Education Green Dot LAUSD

Green Dot’s Steve Barr Does Forbes …and Maybe Chicago

Barr and baby Zofia during the 2005-06 Jefferson High takeover bid

Green Dot’s national profile just got another couple of bumps upward in the last 24 hours:
One is in the form of a nicely reported Forbes piece by Peter Beller on the charter school group’s founder, Steve Barr.

The second is in the form of an intriguing event in the city of Chicago that may have Much Larger Implications for LAUSD’s relationship to Green Dot, although no one is yet talking about it openly.

I’ll get to Chicago in a minute. First Forbes.

The Forbes article, titled WATTS RIOT, has a lot of pieces of the puzzle
that have been mentioned elsewhere, but that have not gathered together in a single place. For example, Beller makes this observation about Barr and the NY teacher’s union, which makes the LA union look more and more obstructive—even as UTLA’s A. J. Duffy attempts to do damage control with his make-nice statements.

Last month Randi Weingarten, the powerful head of New York City’s teacher’s union, asked Barr to open a Green Dot school in New York using union teachers under Barr’s contract, the same terms he has offered to UTLA. “Steve’s on fire,” concedes UTLA’s Duffy. “He does have a model that appears to work.”

And there is this insight about Barr’s personal background:

Barr first got the education reform bug in in the mid-1990s. In 1992 his younger brother, who dropped out of high school, died of a drug overdose. His mother died three years later. He was 40 and single. “All of a sudden I was alone,” says Barr. The result was “a pretty healthy midlife crisis.”

“I decided to start the great American high school,” he says.

And this about when Barr started his first school in the Lennox area with $100 grand of his own money that, prior to the midlife crisis, he’d been saving to buy a house:

In early 2000 Barr invited parents, many of whom work in the hotels and restaurants around the airport, to meet him at a middle school where they pelted him with questions about whether their kids would be safe at his school. Barr signed up an entire freshman class that night. Then, hit with the realization that 140 kids and their parents were depending on him, he went out into the parking lot and threw up.

My favorite snotty, but nonetheless amusing Steve Barr quote is this:

“Green Dot is about systematic change,” says Barr. “We’re like Netflix. Either Blockbuster adopts our approach or disappears.”

As I said above, the Forbes article doesn’t exactly tell us anything we don’t know. (One does, however, have the feeling that Beller wrote a far longer piece but his editors whacked a few column inches off the end at the last minute, as the conclusion is strangely abrupt.)

But what the Forbes story does do successfully, is push Barr and Green Dot’s profile one more rung up the ladder of public perception, and so when the LAUSD board vote comes up later this month about how to deal with the Green Dot/Locke takeover petition…..let’s just say it ups the ante yet again, and not in the district’s favor.


OKAY, NOW CHICAGO: :There is gossip abroad that Barr and Green Dot would also like to partner in Chicago, as he’s doing in New York. To that end, on August 15, Barr, the Chicago teachers union head, plus the head of the Illinois state teachers’ union are all sitting down for a nice, public chat. Here’s the online invitation that went out to some of the city’s parents.

To add spice to the Chicago mix, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is already friendly with Barr and Green Dot in Los Angeles, has stated it wants to start having an effect on Illinois’ education policy, according to Marranne McMullen, the communicatons director of the SEIU Illinois State Council. It intends to do so, says McMullen, by organizing parents. Like Green Dot is doing in LA. In fact, the Chicago SEIU folks just came back from an educational trip to Los Angeles where they were checking out Green Dot’s strategies.

Education Week’s Alexander Russo, thinks Barr will do the Green Dot thang in New York (and other places?) by using an “affiliate” model—a sort of franchise structure—rather than having LA Green Dot LA try to micromanage it all.

Interesting. Very interesting.

If it turns out that Barr and Green Dot can successfully partner with the unions and the school districts in New York and Chicago….but not in LA, what exactly does that say about our hometown district shot callers?


Meanwhile, what news is there out of LAUSD today? Well, there’s this PR release trumpeting a bold move on the district’s part to spend another $2,888,103 on….consultants.




NetFlix v. Blockbuster. Think about it.


  • […] L.A. takes notice. July 31st, 2007 The August 15th discussion at National-Louis between Green Dot’s Steve Barr, IEA’s Jo Anderson and the CTU’s Marilyn Stewart is provoking interest as far away as Los Angeles. […]

  • All of this is interesting but what are the outcomes like at current “Green Dot” Charter Schools?

  • I thought the outcomes were embedded in the Forbes article, but maybe not. Here’s the general outcome info from their website:


    In 2006, Green Dot graduated 78 percent of its students, while the Los Angeles Unified School District graduated only 46 percent of its students.* Nearly three out of four Green Dot graduates were accepted to four-year universities. Four out of five Green Dot High Schools scored 700 or higher out of 1000 possible points on the Academic Performance Index, while comparable Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools in the same communities scored an average of 140 points lower.


    As I said, I’m taking this from their website, but in the past I’ve run the numbers from their raw data, just to make sure they weren’t….you know…pumping themselves up past what is warranted, and this seems about right. (Plus anyone can look at the state’s record of their standardized test scores, which I do every year, and again, they’re pretty accurate. They tend to perform around 100 points or more higher than neighboring schools.)

    On the other hand, one isn’t comparing apples to apples exactly, as the Green Dot students self-select themselves into the schools. But, there are plenty of very at-risk kids in those schools. (Then again, the LAUSD scores include the high end high schools, like Pali and Taft, and the magnets.)

    When and if Green Dot takes over a single big comprehensive high school like Locke, and has to take every kid rather than just the kids whose parents have it together enough to apply, it’s going to be a brand new challenge. But again, ABTWWG—Anything’s Better Than What We’ve Got.

  • Celeste, it’s a little more than “the Green Dot students self-select themselves into the schools,” isn’t it? Isn’t it also the case that Green Dot schools can get rid of students who are, say, disruptive — which LAUSD schools cannot do (or at least not nearly as easily)?

    I agree with you, however, that the real test will come after Green Dot starts operating a big comprehensive high school. I also agree that (with some exceptions — e.g., LAUSD’s highly-gifted magnet program, which is incredibly good) anything is better than what we have now.

  • Good point, Bob. Green Dot claims to hang in with the students through thick and thin, but while I know of instances where they’ve done just that—and academically they’re pretty good about it—as they’ve gotten larger, they’ve started to act a little more like the district, and view students who have social and behavioral issues with a less charitable eye.

    On the other hand, LAUSD just OT’s those kids—meaning (on the off chance you’re not familiar with the term) forces them into “Opportunity Transfers,” which is how they basically get a kid out of any given school without having to expel him or her—the latter process requiring the district to, you know, follow certain legal guidelines or risk a lawsuit. With an OT, they get to toss ’em out (ie. transfer them to another school, which often doesn’t know they’re coming and doesn’t want them either), without any legal muss or fuss.

    (I may be rambling here, as I’m trying to answer this quickly.)

    But good point. Likely, your question merits a post all it’s own, and some further research on my part.

  • So did both of mine. I think my son Bryan was your son’s classmate — or at least there at the same time.

  • Being that we already seem to be sharing factors regarding » Blog Archive » Green Dot’s Steve Barr Does Forbes …and Maybe Chicago, if applied correctly, it could be the only source of income you will ever need.

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