In Education, What Do We Mean When We Talk About “Scale?”

Nearly three decades after it was founded, Teach For America is placing thousands of new teachers in school districts all across the country? Is TFA sustainable? Is it “scalable?”

Twenty-five years after KIPP started as a tiny experiment in Houston, Texas, it now serves nearly 100,000 students. If it were considered a standalone school district, KIPP would rank in the top 50 largest districts in the country. Is KIPP sustainable? Will it scale?

When I hear people in education ask whether a given program or intervention can “scale,” I think some people mean the question literally, such as whether the program can serve more students or expand to a new location. But once a program expands and replicates itself successfully, the questions should be about how fast the program will grow and for how long.

At some point the question of “scale” starts to sound bizarre. Can TFA scale? Can KIPP scale? Well, they already have! Will they keep up the same rate of growing in perpetuity? Well, no, they haven’t, and they won’t. But if our definition of “scale” means that a program has to keep growing to eventually cover “everybody,” then we have no real definition at all. 

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman