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: How can the free market innovate education?
Tom Bloch: I think part of the problem in this country is that education has been pretty much of a monopoly, and monopolies are not a good thing for the consumer, maybe a good thing for the worker, who is employed by the monopoly, but not such a good thing for the consumer. And so, I think we need to create much more of a free enterprise system in education in this country. And so, we need to make it easier, for example, for people to make mid-career changes in order to become teachers.
Today, it’s very difficult for someone who had a career like me in business to become a teacher in a public school because of certification requirements in the States. And that’s a very onerous proposition for a lot of folks, both financially and in terms of the amount of time it takes to become certified. And so I think what happens is that we are creating such an obstacle, in this particular case, of being able to attract some really wonderfully talented people into the profession, because of these really almost ridiculous hurdles that have to be jumped.
And so we need to look at relaxing some of those requirements, and I know, for example, there’s an effort underway in some states to have an online certification process that can be done rather cheaply and quickly, so that people can receive a basic education in terms of preparing them for their own classroom. But we need to think outside the box, I guess, of that, when it comes to public education in this country, and not be hemmed in by some of the monopolistic approaches that we’ve had in the past.
Question: How would the free market apply to failing schools?
Tom Bloch: I think good schools will do well; where there are good teachers in good schools, they will do well; where there are not good teachers and not good schools, they should be allowed to fail, just like any other business. If a restaurant isn’t serving good food or provides or poor service, then it’s okay, in my view, to let that business fail, be shut down. And I think the same should be true in education.
If a school is not doing well, in other words, it’s hiring teachers and administrators that are not cutting the mustard, then let that school fail. Let it go out of business. Some people look at the fact that we’ve got about 4,000 charter schools today in the United States, about 400 of them have closed, about 10% failure rate. Now, you could look at that and say, “The movement is failing; if already, in this country, 10% of the charter schools have closed, there’s something wrong.” I look at that statistic and say, “This is evidence that the charter school movement in the United States is working, because bad schools are shut down and that is healthy.”
Recorded on: October 13, 2008