Prove Your Worth, Include College in Plans Educators Toldback

by Judith E. Katz, On Target Strategies

As a new board member with a young charter organization, I was eager to attend the Youth and Education Knowledge Session at the Social Impact Exchange Conference on Scaling. I wanted to understand what the government and three key education-reform investors would look for as we scaled our program.

All the panelists wanted organizations to demonstrate, validate, and codify their achievements. In other words, they want proof that we have a breakthrough solution and that we can create a platform to support a network or networks.

Steve Patrick from the Gates Foundation went further, suggesting that investors were looking for programs that already knew how to leverage currently available, scalable systems. He cited the Gateway to Success program of the Great Oaks organization, which helps students enter and complete community college. The Gates Foundation won’t invest in a single system. It wants to see a pathway to success.

Jim Peyser of NewSchools Venture Fund advised schools to walk before running, despite funders’ impatience. Don’t grow before you’re ready; be mindful and careful of the tradeoffs you are making when you expand. And Chuck Harris of SeaChange Capital Partners added, “Before you create the wheel, learn from others.

Steve also made the point that educational organizations should be concerned about college completion. We need to look at under-educated adults if we are to transform lives and bolster our economy, he said.

Despite the Race to the Top and I 3 money, the key advice from Kwasi Asari of the US Department of Education was don’t look to the government to begin to scale.

A number of panelists pointed out that there is enough money in the system to transform public education if the money were redeployed correctly. Failing schools are not underfunded, they are under led. Schools and school systems need to rethink how and why they spend their money.

For complete coverage of the 2010 inaugural Social Impact Exchange Conference: Taking Successful Innovation to Scale, go to Ventureneer SIEX10.