Ted Fujimoto: Seizing Educational Excellence By the Throat and Not Letting Go

Black girl and Asian girl taking a testThis Q&A was written by Erin McIntyre and originally posted at Education Dive. It is reprinted here in its entirety with permission.

Scaling big ideas is second nature to Ted Fujimoto, founder and president of the Landmark Consulting Group, a consulting company dedicated to scaling innovations in learning. He’s worked on replication systems and strategy for innovative U.S. public school designs like New Tech Network and Big Picture Learning, and also co-chairs the nonprofit Right to Succeed Foundation.

When New Tech High School began, Fujimoto says, most students generally had earned grades of C or below. But with the incorporation of internships and project-based learning, New Tech’s students started shining academically. “The engagement and student agency were over the top–staff literally had to kick kids out of the school building at 7:30 p.m. at night because they would not leave,” Fujimoto told Education Dive.

We caught up with Fujimoto to talk about the hundreds of schools in New Tech and Big Picture’s networks, his work with the Right to Succeed Foundation, and what he sees as the ‘sin of mediocrity’ in modern education.

Are charters the way of the future? Why or why not?
Fujimoto: Let me put it this way: I’ve seen as much innovation coming from school districts around the country as I’ve seen coming from charter schools. I’ve also seen so many mediocre – and, quite frankly, awful– schools on both sides. The charter movement and district schools are plagued with the sin of mediocrity and then they fight about who is right.

Most of my scaling work has been with district schools. For example, most new tech and big picture schools are district schools. I’ve also worked intensely with the charter school movement, including capacity building of many of the charter school support organizations to improve quality. A great school is a great school.

What matters is whether the container by which the school operates will allow it to implement a great school design. Just because you have a container doesn’t make you great. If you were an entrepreneur, just because you can launch a C-Corp, LLC, or S-Corp doesn’t make you successful.

“Charter versus district” is the wrong argument. What matters is whether the environment allows creation and sustainability of the great school design. In a number of communities, going charter is the only way to guarantee, by law and waivers, the conditions needed to sustain a viable school design – but it is on the charter groups to ensure that they are using this opportunity to actually do something worthwhile inside the container.

On the other hand, school districts have in their power to create these ideal conditions to support great school designs, and they can pass policy and regulatory waivers that can withstand time. In fact, many school districts and their school boards can move faster in getting these conditions in place than most charter school authorizers. They can pass a series of policies and waivers in a few board meetings versus a year or two process to work through getting a charter approved.

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