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: Would you endorse a particular overseas model?
Tom Bloch: I don’t know if there is one system in particular. I think, if you look at Japan and even China and India, there are just some amazing things going on. And one of the things I think you find in countries like that is that teachers are so highly valued. I remember meeting a woman in Kansas City, who is a professor of education, and she has a scar on her calf, and she asked me one day, she said, “You know how I got that scar?”
I said, “No.”
She said, well, when she was a girl, a schoolgirl in Nigeria, she was outside and she encountered one of her teachers walking on the sidewalk, and she said, “In Nigeria, it’s customary that a student would bow to a teacher,” and she said, “there was thorn bush right behind me and I got my calf stuck on a thorn.” And I thought, “My gosh, sometimes I can walk down the halls of my school and never to get a student to even say ‘Good morning’ back when I greet them.” So there’s a real difference in the way we respect teachers in this country.
Question: Will the rest of the world outperform us in higher ed?
Tom Bloch: I just read something lately that would suggest that down the road, other developed countries are going to become fierce competitors in the post-secondary market. And so, instead of sending their best and brightest to the United States for college, maybe someday the best and brightest from the United States will be going abroad to other institutions in other countries. So I think, while it may appear we have a stranglehold on this university market, I think that could well change in the decades ahead.
Recorded on: October 13, 2008