2013 Founder’s Letter

Founder's Letters

It’s time for me to make a progress report on the activities of TeamCFA.  I concluded my last report by stating that I should cite both the good and the bad news.  Therefore, I will divide this report into two parts:

  1. A progress report on the last 18 months
  2. An older, hopefully wiser look at what we should do next

A Progress Report:

I begin by restating our original Mission:

“TeamCFA supports the development of academically rigorous, financially sustainable, TeamCFA charter schools by  employing proven academic, business and governance practices and leveraging the free market to support the broader school movement.”

Followed by a brief summary of my previous Founder’s Letter~2012:

  1. Support three constituencies: the kids, the deserving teachers, and the taxpayers.
  2. Skepticism that most of the additional dollars directed to education go to other than these three constituencies. The tendency is for philanthropic money to drift from its original intended purpose. I call this mission creep.
  3. The need for a content-rich core curriculum that produces interested, knowledgeable, and productive American citizens. These emerging citizens should be prepared to engage in meaningful lives that utilize the full potential of their education.
  4. Set readily understandable measurable standards for our students, our teachers, our administrators, our local boards and ourselves.  Contract with all parties and with the taxpayers to meet those standards. These contracts must be binding enough to ensure a business-like, professional adherence to their terms. On the other hand, they must be flexible enough to be reasonably terminated.      

The TeamCFA side of the contracts will be based on the premise that the services offered by TeamCFA will be below market costs to our Affiliate schools. The main source of funds to support this below-market concept is the utilization of philanthropic funds to generate both capital and operating costs. Each CFA will be expected to participate on their side of the contract with a similar willingness to contribute to the “ TEAM”. One main expectation of each CFA  is to allow two TeamCFA board reps on each local board. These reps , selected because of their commitment to our TeamCFA concepts, serve as ambassadors between TeamCFA and each CFA.

Another way of describing this business-like, professional arrangement is to label it —as we used to refer to this kind of deal in Montana— a “’handshake” deal.  A “handshake” is in many ways more binding than a contract. A binding together of the interests of each CFA school with the interests of TeamCFA is what we hope to achieve. That is the responsibility of the TeamCFA Board rep ambassadors to preserve... and TeamCFA and each individual CFA school should strive to maintain this handshake relationship.

This “handshake” also preserves the donor intent that I am intending to protect. In my mind, it is very analogous to the intent of the founding fathers as they attempted to define what it means to be an American. They were attempting to bind together each citizen in a “handshake” deal with a limited government.

The recognition that the key to binding each CFA into the TeamCFA concept is the ability of each of our “handshake”  ambassadors to make the relationship work, and finally recognizing that even if the relationship fails, we have both succeeded in creating a new alternative charter school for parents—as the premise of both parties is to serve our students.

We have reached an agreement with 14 schools since we initiated the concept of TeamCFA. We have had to wrestle with a few difficult situations which have been resolved, and we continue to wrestle with a couple of other difficult situations. But we are not deterred from our mission, and as of the date of this letter, in only two cases have we separated. Both of these schools, while no longer affiliated with TeamCFA, are still serving kids better than their local public school competitors. The process of this 14-school, 7-year project has considerably sharpened us.

Organizationally, we have added new key TeamCFA board members, defined limits on their terms, and targeted disciplines from which we hope to further expand our board. We have attracted outside funding of $750,000. We have also recruited two key individuals to lead our efforts:

Rob Kremer, our TeamCFA Executive Director, will lead our 10 Operating Committee group of service disciplines to the 3-region, 50-school objective. These committees, coupled with our in-house Fellows program for developing new School Directors, will supply many of the key people for the growth of TeamCFA. Other key sources of people needed for growth come from the local boards and staffs of the CFAs.

Stuart Jolly has been named Executive Director of Education Freedom Alliance. This will be the legislative and political arm of our school choice efforts, Stuart is in the process of organizing a 501c4, a budget, and an operational plan. The plan, in general will concentrate on state and local efforts.

Mission Creep

There is always a risk of corrupting my original intent by not facing the problems of meeting and overcoming difficulties we encounter.  A common way of not facing difficulties is to redefine the mission to some grander vision. That is what is known as mission creep. I propose instead to tighten up some definitions. You will have to decide if that is in fact a rationalization for mission creep. The first step is to propose that we accept the recommendation of the Educational Technology Committee to utilize a blended learning approach. This will both enhance our academic program and improve our cost structure.

To give you a better insight into my thinking, let me suggest an example of mission creep that I have considered that deals with technology. This would have changed the mission to:

“Provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.”

This is, in fact the mission statement for the Khan Academy.

According to his recent book, A One-World Schoolhouse the Khan Academy was delivering 6,000 different lessons online at the rate of 6 million per month in mid 2012. That is impressive, as is his whole concept. If we had chosen to change our mission to that mission, it would definitely be mission creep for TeamCFA.

Do the 6,000 lessons delivered by Khan Academy make our fourth graders read better, make our eighth graders better Americans, make our high school graduates more career and college ready?

While we may well find a way to take advantage of 6,000 free lesson plans,  or we may find a way to understand and adopt one or more  “Core Standards”.  But we already have a plan.  Let me remind you what it is, and also what it can become.

And let’s all make a “ handshake” deal to work as a committed group of team players to make as many All-Americans as we possibly can. And let’s put some numbers to it. If we expect our students, teachers, school directors and board members to measure their progress, so should we set objectives for TeamCFA:

  1. Add 3-5 schools per year to the network.  This would take us to 50 schools in  7–13 years. So let’s set a target of 50 schools by 2023.
  2. Let’s say we want to give each CFA three years to be in top 20% academically in their peer group.
  3. According to our Business Committee, the TeamCFA nine-school average total cost per student is $7,500 per year, including facilities capital costs. Let’s set a goal of reducing our annual cost per student by 5% per year. Let’s work in our states to get them to write and implement similar cost reductions by reducing the regulatory burden. In this way we are cooperatively working to benefit the taxpayer. 
  4. A short-term objective is for our Business Committee, in cooperation with our schools to develop a clearly written outline of specific actions that can be taken in our growth concept to begin both teacher pay increase and cost reductions. Many of the concepts can be implemented more effectively in new CFAs as they are added to our growth program. 
  5. We shouldn’t limit our vision to one 50-school region. As we learn how to efficiently grow a network of schools, we might find opportunities with other partners to replicate our program in other states.
  6. A longer term goal is to be measuring our progress by market share nationally in 5 years.

John D. 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: July 23, 2013

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