The goal of the Reimagine School Systems (RSS) Fund is to significantly and rapidly increase the number of high-quality schools (charter and district schools) serving low-income students by funding, advising, and building powerful individual organizations and practitioner networks on both the demand and supply side of systems change.
We deliberately use the term ‘actionable demand’ because there is widespread ‘latent demand’ for great schools in all communities, regardless of socioeconomic makeup. All communities care equally about the education and future of their children. But caring is not the same as power.
Most families in underserved communities have neither the economic power to move to better school systems, nor do they realize they have political power to influence change in the local school systems failing them. So, to be direct, creating ‘actionable demand’ is about power: Influencing or appropriating power and using it effectively to drive enduring change and equity in education systems.
Specifically, parent power (“parent” being shorthand for any family member or guardian who cares for children).
Because of the fragmented, local nature of education in America, the specific political and policy barriers preventing systems change are often unique to any district or state. Yet, as a sector, we have tended to look for a simple universal ‘recipe’ – which has sometimes led to failure because reformers were fighting the wrong fight or with the wrong strategy.
We believe that in order to succeed, our sector needs to build its skills across a broad and versatile pragmatic playbook that can be customized to specific local contexts, such as electoral politics, lobbying, and litigation. At the core of this playbook are empowered local parents who serve as agents of change for their communities. Even within the parent empowerment space, there is a broad continuum of strategies we need to support and scale (see graphic), including the sector’s ability to:
- Inform parents, and
- Organize parents, so that
- Parents can Exercise their power to drive change
Right now, we are a long way from having strong, local parent-driven organizations across the national map that are in a position to effectively employ these strategies. But we can change that.
Where actionable demand is created, we also need to be able to support the rapid creation of an ample supply of high-quality school operators. If a sufficient supply of excellent schools can’t materialize successfully, political support for bold change erodes. Further, the failure of a systemic change effort in one geography hands ammunition to skeptics of change in other geographies. We believe the RSS Fund can strengthen the supply side by investing in, advising, and building practitioner networks in three areas:
1) Digital Open Educational Resource (OER) sharing
While there is no shortage in the quantity of resources available to educators (free or otherwise), quantity is not quality. We intend to support school operators and other nonprofits who can codify what works in high-performing schools and make this content easily accessible and adoptable as free open educational resources for all schools – charter, district, etc. These resources would be designed to be versatile in order to meet the needs of many educators: a teacher trying to solve the ‘Sunday night problem’ of what to teach on Monday; a school leader’s ‘year one problem’ of how to conduct high-quality professional development on instructional leadership for new teachers; and/or a central office’s ‘middle school problem’ of how to design a 21st century middle-school with the corresponding curriculum, assessments, culture, schedule, programming, operations, etc.
In addition to the direct impact of sharing this content, we would also work with these nonprofits to capture and share their lessons about effective OER creation and sharing so that other education organizations can rapidly develop and implement their own OER strategies.
2) Transformational school operators piloting innovative new models, with some emphasis on those building whole-school ‘restart’ models to deploy in existing failing schools.
We believe investing in whole-school restart operators is important because we would expect that in some districts, creating the actionable demand for change might come with pressure – political, community and/or financial – for whole-school transformation (in contrast to just starting a new school at one grade per year). However, we do not believe all school operators should adopt whole-school restart models, and this is not the only school operator model we would seek to support.
3) School operators seeking to significantly build their skills in engaging on the demand side, and in particular developing relationships with empowered parents who can then drive an education reform agenda.