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2011 Founder’s Letter

Founder's Letters

Founder's Philosophy

The Mission of this organization is to support the development of academically 
rigorous, financially sustainable charter schools by employing proven academic, 
business, and governance practices and leveraging the free market to support the 
broader school choice movement.

I am writing this letter, and I hope subsequent annual letters for a number of reasons. The primary one is to report the progress made annually in TeamCFA’s quest to carry 
out its mission of educating kids in the United States to be productive American 
citizens. The video below is my best attempt to summarize, in video 
form, our academic mission.

Secondarily, the TeamCFA
 Operating Foundation, unlike its predecessor, the Challenge Foundation, is not to
 sunset at a specific time. That is a necessary, but risky, condition that goes against 
all of my instincts. Too often, well-intentioned charitable efforts of other founders 
have fallen into the hands of staff who have a tendency to pursue their own interests.
This letter, along with some other steps that I am taking, is my attempt to preserve
 my original intent in funding both of the aforenamed foundations. Requesting an
annual letter that reviews each year’s activities versus this and even earlier original 
statements of intent may be helpful in keeping succeeding TeamCFA leaders on the 
intended course.

Yet another reason for this letter is to clearly express my belief that the correct place 
to manage each K–12 school is at the closest level possible to local control. While it
 may be more equitable to fund local schools at district, county, state, or even federal 
levels, that in no way means that the schools should be controlled by those remotely 
located funders. The remotely located funders usually insist their funds are needed 
to bring the low-tax base localities up to some perceived “equitable” level of funding. They also always insist that their funds come with strings attached that have very little
 to do with equity. That is, unless you happen to believe there is any evidence at all
 that spending more and more government dollars has shown any positive academic 
benefits. All kinds of evidence exists that those extra dollars go to the adults in the
 educational system, not to the benefit of the students.

The TeamCFA idea of local control is to see each K–8 school as no more than 670–680 
students, which amounts to nine grade levels of 75–80 students each. We believe that by the 8th grade, utilizing the Core Knowledge curriculum, we have developed a 
level of understanding of American Citizenship that surpasses that of the majority 
of most current college graduates. (Click here to take sample U.S. citizenship quiz.) By 
complimenting that with a 450–500 student high school program built along the needs
 and wishes of each local community, we are producing not only American citizens, but 
productive American citizens.

It is the objective of TeamCFA to supply to each of these locally controlled schools all of the oversight, teacher, board, and business training that they need and want. We do this by asking for an ongoing minority position on each board, and a system of making both capital and operating voluntary loans. We try very hard to provide goods and services and a community of value that makes each school want to continue its participation in the TeamCFA network. Upon repayment of all loans, each CFA is free to leave the network at any time. Some of the loans are converted to grants under mutually agreed conditions. It is our concept that this can all be done at a lower cost to the taxpayer than is currently being spent, and without the controls normally sought by the different levels of government.

Our program serves three constituencies:

  1. Students
  2. Deserving Teachers
  3. Taxpayers

As long as we approach our issues with these interests in mind, who can possibly disagree with our program? Unfortunately, I have to conclude that it is almost always groups of adults who are willing to penalize one or more of our constituencies to serve other interests. Some of these interests are teacher’s salaries, benefits, and job security (without regard to the quality of the teaching), political issues (union, religion, income redistribution, immigration policies, minority rights, curriculum design, etc), and just pure partisan politics (which is the American way). As union leader, Albert Shanker was reported to famously have said, “When the children start paying union dues, I will start representing the children”. He is also reported to have said, ”It is as much the duty of the union to preserve public education as it is to negotiate a good contract.”

Also from Albert Shanker:
—“[A] lot of people who have been hired as teachers are basically not competent.”
—“Public schools played a big role in holding our nation together. They brought together children of different races, languages, religions, and cultures and gave them a common language and a sense of common purpose. We have not outgrown our need for this, far from it.”

My point here is to say that the union that Shanker led, with all of his thoughtful insights, has aggressively supported incompetent teachers. The proof of this is the infamous “rubber rooms” in New York City. The union contract makes it so difficult to remove incompetent teachers, that the school district formed these “rubber rooms” to get the incompetent teachers out of the classroom. This may not just be a case of our constituencies not being well served, but an excellent example of founder intent being distorted.

The Organization

That leads me to discuss the organization of our new TeamCFA Operating Foundation. The Organization Chart is publicly posted on the TeamCFA website. At the end of 2011 the Foundation Board consisted of three voting members and me as a non-voting advisor. We have a non-voting National Program Director keeping us organized. That system evolved over a 2-year period as we were defining ourselves. The actual heavy lifting is done by our nine functional Operating Committees. The Board and Committees are supplemented by a 6-person non-voting Advisory Board. The Board, Committees, and Advisory Board are composed of a blend of Bryan family members, Challenge Foundation participants, and CFA staff, local CFA board members, and early advocates of our program. This organization was designed by me, and I take full responsibility for that. It is patterned after my business experience of building teams of knowledgeable, committed people working together on predefined and agreed measurable goals.

It is intended to accomplish the following:

  1. To inculcate my belief in the libertarian, free market, early American Founder’s principles into both the TeamCFA Operating Foundation and into the individual CFAs.
  2. To include as many opportunities as possible for the people who buy into our program to be a part of the future development of the program.
  3. To began the succession plan for me and for the TeamCFA board and its committees.
  4. To use the TeamCFA monthly on-line board meetings as a model way for each local board to conduct their meetings. Use of the committees to hold meetings to no more than 90 minutes while still allowing public access and appropriate amounts of interchange with the board. Use of website to promptly post actions of the boards. All of this is also an attempt to draw in more participation on the part of CFA staffs, parents, and local community members.
  5. The more people we draw, both on board meetings and from the community, the more clearly we bring a healthy competition to local public school systems and to taxpayers and politicians.
  6. The more this process is successful, the more likely we preserve founder intent. Success should be defined as airing both our good and our bad news.

Looking Ahead to 2012

We have just initiated a fund raising plan, not only to raise a larger capital fund but to involve groups into our planning process who we believe can broaden our perspective for the growth plan we are now embarked upon. In particular, they can broaden both our insights and our contacts for possible new TeamCFA Board, Committee and CFA staff and board positions. The additional capital will enable us to increase the rate of growth of our program.

We will be finalizing our procedures for selecting and vetting additional schools,and defining the Affiliate Contract we sign with each CFA, We will be working with the Academic and Business Committees to build a TeamCFA model for recognizing and compensating the higher performing people, particularly our teachers. Hopefully individual CFAs will suggest even better ways of meeting our objective of better recognition and compensation for our “deserving” teachers.

We also will be working hard with our Technology Committee to both improve our cost structure across the network and enhance the quality of our program. We will finalize the agreement between the Challenge Foundation and the TeamCFA Foundation recognizing the Challenge Foundation’s obligation to match funds raised from third parties.

We hope to begin to meet our broader objective of more choices for parents in selecting a school for their children. We think this can be most successfully accomplished by building local community backing of TeamCFA charter schools, one school at a time. By concentrating these schools in targeted regions, the schools can not only support each other, but they bring effective competition to the public schools in these regions.

John Bryan

The information, views and opinions expressed in these Founder's Letters belong to the author in his private capacity and are not necessarily reflective of the official policy or position of TeamCFA Foundation, its Board of Directors, employees, affiliated schools or volunteers.

Posted: December 15, 2011

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