The Changing City: Rewriting the Playbook on K-12 Improvement
Session Recap: Brown's Legacy: The Future of Equity, Excellence, and Educational Opportunity
- Pitt Hyde, Trustee, Hyde Family Foundation
- Cheryl Brown Henderson, Founding President, Brown Foundation
- Virginia Walden Ford, Founder, Arkansas Parent Network
- Kenneth Campbell, Executive Director, IDEA Public Schools: Southern Louisiana (moderator)
- Terri Lee Freeman, President, National Civil Rights Museum (introduction)
“You can kill the dreamer, but the dream goes on.”
At the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, an audience of donors packed an auditorium to hear from those who lived through school segregation and the enduring legacy of the American Civil Rights Movement on today’s education system.
Ken Campbell, longtime civil rights advocate and now a regional director of IDEA Public Schools, moderated a discussion with Cheryl Brown Henderson of the Brown Foundation, local philanthropist Pitt Hyde, and Virginia Walden Ford of the Arkansas Parent Network.
“I think we find ourselves in a very interesting place in America. Questions and debates about race, about class, about equity, about social justice, are at the forefront,” said Campbell to open the conversation.
“Education should be the place and schools should be the place where right now our kids are learning to disagree without being disagreeable,” he added.
Henderson discussed the misconceptions that have long surrounded Brown v. Board of Education, and the real story behind her father’s involvement (Dr. Oliver Brown) and the involvement of countless plaintiffs nationwide who pushed against forced segregation. Despite her father being listed as the plaintiff once the case made it to the Supreme Court, there were many plaintiffs and attorneys nationwide who helped make a SCOTUS case possible that addressed forced segregation.
“[Many think] think Brown v. Board was a wrinkle in time, when in fact it was more than a century in the making,” said Henderson.
Ford, who along with Henderson lived through the subsequent integration process, described her initial hesitation in attending Little Rock Central High School, and the racial bullying that she and her black classmates had to endure upon integrating with white students.
“We learned not to fight back and just take it, and it built our strength and backbone,” said Ford, speaking of the racial slurs hurled at her on a regular basis.
Pitt Hyde recalled Dr. King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel and its devastating impact on Memphis as a city from which the community never fully recovered.
“Memphis up to that point was the largest city in the state, the fastest-growing and [MLK’s assassination and aftermath] just devastated our economy,” said Hyde.
He added that as a grocery store manager with a large market share in Memphis, he inadvertently got the opportunity to build relationships with civil rights leaders in Memphis following Dr. King’s assassination due to their tendency to organize picket lines outside grocery stores.
Prior to the establishment of the National Civil Rights Museum, the site of the Lorriane Motel had stood vacant for 25 years. African-American leaders in the city secured public funds before approaching private donors such as Hyde to facilitate the Museum’s construction. Since then, the Museum’s leadership has since established the Freedom Awards to honor civil rights leaders around the world.
“We wanted to take this tragic site and turn it into something positive that recognized the heroes and heroines of the Civil Rights Movement,” he said.
The conversation pivoted to the present, and the panelists’ view of issues ranging from narrowing the achievement gap, supporting teachers, and parental choice.
Ford spoke to her adamant support for all forms of parental choice and early involvement as a parent advocate in securing the passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Program in the District of Columbia. Henderson echoed Ford’s sentiment, stressing the need to move past political squabbles and encouraging the same, euphemistic dialogue that has persisted when talking about the achievement gap and racial disparity. Donors can play an integral role by supporting proven practices that strengthen the teacher’s ability to boost proficiency and manage a classroom.
Hyde discussed how he became involved with K-12 philanthropy upon realizing the abysmal lack of proficiency among students in Tennessee, calling access to a quality education, “a fundamental civil right.”
“These low-income kids were being assigned to their neighborhood school that had been failing for 30 and 40 years…it’s criminal,” said Hyde. “We tried to work with the system but the system was all about jobs, it wasn’t about kids.”
“A liberal democracy cannot thrive with a 20-30 percent permanent underclass,” he said.
Session Recap: The Changing City: Rewriting the Playbook on K-12 Improvement
- Chris Barbic, Senior Education Fellow, Laura and John Arnold Foundation
- Mark Gleason, Executive Director, Philadelphia School Partnership
- Mary Seawell, Senior Vice President for Education, Gates Family Foundation
- Romy Drucker, Co-founder and CEO, The 74 Million (moderator)
How can donors at the citywide level go about creating a system of great schools and create the necessary structures to carry out that vision?
Romy Drucker of the 74 moderated a discussion between Chris Barbic of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Mark Gleason of the Philadelphia School Partnership, and Mary Seawell of the Gates Family Foundation. The panel represented a national foundation dedicated to the portfolio strategy, a quarterback organization in Philadelphia, and a locally-committed Denver foundation, respectively.
Drucker set the table by introducing terms such as “portfolio” and “quarterback” and “innovation zones” and how these terms change functionality dependent on a city’s unique set of educational circumstances.
