Citizen Schools Co-Founder & CEO Eric Schwarz on Education Change

On March 6, we were honored to welcome Eric Schwarz, Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools, who shared his perspective on how our Education Circle can have most impact within each of our inquiry areas. The three areas the circle is currently examining are 1) Human Capital, 2) Innovation, Technology & School Models, and 3) Policy & Advocacy.

Schwarz began by sharing the story of Orchard Gardens, a middle school in Boston that has achieved a remarkable turnaround through collaboration with Citizen Schools. By going from a six hour day to a ten hour day, Orchard Gardens has erased 70% of their math achievement gap in just one year. Now in the second year of the partnership, it looks like Orchard Gardens is going to eliminate achievement gaps within their school entirely.

He encouraged members to be outside-of-the-box grantmakers, saying, "Incremental improvement won’t fix a radically broken system. We need radical change.” Schwarz spoke about his vision for a dramatically different human capital model within schools. Right now, we have 3.5M teachers in our schools, and 500K new teachers must be hired each year. Instead of trying to make that impossible math work, Schwarz suggests a new staffing structure. We should shrink the overall teacher pool to a smaller group of highly-trained master teachers. We should then support those master teachers with a big corps of “second shift” educators who bring a more diverse set of backgrounds and talents.

Schwarz also spoke of the challenge of scaling innovation and the failure of schools to adopt proven successes. “If you build a better mousetrap, people come knocking on your door,” he continued, “But if you build a better school, nobody pays attention.” He thinks there’s plenty of innovation happening; there's just not enough adoption of great ideas. He advised the Circle to think about how we can support the sharing and dissemination of great ideas.

Finally, Schwarz expressed his belief that nonprofits need to adopt dual priorities: high-quality programming and advocacy for broader systems change. He thinks the most effective nonprofits function as “action tanks,” providing proof points for what works while also actively pursuing policy changes.

We'd like to thank Eric Schwarz, the team at Citizen Schools and our Member Joe Ross of Citizen Schools California for this opportunity to learn from an innovative leader and a model that is making a big impact.

If you want to be part of the next phase of our grantmaking, the Education Circle is now accepting new members who want to be part of driving change in education. Join us at the next meeting on April 3.

Thank you to Education Circle Coordinator Jenny Jordan for contributing content for this article.

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