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Jon Schnur and His Nonprofit Accelerator, America Achieves: A Deep Dig

July 30, 2019

Sometimes the ed-reform deep dig is really deep.

On July 22, 2019, I wrote a post about a nonprofit, Results for America, that was incubated by another nonprofit, America Achieves.

I had planned to follow up with a post about America Achieves, which received its nonprofit status in November 2010 and which was co-founded by its chair, Jonathan Schnur, and co-chair, Rod Washington. (Washington is no longer listed on the America Achieves site, but his bio can be access using this archived America Achieves bio link from January 2013.)

What I noticed on America Achieves’ 2011 tax form is that in 2010, revenue for this brand-new nonprofit was already $4M, and in its second year (2011), revenue jumped to $13.5M. Contributions and grants accounted for most of the revenue ($2.9M in 2010 and $13.4M in 2011), which indicates that its founders were really connected.

It is in researching Schnur that the ed-reform dive became deep.

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Jon Schnur

Princeton University is a hub of education reform. Schnur graduated from Princeton University in 1989 with a degree in politics, the same year that Teach for America (TFA) founder, Wendy Kopp, graduated with a degree in public policy. Whereas Kopp pitched her TFA idea as her senior thesis, Schnur’s idea for a principal training nonprofit, New Leaders for New Schools (name later reduced to New Leaders), happened circa 2000 during his time at Harvard when he took graduate coursework. (Schnur appears not to have graduated; there is no mention of Schnur’s finishing a masters degree program here or here or here).

After his 1989 graduation from Princeton (not clear how soon after), Schur worked on the Clinton presidential campaign and then became an education policy advisor “for seven years, serving as White House Associate Director for Educational Policy, Vice President Gore’s Senior Policy Advisor on education, and Special Assistant to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.”

During Schnur’s time in the Clinton White House, the Clinton administration passed the Charter School Expansion Act of 1998. Charter schools had been approved in a number of states prior to this (Minnesota in 1991; California in 1992; Colorado in 1993; see chapter 6 of my book, School Choice: The End of Public Education? for these details and more.) Too, in January 1994, the Clinton administration passed a program, Goals 2000, which introduced the national standards idea prior to the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (called the Improving America’s Schools Act, or IASA). IASA included language about “a core of challenging state standards,” aligned curriculum, and state-devised assessments. (For these details and more, see chapter 1 of my book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.)

This history is important because by the time that Schnur’s America Achieves incubates and establishes in its own right nonprofit, Results for America (September 2016), Schnur’s clear goal is to judge the value of programs by their quantifiable outcomes, as noted in my July 22, 2019, post:

Results for America (RFA) has been a nonprofit in its own right since September 2016. Its mission as stated in RFA’s 2016 tax return begins as follows:

RFA’s activities are focused on non-profit leaders, government decision-makers, and community members as RFA attempts to build their awareness of, support for, and ability to implement funding of “evidence-based,” results-driven social programs, i.e., social programs that have results that can be measured and evaluated for whether they are accomplishing their objectives. RFA’s initiatives fall into three program areas: implementation support, momentum and commitment building, and developing standards of excellence.

Back to Schnur’s history:

Given that Clinton was first inaugurated in January 1993, Schur’s time in the Clinton administration lasted to roughly 2000, at which time he was completing coursework at Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Business School, and John F. Kennedy School of Government and creating with others his first nonprofit, New Leaders for New Schools, which is described as follows in this November 2011 archive:

Our mission is to ensure high academic achievement for all children, especially students in poverty and students of color, by developing transformational school leaders and advancing the policies and practices that allow great leaders to succeed. …

We envision a day when there is educational excellence and equity in America – when our country’s public schools ensure that every student is prepared for success in college, careers and citizenship. …

In our first decade, we trained almost 800 leaders, impacting nearly a quarter million students in high-need schools across the country.  Students in New Leader schools consistently achieve at higher levels than their peers, have higher high school graduation rates and are making progress in closing the achievement gap.

As we enter our second decade, we are broadening our work in order to reach more students with greater impact. Beyond training new principals, we are now developing transformative leaders throughout schools and school systems – from teacher leaders and assistant principals to veteran principals and district managers.  We are also working with school systems to build the kinds of policies and practices that allow strong leaders to succeed in driving academic excellence for students.

What is interesting about the timing of Schnur’s New Leaders is that it notably coincides with a shift in the TFA mission to include positioning TFA alumni in education leadership and policy roles. (See pages 48-49 of my book, A Chronicle of Echoes, for details). Indeed, as this archived, November 2008 New Leaders “practice center” page notes, only two years of K12 classroom experience are needed prior to training as a New Leaders principal. Furthermore, according to this archived, October 2011 New Leaders (very ed-reformy) board member page, former TFAer and Colorado state senator, Michael Johnston, is New Leader’s “co-founder.” So, New Leaders and TFA appear to be marching in cozy step at this point in their respective ed-reforming histories.