Barbic opened his remarks on his work as superintendent of the Achievement School District and the redefined role of state government in helping turn around chronically-failing schools.
“The state’s role was not to just give more resources or give more time or review improvement plans or even just to remove a principal or half the staff but that there needed to be a governance change in how the school operated or for there to be true intervention in the school,” he said.
“We’ve created a system that authorizes good operators, pushes resources out to those operators, and then holds them accountable for results,” said Barbic on the relationship between the ASD central office and schools within ASD’s portfolio.
When it comes to Philadelphia, there are a unique set of circumstances, both political and otherwise, that govern how donors can introduce new school models using a portfolio strategy. Philly-based funders have really taken the initiative in advancing a portfolio approach to improving school conditions, and have experienced a lack of political support from elected officials at the state and municipal levels. Currently, the majority of Philadelphia students at all grade levels are choosing the school that’s right for them.
“Our funders have really bought into the notion that if we pool together our time and our money and our efforts, we can influence the larger ecosystem,” said Gleason.
“Empowering families to make choices about what the best fit for them is has become central to the way Philly does education,” he added.
Contrasted with Philly, Denver has been a far more stable and collaborative environment with the local district taking lead on new governance arrangements with charters and the creation of the Innovation Zone. Seawell spoke to the donor role of creating a quarterback organization that united Denver-based donors.
“We want to give grants but we also want to use that expertise for initiated work and one of those big initiated projects was creating a quarterback organization or an organization that could really bring all the funders together and bring local and national dollars for a clear way to support the work in Denver,” said Seawell.
For a city to adopt a portfolio model, a number of conditions need to be in place, including high-quality school operators, adequate per-pupil funding, and as Barbic put it, “an active philanthropic community” and an “active coalition” of community organizations and grassroots that shows buy-in.
Gleason spoke particularly to the per-pupil funding piece and how Philly’s fiscal troubles have adversely affected the city’s appetite for reform-based solutions such as charter schools. By contrast, Seawell said that because Denver already had an established ecosystem of collaboration, few initially saw the value in creating a unifying quarterback organization.
Barbic stressed the importance of “strategic consistency” at the citywide level given the turnover and human capital volatility some urban districts experience, and determining the entity that is going to set that vision for long-term improvement and guidance.
“Someone has to set the citywide vision and the question is that the district or some [other] org?” said Barbic.
The panel segued into a number of other themes regarding the portfolio model, including holding schools accountable regardless of governance, creating a governance structure at the district level that may not necessarily exist, and having the patience to implement a long-term vision.
Session Recap: How Locally-Driven Funders Created a Unified Vision for Kids in Memphis
- Barbara Hyde, CEO, Hyde Family Foundation
- Kevin Hall, President & CEO, Charter School Growth Fund (interviewer)
In the closing session of the National Forum on K-12 Philanthropy, Kevin Hall, president and CEO of the Charter School Growth Fund, led a discussion with Barbara Hyde, the CEO of the Hyde Family Foundation, about Memphis' multifaceted approach to spurring education transformation, including making the city into a destination for K-12 talent.
“For [Pitt and I], we began to think about how we could be more proactive in our giving and less of a traditional grantmaking foundation,” said Hyde when discussing the early stages of their involvement in K-12 philanthropy.
The Hydes identified a need to make “big bets” that would spur transformation in Memphis because they were concerned about losing future generations of children to poor education. They looked to school choice and providing new governance models as avenues that could truly “move the needle.” They also examined the need for improving talent development as well as shaping policy through advocacy with elected officials.
“We could give 20 times the money we had and not move the needle if the political obstacles and the policies and the way government spends its money didn’t change,” said Hyde.
After overcoming some legislative hurdles, both the city and state began positioning themselves to advance teacher talent and development. In 2009, Memphis City Schools was awarded $90 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the culmination of a year-long competitive application process through Gates’ Intensive Partnership for Effective Teaching program. Just a few months later, after a rigorous application process, Tennessee received a $500 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition.
“It’s really a fascinating piece, what came together over that 18-24 month period,” said Hall. “Basically, for the district to agree that [it was] going to revamp the entire human capital and talent approach.”
“[Those grants] also validated the work, not just funded it, but validated it politically,” said Hyde.
Memphis leveraged the funding, as well as newly-formed local partnerships, to build a robust network of charter schools and attract high-quality talent pipelines. However, Hyde emphasized that there have been some setbacks along the way. While Memphis has become a hot destination for teacher talent and development, finding the correct fit for leadership both in schools and in elected office has been a challenge. Additionally, while the tremendous influx in funding opened a significant window to move ahead with building new schools and networks, there were pitfalls that resulted from the growth.
“I think all of us would agree that we grew too fast. We’ve had to look at that and kind of reel ourselves back in and focus less on growth and more on quality,” Hyde said.
Hyde believes focusing on quality over growth is a significant lesson learned that Memphis philanthropy needs to address moving forward.
“We’ve figured out that we can do this in pockets. We can create good school models with a terrific school leader and some good teachers,” Hyde said. “But we know we need to address the teacher pipeline in order to get to scale.”