In Massachusetts, the United States’ top performing state in K-12 education, there are roughly 77,000 students attending failing public schools (8% of public school children).  Across the country, thousands of students are stuck in persistently under-performing schools. In 2010, HBS graduate Scott Given founded UP Education Network, a non-profit designed to address this issue.
The UP Business Model
UP Education Network (UP) is an education management organization that “rapidly transforms chronically under-performing district schools into extraordinary schools that sustain high achievement over time.” UP does not open new schools; it partners with school districts to restart and manage their most struggling schools. UP implements a new school model and hires new staff, while continuing to serve the same students that previously attended the school.
The process of restarting a school is complex. In order to minimize disruption for students and their families, the school closes at the end of one year (i.e., end of June) and opens the following fall (i.e., late August) under UP’s management. Over the span of two months, UP must onboard a new staff of 50-85 teachers and leaders, train them on UP’s model, renovate the building, and build relationships with students and families.
The work does not get easier once the school reopens. UP restarts deeply struggling schools with broken cultures and students who are multiple levels behind their peers. UP must rebuild the school culture and behavior norms, while accelerating student learning. The districts hold UP to high performance standards and they must quickly demonstrate results to maintain their partnership agreement.
UP’s Operating Model
In order to fulfill its promise of restarting schools and delivering outstanding results to students, CEO Scott Given had to design an organization with unique capabilities. In particular, Given made critical investments in two functions – human capital and data management – that separate it from a typical school district and other school management organizations.
To manage its immense annual hiring needs – each restart requires 50-85 new staff and its existing schools have ongoing hiring needs as a result of attrition – UP staffs a large talent recruitment team. Compared to other school management organizations, UP has nearly 2.5 times as many recruiting staff per student served. (See video for sample recruitment resources).
UP’s investments in human capital extend beyond recruiting. UP designed teacher and leader residency programs to develop talent in-house. Aspiring teachers and school leaders are embedded in a school and, over the course of a year, observe master teachers and leaders, take on increasing responsibility, and participate in professional development. UP’s residency programs build a pipeline of new talent trained specifically in UP’s model.
Focus on Data
To ensure that its schools are able to quickly raise student achievement, UP is investing significant resources into data management. UP gives its schools real time information on students’ academic and behavioral progress and helps them use that data to shift their teaching practices.
- Data collection: Explicit data collection procedures require teachers to document student performance and behavior. UP is now working to build its own assessment system to measure and monitor student academic performance throughout the year.
- Access, Analysis and Action: UP created a series of dashboards that provide detailed information on the student, classroom, and school level; dashboards showcase trends and allow for cross-classroom comparisons. UP offers workshops on data analysis and the management team regularly reviews data with school leaders to establish routines around data use.
UP now manages five schools in Massachusetts and has achieved remarkable results to date. On average, in the first year of turnaround, its schools improved by 34 percentage points in math and 18 points in English Language Arts (ELA). Comparatively, the average 1-year improvement in “restart” schools across the country that reopened in 2011 was 4 percentage points for math and 1 point for ELA. UP’s first turnaround school, UP Academy Boston, has ranked #1 for growth in math among all schools serving middle school students for four consecutive years (see graph for 2015 results comparing UP to peer schools). UP’s sustained results are driven by high quality, committed teachers and leaders who have the tools and training to unlock students’ true potential.
 Families for Excellent Schools http://www.familiesforexcellentschools.org/campaign/massachusetts
 UP Education Network mission statement.
 Data, information and multimedia resources regarding UP’s operating model were sourced through conversations with UP and its schools, as well as organizational documents and its website.
 Analysis of organizational charts from UP Education Network and charter management organization peers.
 Analysis of Massachusetts Department of Education data.
 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.