Keep in mind that around the same time of the birth of New Leaders and the TFA leadership-focus shift, another reauthorization of ESEA occured, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the most assessment-dependent and punitive ESEA reauthorization, which introduced the label “failing schools” and included the terms, “corrective action” and “restructuring” as consequences for schools that did not meet “adequate yearly progress” (AYP). Note that two of the “restructuring” options were conversion of traditional public schools to charter schools or handing over management of the school to a private entity. (See chapter 6 of School Choice and chapter 1 of Common Core Dilemma for details.)

NCLB, New Leaders, TFA: Hand in glove for market-based ed reform.

Moving on in Schur’s history, post-Clinton and post-Harvard:

According to Schnur in this 2013 Harvard interview, not long after creating New Leaders, he invited then-senator Barack Obama to a New Leaders training in Chicago, and that is how he began his connection to what would be the Obama White House, described as follows in Schnur’s TIME contributor bio:

Jon Schnur is executive chairman and co-founder of America Achieves. Schnur is also the co-founder and former CEO of New Leaders and serves on its Board of Directors. He recently served as senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, co-chairman of the Obama for America Education Policy Committee and as a member of the Obama Presidential Transition Team.

In September 2008, Schnur took a leave of absence from New Leaders in order to work with the Obama administration, where he remained until May 2009— long enough to “play a pivotal role in writing the federal stimulus plan for schools,” otherwise known as Race to the Top. Part of Schnur’s reason for returning to New Leaders captures his goal of quantifying school “success” and scaling such quantification (aka “test-score-driven ed reform”), as noted in this May 2009 Chalkbeat article:

I have decided to return to New Leaders for the same reason I chose to leave the Clinton-Gore White House to found New Leaders a decade ago: to help a community of results-oriented principals and leaders drive dramatic improvements in our schools for hundreds of thousands of students nationwide, demonstrate that success is possible at scale in American public education, and leverage the knowledge we create to change education nationwide.

Schnur remianed as CEO of New Leaders until January 2011, at which time this EdWeek article published his intentions to help fellow reformer and billionaire, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and to start a new nonprofit (which ended up being America Achieves):

Jon Schnur, a former top K-12 adviser to the Obama presidential campaign, announced last week that he is planning to transition out of his role as chief executive officer of New Leaders for New Schools, a New York City-based nonprofit that trains principals for work in underresourced schools. He co-founded the group in 2000 and is set to become its board chairman.

Jean Desravines, who currently serves as New Leaders’ chief officer for cities and policy, will be taking the helm as CEO.

Mr. Schnur, who led the development of the $4 billion Race to the Top initiative, said he will help New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg develop a new philanthropic strategy aimed at improving education.

And, separately, he’ll be starting a new nonprofit initiative set to launch in the fall. He said the new organization’s purpose will be to identify and act on strategies that nonprofit groups and philanthropies can use to “effectively drive comprehensive reform” of education systems.

Schnur likes to “drive” reform, and like billionaire Bill Gates– who spent $28M on New Leaders (2004 – 2018), $5M on America Achieves (2011 – 2018), and $5M on Results for America (2018)– Schnur wants to scale the reform he is *driving.*

The scaling of reform is mentioned in America Achieves’ mission statement on its 2011 tax return:

America Achieves is a nonprofit organization that shines a spotlight on successful educators and programs, distills lessons learned and the evidence base, and supports promising state and local efforts that drive large-scale improvements in education.

That mission lasted until 2013, when Schnur et al. apparently decided to scale ed-reform nonprofits. From America Achieves’ 2013 tax form:

America Achieves is a nonprofit accelerator that helps young people succeed and lead in a changing world. Our strategy is to support transformational leaders, who have game-changing ideas, with results-oriented funding, and operational and strategic support. Together we work build high-impact initiatives that improve K-12 education, and prepare young people for success in careers, college, and citizenship.

America Achieves refined its nonprofit-accelerator mission as follows on its 2014 tax form:

America Achieves is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring young people get the best possible education and preparation to lead and succeed in a changing world. Our nonprofit accelerator drives large-scale impact by identifying and supporting exceptional educators and other leaders with powerful insights about what will help prepare young people at large scale for success; supports the development of their strategies, coalitions and leadership teams; matches them with philanthropic funding and tailored strategic and operational support; and provides them with an active community of educators and other leaders from whom they can learn.

