The \"Tipping Point\" and Green Dot Public Schools

By Victoria Chang, Debra Meyerson
2009 | Case No. SI109
Green Dot was a charter management organization (CMO) based in Los Angeles, California (L.A.), a city that housed the second-largest school district in the country. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was known for its largely ethnic student population (75 percent Hispanic and 11 percent African American) and multiple challenges ranging from poor performance to violence to low graduation rates. High school graduation rates in the district were only 45 percent (compared to 68 percent nationally), with Hispanic students graduating at a rate of only 39 percent. Gary Orfield of the Harvard Civil Rights Project called the city’s high schools “dropout factories.”

By 2008, Green Dot had opened 12 charter high schools in some of the highest-need areas of L.A., hoping to demonstrate “that public schools can do a far better job of educating students if schools are operated more effectively.” Founder, Steve Barr and his team had their own ideas about the tipping point and its metrics, which were both quantitative (e.g., 10 percent market share of schools within LAUSD) and qualitative, in terms of gains in political influence.

As Barr and his Green Dot team worked towards opening of new school, Locke in the fall of 2008, Barr was both nervous and optimistic. He knew the future of Los Angeles students, parents, and their communities depended on the success of his team. He wondered if his new transformation strategy was the optimal strategy. He also wondered if his thinking about the tipping point would give him and his team the best chance for success.
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