May 03, 2006
The SEED School
Posted by Gordon Smith

Seedlogo Rajiv Vinnakota spoke at the UW Business School today as part of the policy lecture series of the Initiative for Studies in Technology Entrepreneurship. Rajiv is co-founder, with Eric Adler, of the SEED Foundation, which established a much publicized "urban boarding school" for grades 7-12 in Washington, D.C. in 1998.

The students who attended the session seemed enthralled with Rajiv, who is energetic, idealistic, and likeable, but I was having trouble getting my mind around the costs of a SEED School education. The SEED school started with $25 million in capital, and it spends about $25,000/student in public education funds annually. The D.C. school usually enrolls 40 students -- chosen by lottery -- in each seventh grade class, and expulsion rates are high (18 students were expelled in 2004-2005).

Since opening in 1998, the SEED school has graduated only 41 students. According to this recent newspaper article, Rajiv "said 24 of the original 40 students enrolled ultimately graduated in 2004 and that 17 of the 30 original students enrolled in the Class of 2005 received their diplomas. Twenty-six seniors are expected to graduate this spring." Those who graduate appear to be on their way: 100% of the SEED graduates attend college, including some of the top colleges in the country.

At several points in the presentation, Rajiv noted that the SEED Foundation is a "learning institution," meaning that they are making lots of mistakes along the way. And given the public nature of their work, their mistakes are chronicled in the local press. They have plans to construct two new schools -- one in D.C. and one in Maryland -- in the near future, and other locations are being scouted. My sense is that they have a tough row to hoe, and if they don't cut costs dramatically and start increasing their yield, this experiment in urban boarding education will be short-lived.

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