America Achieves became a nonprofit in November 2010, five months after the official completion of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (June 2010). In its 2011, 2012, and 2013 tax forms, America Achieves includes development of a CCSS website and resources as part of its organizational accomplishments. For example, from its 2012 tax form:

Responding to a need of teachers and policymakers for guidance and support in teaching to the Common Core Standards, America Achieves created a Common Core website (http://commoncore.americaachieves.org/). This free, publicly available website features video modules and live examples of how successful teachers – including many from the America Achieves Teacher and Principal Fellowship – are making the transition to the Common Core State Standards. Educators can watch lesson videos aligned to the Common Core, hear teachers reflect on their practice, and view related lesson plans and student work. The draft website prototype was debuted in April 2012, had a public launch in September 2012, and will be expanded in 2013.

By 2014, no more mentioning CCSS by name among America Achieves’ program accomplishments. This is the closest to mentioning The Standards Formerly Known as Common Core:

…Tens of thousands of teachers across the country have accessed the open-access case studies, videos and instructional practices created in partnership with these outstanding educators to help students reach rigorous academic standards.

Among its 2014 accomplishments is this irony:

…Educational changes too often are either top-down or fragmented, isolated efforts that focus more on fixing failure than spreading success — and there hasn’t been enough attention to creating and growing communities of educational excellence that educators, families, and students choose to lead and join.In this area of practice, America Achieves runs programs for teachers, school leaders and families.

Too much top-down, so we (aka The Top) run programs for, uh, Not the Top.

In 2015, America Achieves is again refining its nonprofit-accelerator mission:

America Achieves is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring young people get the best possible education and preparation to succeed and lead in a changing world. The organization has built a successful accelerator model helping experienced, entrepreneurial leaders successfully launch and scale nonprofit initiatives aimed at policy or systemic impact. America Achieves is now building on its track record and expertise, and responding to unprecedented shifts in the economy. Looking ahead, America Achieves is updating its strategy to focus on realigning education with 21st century jobs and careers, and creating create clear pathways for economic advancement and success for all in a rapidly changing economy.

Now the “entrpreneurial leaders” have “experience” before receiving an America Achieves-bred nonprofit for their very own.

As for some of the experience gained by leaders gleaning at the learned feet of their America Achieves leaders: One can detect a slight, NCLB aftertaste in the following:

The America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers and Principals: Founded in 2011, the Fellowship has developed a best-in-class program to support top teachers and principals to elevate their voices to influence public conversation and policy, with a network of 500+ Fellows nationally. …

Fellows also authored and contributed to key reports, such as a policy brief released by Education Trust about how New York State should use the opportunities and levers in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to set clear expectations that our education system must raise achievement for all students, focus attention and resources on the full range of student groups, and insist on prompt action when schools do not meet expectations.

Punitive, but so goeth life lived by the numbers.

In 2016, America Achieves’ mission once again revised but left unfinished…:

America Achieves has built a successful accelerator model helping experienced, entrepreneurial leaders successfully launch and scale nonprofit initiatives aimed at policy or systemic impact. The organization is now building on its track record and expertise, and responding to unprecedented shifts in the economy. After completing a strategic review, the organization decided to focus its unique core capabilities on aligning education and skills to economic opportunity, especially the evolution and future of work. The organization is looking to apply its incubation, accelerator and field building work in service of helping a diverse population access the education and skills needed for upwardly mobile careers while helping employers address priority workforce needs. America Achieves mission is to create clear pathways for economic advancement, civic engagement, and success for all in a rapidly changing economy. The organization catalyzes large-scale impact by activating cross-sector leade

And since it is one of the shorter versions of America Achieves’ program accomplishments in full (believe it or not), here is what the nonprofit accelerator has been about in 2016, in its own words:

Results for America (RFA) is improving outcomes for young people, their families, and communities by promoting evidence-based, results-driven solutions. RFA has become a leading voice in advancing and driving evidence-based policy change, increasing awareness and building credibility for the practice among more elected officials and policymakers, particularly around the insufficient use of data and evidence in policy making and decision making. Results for America transitioned to become an independent 501(c)(3) organization in October 2016, a validation of the strength of RFA’s track record and of the America Achieves accelerator model.

CollegePoint is dedicated to increasing the number of high-achieving, low- and moderate-income students enrolling in top-performing colleges from 1/3 of 75,000 students in 2014 to more than 1/2 by 2020. America Achieves quarterbacks a coalition of non-profit organizations and philanthropic institutions and leads the ongoing assessment and improvement of the CollegePoint model. CollegePoint reached 12,000 Class of 2017 students. We significantly increased the number of students reached over last three years, growing from 1,300 Class of 2016 students to 8,300 Class of 2016 students to 12,000 in the Class of 2017. We have also deepened collaboration with the American Talent Initiative in order to increase the number of low- and moderate-income students at top schools by 50,000 by 2025.

