In 1976, Tom Bloch joined H&R Block, the world's largest tax services provider, where his father was CEO. In 1981, after introducing automation to the company's office network, he was elected President of the Tax Operations. Later, he oversaw the company's innovative practice of filing tax returns electronically to the IRS, which revolutionized the industry. Bloch was promoted to President of the corporation in 1989 and CEO in 1992. His second career began in 1995 as a middle school math teacher at St. Francis Xavier, an inner city parochial school. Five years later, he co-founded the University Academy, a public charter school in Kansas City. Bloch continues to teach 7th and 8th grade math at the urban college prep school he helped design and launch. He is also President of the school's board. The Academy has grown from 200 students in grades seven through nine in its first year to over 1,000 students in kindergarten through grade twelve. The school moved into a new, $40 million facility in 2005, and it became the first school in Missouri to receive a ten-year extension of its charter. Over the last five years, all but two graduates of the Academy have gone on to attend college, an almost unheard-of success rate for an urban school. Bloch is the author of Stand for the Best, a memoir about his journey from CEO to inner city teacher and school founder. He graduated cum laude in 1976 from Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.
Question: What role should charter schools play in our system?
Tom Bloch: I think charter schools are a very, very important development in this country. I don’t wish to imply that they are a panacea, because there are good and there are bad charter schools. But I think for the first time in our nation’s history, in the urban core of most cities around the country, parents now have a choice of schools for their children. This is a very powerful concept for a parent to have the ability to be empowered to choose a school for their child gives them a great opportunity.
And the expression ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ is exactly what is happening, I think, in many urban areas around the country where charter schools are succeeding and what happens is they create a sense of competition in public education, and by creating this competition, parents will choose the best school for their kids, and government funding follows the child. So if a student transfers from a district school into a charter school, that state funding follows the kid to that new school. So, in other words, it puts a sense of pressure on all schools to do well so that they can compete successfully for students.
Question: How do KIPP schools fit?
Tom Bloch: I’ve heard wonderful things about the KIPP Schools [Knowledge Is Power Program Schools], and we now have a KIPP School in Kansas City, so it’s a charter school in our hometown. And I remember someone said to me, “Aren’t you a little concerned now, there is a KIPP School coming in to the market? Maybe they’re going to be so successful they’re going to compete and succeed in attracting some of your students to their school.” And my reaction was, “That’s great! This is what we need … we need better schools that are going to be formidable competitors, to us and others, because that will keep us on our toes. If there is a school down the street that’s doing a better job than we are, it tells me we better do something to improve our school.” So that, to me, is just exactly the kind of situation we need in every urban environment throughout our country.
Recorded on: October 13, 2008