How do social innovations scale? KIPP began as a charter school, became a charter management organization, and then a network of charter management organizations. AVID started as a single school program, which grew to a countywide initiative, and eventually became a national non-profit. There are multiple pathways even for a single organization.
More recently, AppleTree’s journey offers a fascinating and instructive case study on how organizations can achieve innovations in multiple, scalable ways. In the last 25 years, Washington, D.C. has experienced a wide range of policy and funding climates. Through time, AppleTree has adapted, scaled and shown positive results.
Briefly, AppleTree Institute is a non-profit committed “to closing the achievement gap before students get to kindergarten by providing three- and four-year-olds with the social, emotional, and cognitive foundations that enable them to thrive in school.”
Charter School Incubator
Founded by Jack McCarthy and Lex Towle in 1996, AppleTree began as a charter school technical assistance provider in Washington, D.C. that incubated and launched Washington Mathematics Science PCS, Cesar Chavez Public Policy PCS, and Paul PCS.
In 2001, the organization pivoted to early childhood education with the intention of creating a program that would ensure students entered elementary school at grade level or above. AppleTree opened its first pre-K charter school serving 36 students. Since, with support from NewSchools and federal grants, AppleTree has grown its charter school network to 11 schools.
In 2014, while continuing to operate charter schools directly, AppleTree created a new way to scale through partnering with existing schools to adopt the AppleTree comprehensive model. The Every Child Ready model is integrated and holistic; it provides school partners with a curriculum (what to teach), professional learning (how to teach), and assessments (how to measure success). As their model evolved, AppleTree began to build out its technology platform to enable improved support and scale. In 2017, our Ed Tech team awarded them a grant to improve their platform. Two years later, our Redesign team invested in AppleTree as a model provider with scale potential.
As with AppleTree, innovative organizations regularly confront scaling opportunities. Some opportunities should be ignored, others should be taken cautiously, and others are home runs. While it is difficult to appraise these opportunities in real-time, we look to organizations like AppleTree who can read the policy and geographic tea leaves and navigate their organizations to scale their innovations in multiple ways.