Education can be an unforgiving lover, as education entrepreneur Christopher Whittle knows only too well.
His latest venture ‘Avenues – The World School’ a nascent chain of for-profit international private schools – comes after bruising encounters with his first education start-up, the sponsored media business Channel 1 News (sold in 1994) and his more high-profile and more controversial charter school company, Edison (sold in 2003).
Avenues has just launched their first school in New York, but the media hype to date has focused more on the fact that Suri Cruise is one of the students, than on the $75m school or Whittle’s international plans.
Fees at the Avenue’s New York campus are $40,000, roughly matching those charged by other high-end private schools like Horace Mann (founded in 1887). Since announcing the school in early 2010, Whittle and his team have had to try and build enrolment in the face of open scepticism as to whether parents would spend $40,000 p.a. educating their offspring at a school with no history, tradition or academic record. The 4,600 applications for the schools 735 places seems a pretty clear vindication of Whittle’s strategy.
I have always viewed private schools as ripe for disruption as they seem to use the same basic business model as a cinema – the formula for which seems to be: f (fee per seat) x s (sessions) + I (someone else’s IP) – (L+OC) (labour and on-costs) = s (surplus)
So far the results of online private school providers like K12 Inc. and Connections Education have hardly been stellar financially and more importantly educationally. Probably one of the few which delivers on both is HSConline a subsidiary of Northern Beaches Christian School a small Australian private school.
Whittle says there will be another 26 Avenue schools in:
- USA – Chicago, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles
- China – Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong
- India – Mumbai and Delhi
- Latin America – Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and San Paulo
- Middle East – Doha and Abu Dhabi
- Asia Pacific – Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo and Sydney
- Europe – Paris, Moscow, Madrid, Milan, Frankfurt and London (due to open in 2015)
I’II keep watching how Chris Whittle’s third throw of the educational dice goes, but so far his luck is looking good.