Powderhouse is a research, design, and advocacy institute. We believe youth are one of the largest oppressed groups in history, and that for many (especially the poor and disenfranchised), school is not only ineffective, but stifles their strengths and cultivates harmful habits and intellectual postures. We also believe that the idea of public education—a public trust stewarding resources to develop future generations—is a beautiful and essential one…which requires reinvention. To do this, we work not only to illustrate what could be possible, but to identify (and eventually bring about) structural shifts to bring a much larger and more diverse set of perspectives to the sector.
Our mission is to give youth a say, enabling critical participation in the most important conversations of their lives. We do this by working with youth to develop creatively, intellectually, and technically ambitious community publications. We work directly with youth to demonstrate the very best our community could provide young people, right now, with enough imagination. We create fully functioning prototypes which the public sector could adopt tomorrow.
This living, breathing, full-time learning environment serving a diverse public is at the foundation of our work. It lets us pursue the radical, greenfield designs we believe are needed. The salience of this work is guaranteed by our commitment to mirroring the legal commitments and financial constraints of public School. This forces us to create all necessary ingredients, ranging from software to trained educators to legal frameworks.
We have been designing and developing tools, materials, and programming with youth and adults in greater Boston since 2009. After our most recent attempt to open a public school was undercut by the local Superintendent, we've shifted our strategy. As part of that shift, we've taken a renewed and more urgent interest in developing novel legal and financial mechanisms to explore and invent new ideas in public education more effectively.
Public education lacks even a single Xerox PARC or Mayo Clinic. We believe that eventually, there should be dozens nationwide. But these institutions—especially if they are to be developed by and for a diverse public—requires creative and thoughtful approaches to the development of their legal and financial models. This is the work which we're beginning with this position.
Your job will be to develop a non-partisan catalog documenting, understanding, and developing novel options for financing secondary and postsecondary education, from first principles. This catalog will be a living document we use to inform our own strategy, as well in conversations with potential funders and partners. Entries won't follow a set structure, but will seek to comprehensively characterize options, including, as appropriate, historical and political considerations, quantitative models, and proofs-of-concept.
The ultimate goal of this work is to help us dramatically expand the number and variety of organizations who can access funds [public or otherwise] for the purposes of reinventing an equitable vision of public education. Over time, depending on the results of this search, we will likely then seek to begin piloting some of these mechanisms to understand them in practice.
Public education's future depends on finding more and better ways of financing it, and especially of financing invention in the sector. But, insofar as education relies on a variety of commons and coordination problems, it is an unusual and hard to finance activity. Long timescales; unclear attribution of the value of human, social, and network capital; constitutional guarantees; the existence of a public monopoly in many places, backwards ideas about meritocracy—all of these complicate a politically fraught and largely stagnant sector.
Despite this, we believe there are many unrecognized opportunities to rethink current approaches and invent new approaches by translating insights from other, more developed mechanisms and approaches to finance (from both public and private sectors) into the context of education.
A couple examples of the kinds of questions you might be asked to investigate:
What are the limitations on the role complementary currencies could play in allowing public entities to raise funds without raising debt in a way which could let them stand up alternatives?
Consider recent efforts to securitize Software-as-a-Service revenues (e.g. Pipe, cf. "Debt is Coming"). What size and composition of cohorts would be required to make possible the securitization of their future incomes? As an equity? How could public actors leverage their own self-insurance and other financing options to improve the economics of these securities? To borrow against them?
Ideally, we hope to develop something of a catalog of possible mechanisms and models for financing human development. Depending on the results of this search, we will likely then seek to begin piloting some of these mechanisms to understand them in practice.
Doing this well will require an unusual mixture of activities and perspectives. You'll need to:
You'll work directly with Powderhouse's co-founders and advisors to shape and manage this research and design project (including hiring additional, targeted support as needed). While we expect this to be a multi-year project, we are beginning with a year-long investigation to explore whether and how it may bear fruit.
If this sounds like work that aligns with your skills, interests, and experience, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're still building out our application process, but we'd love to hear from you if this project resonates.