Public education has been an ongoing conversation over the last 150 years. Of our nation’s 330M inhabitants, approximately 55M are aged 5 – 18 years and receive variations of public and private schooling. Approximately 98% of young Americans in the K-12 grade levels attend public schools, 1.5 percent attend private schools and the remaining .5% attend a variation thereof (i.e. charters, home-school, forest school, etc.). There are approximately 16,000 school districts (and this does not include US territories or schools falling under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) nationwide, each with their own governance structures at local...Read More
Cordell Carter, II, Esq.
Cordell is Chief Executive Officer of TechTown Foundation, Inc., an operator of technology and arts education centers designed to level the playing field for young innovators through access, training and career awareness. Previously he was Chief of Staff and Director, U.S. Programs for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Vice President of Operations for the National Alliance of Public Charter School where he was responsible for strategic planning and operations for the charter sector's federal advocate; and Vice President of Public Policy, leading the Education and Workforce; and Information and Technology Committees for Business Roundtable where he successfully led Business Roundtable's cyber security advocacy strategy resulting in House passage of bi-partisan cyber security legislation. Earlier in his career, he served Seattle Public School District as its Director of the School Support Services Division, Director of Business Systems and Special Assistant to the Chief Financial Operations Officer, respectively. For that school district, he led enterprise-wide operational and strategic initiatives and served as district operations subject-matter-expert in labor negotiations with Seattle's teacher union.
Prior to Seattle Schools, he was Visiting Attorney for Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) Bankengruppe's Office of Legal and Executive Strategy in Frankfurt, Germany. In this role, he focused on public-private partnerships and the European carbon emission credits trading system, and advised on several aspects of U.S. law. Carter started his career with IBM Business Consulting Services where as a Strategy Consultant he focused on enterprise architecture and change management with several federal and state government customers. He participates in the Broad Foundation Network, Aspen Institute Socrates Network, Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship Alumni Association and Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Alumni Association. In his spare time, Cordell advises school districts on labor contract negotiations, social ventures on strategy and ideation, serves on the Education and Workforce Committee for Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and Health and was also a founding board member of two social ventures: Class Action and Health for America.
Ever a learner, Cordell earned a M.Ed. in K-12 Leadership from the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, a Jurisprudence Degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School, M.Sc. in Public Policy and Management Studies from Carnegie Mellon University and B.A. in Political Science and Economics from the University of Washington.
Of our nation’s 330M inhabitants, approximately 55M are aged 5 - 18 years and receive variations of public and private schooling. Approximately 98% of young Americans in K-12 grade levels attend public schools, 1.5 percent attend private schools and the remaining .5% attend a variation thereof (i.e. charters, home-school, forest school, etc.)
Education is big business in the USA, in fact, the cost of taxpayer-funded K-12 education is over $600B annually, now consider that national GDP is $16T. If taxpayer-funded education were considered a stand-alone industry (which I argue that it is) it would rival oil & gas and defense industries in terms of market size. Our public systems boast more than 3.2M teachers, millions more support staff and more facilities than we could possibly keep operational.
Given the size, breath and investment, the question of effectiveness is often asked, especially as it relates to student achievement. It goes without saying that annual testing should not be the only measure of knowledge gained over a period of time – but – it is the best proxy we currently have at our disposal. State testing indicates that our system as a whole is not producing the desired effect of creating well-educated young people that are ready for a productive post-secondary pathway. This is especially true for under-represented children of color.
There is a litany of theories that seek to explain the disparity; from the vestiges of segregation that have created under-resourced schools, under-prepared teachers, bad parenting, etc. There are also an army of well meaning, committed people fighting for better outcomes for low-performing students that are on the wrong side of the achievement gap.
Approximately $4B is spent annually by philanthropic and social impact investors on solutions seeking to close the achievement gap between students that came to school ready-to-learn and those that are not ready-to-learn. The latter group, especially in larger, densely populated cities, tend to be low-income, children of color. Without sustained intervention, this readiness gap will continue persist and those kids will never catch up with their better-equipped peers.
Leading neuroscience research indicates that 80% of a child’s brain is developed between birth and 3 years of age, and for children from families most prepared to create learning environments in their homes, these kids tend to start school ready to learn. However, for the children from homes least prepared for learning, their best bet is HeadStart – which starts at age 3 or 4 and is not available in every community. For these children from less-prepared academic environments, the achievement gap starts before they see a school building.
However, after a decade fighting for kids of color and their post-secondary success I am convinced that I and others have missed the point. The current education-philanthropy ecosystem is focused on treating the achievement gap after it has already started, rather than stopping the gap at its inception (their home environment and access to early learning. That work is hard, hand-to-hand combat but presents a wholly different value proposition to funders interested in the plight of underserved children.
I am headed to that battlefield and invite you all to join me.