GripTape envisions a future in which youth-driven learning is a powerful force. A world where all young people have the opportunity to pursue their own interests; demonstrate their confidence and competence by seizing their own learning; and where youth demand and are afforded respect for their own learning pursuits. GripTape: Amplifies youth desire to pursue their own learning; Makes resources directly available to thousands of youth, both in the present through the Challenge, and in the future as alumni; Fosters youth to youth connections for purposes of recruiting and supporting learning; Creates, evaluates and refines the conditions needed for youth to drive their own learning so that we can do more to create those conditions; Empowers and facilitates young people to lead both GripTape and a broader movement of youth-driven learning. GripTape has completed 3 rapid learning cycles and started its fourth, with full research plans for each, and developed an information network of 100+ partners who provide guidance and support.

Fellowship Programs: America Achieves also sought to promote models to accelerate educational excellence in schools, and has laid a foundation by engaging motivated teachers, principals, parents and superintendents through fellowships and networks to ensure its strategy is grounded in the view and practices of diverse educators. Programs in this area included:

The America Achieves Educator Voice Fellowship. Founded in 2011, the Fellowship has developed a best-in-class program to support top teachers and principals to elevate their voices to influence public conversation and policy, with a network of 500+ Fellows nationally. Today, the Fellowship is creating networks of educators to be champions of effective approaches to better link education to jobs and careers. The Fellowship successfully launched the Louisiana program in September of 2017, the first of its kind to focus on creating tools and resources and developing and leveraging best practices bridging education and the workforce, developing a curriculum that will expose all students to career opportunities aligned with 21st-century skills. The Fellowship also concluded a successful year in NY and CO, where Fellows published 17 policy proposals, one of which became CO state law.

Global Learning Network: GLN brings together world-leading, innovation-oriented high schools to understand the changing global economy and implications for career readiness and high school design and practices. From September 2016 to August 2017, the Global Learning Network enabled approximately 100 U.S. schools to participate in the online version of the OECD Test for Schools, an international benchmarking tool; hosted a national convening with approximately 240 participants from schools that participated in the OECD Test for Schools; and developed a Massachusetts specific professional learning community of schools that desired to learn from their benchmarking results. As part of this work, GLN also selected 30 exemplary high schools from 6 countries as “Global Learning Network World-Leading Learners” in order to recognize their performance and to share the promising practices in these schools that ensure their students are prepared for career and lifelong success.

Finally, as to revenue:

America Achieves reported the following total revenue from 2010 to 2016 (actually 09/01/16 to 08/31/17), as follows 

  • 2010: $4M
  • 2011: $13.5M
  • 2012: $22.9M
  • 2013: $20.1M
  • 2014: $10M
  • 2015: $13.7M (or $14.5M –reported as “previous year” in 2016)
  • 2016: $10.8M

It seems that America Achieves had its fiscal heyday at the height of Common Core promotion (before using the term “Common Core” was seen as politically undesirable).

Up to 2016, Schnur is still bringing in the ed-reform dough for his nonprofit accelerator. Now, the question remains whether those accelerated nonprofits can become fiscally independent from nonprofit creator America Achieves, and to the degree that they produce the reform marvels necessary to keep their funders interested.

Schnur’s ed-reform-nonprofit accelerator itself is dependent upon the interest of ed-reform-leaning billionaires and millionaires, and measurable results might or might not translate into that coveted, philanthropic bank transfer.

flying money

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

5 Comments
  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Best in class, top drawer, and more reformy talk. Thanks for this deep dive. GripTape is among the most absurd marketing constructs.

  2. Christine Langhoff permalink

    I’m dizzy from reading so many buzz words of educational jargon packed into America Achieves’ mission statements. You must have to buy eyewash by the case, Mercedes, to keep up with this verbiage.

  3. Leigh Campbell-Hale permalink

    Yes, Jon Schnur is a deep dig. Former Senator Michael Johnston helped him co-found America Achieves and according to his old biography (which he’s mostly removed), he and Schnur were partners on almost everything. Johnston is currently running in the Democratic primary for federal senator, and blogger Gary Rubinstein has covered him quite a bit. Thanks for what you do. Leigh Campbell-Hale

    >

  4. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    Meet two of the kleptocrats destroying the United States.

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  1. Mercedes Schneider Asks: Who Is Jon Schnur and Why Does It Matter? | Diane Ravitch's blog

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