New Orleans ‘250K Future of School Challenge’ Launched

Associate Editor

Want to launch a radically new kind of charter school in New Orleans?  Then you might apply for the “$250K Future of School Challenge.”

Educators and entrepreneurs, parents and students are on equal ground to compete for this opportunity, according to Matt Candler, founder and CEO of 4.0 Schools, an ed-tech and next-generation school incubator, which is joining forces with New Schools for New Orleans, which has invested in the launch of 28 new schools since its founding in 2006, and receiving support from the open education Khan Academy, for the competition.

Much of the education system in the city was refashioned, with state oversight, following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many of the schools that have been rebuilt or founded since then have been charter schools; 80 percent of New Orleans students attend charter schools.

The challenge is to “bring to life a new generation of responsive, student-centered schools,” with the time, space, and resources needed to make the challenge winner’s vision a reality, according to the Future of School Challenge website.

The successful team will receive $250,000 over the two-year cycle of launching the school, which will open in 2016, Candler said. Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy who was born and raised in nearby Metairie, will serve as an adviser for the project.

“Those of us on the ground in New Orleans see this as an opportunity to provide so much more inspiration in the ways to think about re-engineering schools, and to think about the future of schools. We don’t think you need a hurricane” to make change, said Candler.

Criteria for the “challenge” school, at this point, are pretty open-ended. What grades should it cover? That’s up to you. What’s the school’s academic model? That’s your call, too. How much of the school’s program will be focused on virtual learning? Again, you decide.

The bottom line, organizers say: “You believe that schools should provide more engaging, personalized experiences for students.”

Getting to the final school will occur in a three-stage process: an eight-week “launch program” with prototyping and testing for one to three finalist teams beginning in June, a four-month design fellowship later this year, and an 18-month incubation fellowship for the winning team, culminating in the opening of the new charter school in fall 2016.

Candler said the organizers are looking for entries from around the world. “Khan has allowed folks in developing countries to construct learning environments wherever they live,” he said. Some of the work in the first phase will take place virtually. Then, this summer, finalists for the competition will test their ideas with “real kids, real families, and real teachers” in New Orleans,” he said. “We will push these folks to share ideas, and answer the question: ‘Is your concept of school solving the problem that kids and families are facing today?'” Each team will make a final pitch about their idea, and why they think it will work.

The deadline for challenge applications is April 11, although entries are being judged on a rolling basis and could be cut off before then if the program has enough qualified applications before that date.

Applying for the challenge involves answering questions about the school model you envision, describing the average day for a student in your school, and describing a core unique feature of the school model you propose, such as a staffing model, schedule, assessment or curriculum.

This will be the ninth incubator cohort for 4.0, which, in the last three years, has launched one innovative new school model and more than 20 ventures serving thousands of teachers and students across the US.

“Ultimately, we want to change the story about New Orleans—so it’s not about recovery, but about innovation,” said Candler, whose New Orleans-based 4.0 is now expanding into New York City. 

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