreach, not rejection.

Perhaps, over time, business leaders will further realize that the success of business is not solely due to their own management genius; rather, it is the structure in which businesses operate that explains some of their impact.

Education policy leaders can surely learn much from the business community, but these lessons are probably best captured by sound analysis of industries and regulation and, on average, not by listening to business leaders themselves.

Corporate Reformers Make Their Demands: Integration, Wrap Around Services, Career Training

So far the corporate reforms in New Orleans have delivered significant student achievement gains.

A recent, rigorous study by Doug Harris noted:

 We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time… The effects are also large compared with other completely different strategies for school improvement, such as class-size reduction and intensive preschool.

As I wrote in a recent report, the reforms also radically increased equity.

It is well within reason to make the claim that New Orleans is both the fastest improving and most equitable urban district in the nation.

But corporate reformers aren’t satisfied.

In a recent op-ed, Ben Kleban, the CEO of New Orleans College Prep, wrote:

The evidence is clear — diversity in schools requires intentional design. So, I would propose a systemwide approach to manage the enrollment of all our schools — let’s make them all “diverse by design.”

We could allow all of our public schools, not just a small group, to add some form of admissions criteria — based on income level — for a subset of seats in entry grade levels, and allow that diversity to flow up one year at a time to the whole school.

In a recent interview in Education Week, Patrick Dobard, the head of the Recovery School District, noted the following:

I feel like the first 10 years has just been laying the foundation of getting good academic growth, and the foundation of schools solid. I think the next 10 to 15 years is literally around those areas, again, that are called like “wraparound services,” so what are the mental health interventions that we could put in place? Do we need more than school psychologists? Maybe we need psychiatrists, and really dig into some of the deep, emotional trauma….

Another big area of focus is around how do we create a more robust career and technical education component within our schools? A lot of our high schools right now are like college-focused in the “no-excuses” model, but we really need to start diversifying our portfolio, and our school leaders have embraced that.

The first phase of New Orleans reforms was an intense focus on student achievement.

The next phrase layered on an intense focus on equity.

The third phase may be very well be much more holistic in nature, with a focus on diversity, mental health, and careers.

Of course, one could make the argument that New Orleans educators should have focused on all three issue areas right from the beginning.


But reform is incredibly difficult. And trying to do to much can lead to nothing getting done.

Moreover, I think the order of operators is roughly right: achievement -> equity -> holistic reforms is a logical sequence in attempting to transform a dysfunctional educational system.

As for how to make the next phase of reform a reality, I’m not entirely sure. Integration is notoriously difficult to achieve. New Orleans social services have been chronically poor. And career training so often leads to lowered expectations.

But if any group of educators can figure out how to achieve broad scale integration, effective wrap around services, and high-quality career training, I’d bet on the corporate raiders of New Orleans.

Corporate Education Reform is Working


Some people use the phrase “corporate education reform” to slander reform strategies.

Many supporters of these reform strategies vigorously reject the corporate reform label.

Perhaps it’s time to embrace the truth of the the criticism as well as embrace the label.

My preferred reform strategy, which I call Relinquishment, could fairly be described as corporate reform; after all, it is:

1. Predicated on letting corporations operate schools (mostly non-profit corporations).

2. These corporations utilize the techniques of other successful corporations, including: a culture of high expectations, data usage, and rigorous feedback cycles.

3. These corporations are often funded by foundations which have been capitalized with the profits of other very successful corporations.

So, yes, the reform model: utilizes corporations, which adopt practices from successful corporation, and which receive philanthropy from the owners of other corporations.

Corporate reform? Fair enough.

So how is corporate reform working? CREDO just put out a market analysis of corporate reform in America’s major cities. Some takeaways below.

Corporations have Nearly Doubled Their Profits Over the Past Four Years

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In urban areas, corporations have gone from a .040 effect size in math to a .081 effect size, and in reading they have gone from a .033 effect size to .057 effect size.

If you average the math profits and reading profits and translate this into days of profit, profits have increased from 26.5 extra days of profit per year to 49.5 extra days of profit per year.

Urban corporations are now delivering over 3 months of extra profit per year compared to their non-corporate counterparts.

Corporations are Achieving the Greatest Profit Margin Off of Black Students in Poverty 

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Corporations made a lot of money off black students in poverty, delivering 59 days of extra profit in math and 44 days of extra profit in reading.

Profit margins were also high with black students, hispanic students living in poverty, and hispanic students who speak English as a second language.

Corporate Earnings were Particularly Strong in Newark, Boston, New Orleans, the Bay Area, Washington D.C., Denver, Detroit, Memphis, Nashville, and New York City

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These cities all saw strong earnings, leading analysts to believe both that the market size was bigger than previously understood, and that corporations can still achieve results even as their market share increases when compared to the non-corporate sector.

Unfortunately, corporations did struggle in some cities, such as Las Vegas, Forth Worth, and Fort Meyers. Due to their weak performance, many students, including those in poverty, are not learning as much as they could be.

In Sum

Corporate education reform is working. In cities across the country, corporations are providing months of additional learning to students in poverty.

Closing Note

My blog posts are usually not flippant in nature, mostly because of personal temperament, that fact that I’m not that funny, and the serious nature of the work.

But sometimes parody is the best form of communication.

But have no doubt that the stakes are high: too many children in this country don’t have access to the schools that they deserve, especially children living in poverty.

There is an increasing body of evidence that demonstrates that charter schools can positively change the lives of the students that they serve, especially poor children living in urban areas.

As I’ve said before, with this case, as with most cases, ignoring scientific evidence is going to harm those living in poverty more than others.

So next time someone throws out the phrase “corporate reformer,” understand what this person is really saying: we should stop expanding charter schools that work.

Or to put it in harsher terms: we should restrict poor children from gaining access to knowledge.

Am I corporate reformer?

Yes, I am.