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. At the same time, we 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 one example of what could be possible, but to highlight (and eventually bring about) structural shifts to bring a much more 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 on the one-yard line 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 legal activism as a tool to dramatically expand the range, diversity, and equitable access of new secondary and postsecondary educational options for Americans. 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 financial 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 public funds 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 is a strange beast, legally. The Founders had a great appreciation for the importance of education, seeing it as the partner of a free press in developing an informed and effective citizenry. But, education didn't receive the kind of constitutional guarantees and treatment that the press did.
States later, in an ad hoc way, established these guarantees. But these guarantees were confounded with the details of local liability, governance, and financing and a strange mix of state (and eventually, limited federal) oversight. This state of affairs has created a sclerotic regulatory situation which by and large offers neither effective oversight nor room to invent and iterate.
The future of public education depends on finding new and better ways to expand public education's constitutional guarantees, redress its inequities, and enable invention. But, transformation in public education faces serious, structural headwinds: Transient constituents; the federated, de facto monopoly of school districts; fraught politics; and so forth. Taken together, these add up to a situation where there is approximately no structural reason for current stakeholders to court meaningful change. (This isn't to say that there aren't well-intentioned and even visionary building leaders, superintendents, and governors. It's just to say that all of these parties will likely only be involved for a period of time too short to effect structural change, and that there are no structural reasons we should expect education as a sector to invite change.)
Despite this, we believe there are many unrecognized opportunities to rethink current approaches and invent new approaches to this problem by translating insights and strategies from other, more developed mechanisms and approaches (from both public and private sectors) into the context of education. We believe one of the most powerful tools available to the public when the government is struggling to make good on its constitutional commitments is the law.
A few examples of the kinds of questions you might be asked to investigate:
Public education is increasingly segregated. In many cities, the [integration] gains of the Civil Rights movement have been wiped out and then some. What would be required to establish a class action lawsuit to redress these issues at different scales? How would that approach compare to a strategy centering 14th amendment arguments? Or mass tort?
We know that the vast majority of families are dissatisfied with their special education experience, and that an opaque and legalistic system puts disenfranchised families at a particular disadvantage. Given that public schools already pay to outplace students (many of whom are not technically unable to be served by the district, but whose families have reached a breaking point with the schools and simply sued to exit), what legal approaches could substantially simplify the process for families? Does this offer a toehold for legal advocacy to make outplacement a sustainable option for a broader set of special education needs?
On the political right in particular, there has been a long and growing interest in various, voucher-like mechanisms. In practice, many of these mechanisms will likely serve to increase the social, racial, and economic stratification of public school. Solving this will likely require, e.g., race-conscious policies and mechanisms. For good reasons, discriminatory systems face stiff legal challenges. How might these factors be reconciled in designing equity-conscious options for financing private and non-profit partnerships in public education?
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). We are bringing on-board an analogous expert looking at approaches to financial activism with whom you will collaborate on questions where there are overlapping legal and financial elements. 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 email@example.com. We're still building out our application process, but we'd love to hear from you if this project resonates.