August 22, 2017

The Opposite of Sheet-caking

The post below is by guest blogger Celine Coggins.

This week I’m taking over Andy’s blog to share a few of the messages from my new book How to Be Heard: Ten Lessons Teachers Need to Advocate for Their Students and Profession. It’s a book sharing all I’ve learned about advocacy in my ten years since founding Teach Plus. Its primary audience is teachers, and each chapter profiles groups of inspirational teachers who’ve succeeded at changing the education system for their kids. However, the messages apply to anyone who’s got a cause worth fighting for (and don’t we all these days!).  As we collectively move from the shock of Charlottesville to action, I don’t have answers, but I wanted to offer some food for thought.

Today, I wanted suggest considering the difference between problems and issues as you think about your role in creating a world without future Charlottesvilles.

To illustrate: Tina Fey got a lot of attention last week when she shared her response to White Supremacist violence at her alma mater, UVA. Her satire, which drew as much criticism as praise, centered on how overwhelmed so many of us felt about what was happening in our nation. I’ll admit to feeling powerless enough that weekend to want to close the curtains and dip a grilled cheese in a sheet cake.  The problems UVA (re)surfaced are massive and have been with us since the birth of our nation. Problems (i.e. racism in America) are vast and broad; they tend feel overwhelming, which ultimately discourages action. Problems have many, related causes and lack a single lever or “silver bullet” that could lead to a tangible “win”.

By contrast, nearly 40,000 people showed up in Boston (shout out to may hometown!) Saturday to protest a planned “free speech” rally by the alt-right. In contrast to the larger “problem” of racism, opposing a planned rally created a clear, immediate “issue” for people to organize around. Issues are specific. They have a focus, a goal, and the possibility of a concrete win (or loss). In this case, the goal was to show that there are WAY more of us on the side of love, than the side of hate. And with a ratio of 50 neo-Nazis to 40,000 protesters, the win isn’t debatable. It creates momentum that will likely motivate more positive action.

So, I disagree with Tina Fey. I don’t think sheet-caking will ever become a grassroots movement. It’s too depressing. But more importantly, there are too many issues for those of us on the right side of history to fight for—electing a new generation of leaders to public office, educating our kids to be social justice warriors, making sure disadvantaged students get better teachers, just to name a few.  So the next time you find a friend with their face buried in a sheet cake, remember: friends don’t let friends get stuck in the problem-zone. Help them make the move from problem to issue and issue to action.

Celine Coggins is the founder of Teach Plus, a teacher leadership organization that operates in ten states across the US. This month she is transitioning from Teach Plus to become a Lecturer and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

August 18, 2017

Cell Phones

The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein.

By now you’ve seen “Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation?” and similar articles, based on the new research by Jean Twenge.

Dan Meyer points to Tony Riehl’s in-class cell phone policy as his favorite.  Interesting comments, too.

Becky, a friend of mine, writes on FB:

<<I’m a school psychologist who works with middle schoolers. This article articulated what I see every single day and the worries I have about it 1000%. The word “destroyed” in the headline is a little over the top, but the concerns are pervasive, real, and supported by generational data trends in addition to my everyday experience. 

I can only hope that as those of us in my generation begin and continue to raise our own young children, we will be increasingly aware of and educated about these trends, and the unintended effects of ubiquitous smartphone/social media use on the social skills and mental health of our kids.>>

I share her concern.  I wonder: is there way where middle school teachers could join with parents to create some sort of opt-in-but-teacher-supported “at home cell phone policy” – one that makes it easier for parents to limit smartphone use?  My half-thought is parents might set firmer limits if they could say “Lots of kids in your school follow this exact cell phone policy at home.”

Eclipse, Eclipsed…

Quick Goldstein break here:

In U.S. News & World Report I take a look at Monday’s eclipse, something that too many school kids will not be doing that day:

“We are going to be speaking with athletic directors, activity directors and our extended-day programs to keep all activities inside until the duration of the eclipse.”

Yes, that’s one school district’s response to Monday’s rare solar eclipse – visible across the United States. And they’re hardly alone in this reaction. While some school districts are making plans for students to experience this rare natural phenomenon, many are treating it as a menace to be avoided and something to protect students from, like a storm or a criminal on the loose.

When Mark Twain remarked that you should never let your schooling get in the way of your education, this was the kind of thing he had in mind…

The eclipse is neither a menace nor a surprise. Instead it’s an amazing teachable moment it’s a shame to squander. You can read more, including some great eclipse resources for educators, right here.

August 17, 2017

Five Easy Theses*

The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein.

1. Richard Whitmire: “Charter School Students Graduating From College at Three to Five Times National Average.”

Wonks behold: an original data set (plus commentary).

<<We identified nine large charter networks with enough alumni to roughly calculate degree-earning success rates.” >> 

I agree with his premise.  KIPP nudged other charters to carefully calculate this stuff.  Certainly that was true for me at Match Charter.  Under Linda Brown’s direction, I remember writing “College Success” as the Match Charter School mission in 1999, but it wasn’t until KIPP’s public reporting of this data that we really pushed hard to track down ALL of the alumni (I’m told: 55% of Match grads currently hold a 4yr degree, plus 8% still in college from the “old enough” cohorts).

Read Whitmire’s whole thing, lots to contemplate.

2. Matt Ladner responds: Beware.  He writes:

<<Before this college success of charter school meme gets entirely out of hand, I want to suggest that we should get the comparisons between control group and experimental group studies on long-term success nailed down before going to town on this.>>

I agree.

a. Good news: at least one such scholarly study is quietly underway (or so I think).

b. If the denominator shifts from “Grade 12 grads” to “Grade 9 new students,” the graduation rate will obviously fall.  How much?  I’m guessing from 3x to 5x narrative will change to perhaps 1.5x to 3x.

c. A subgroup I’m curious about: kids who attend a top charter for a couple years, get large test gains, then transfer.  My guess is they enroll in college at roughly the same rates, but graduate at far lower rates.  Hopefully we’ll find out.

3. What we can all agree on: lots of kids start college, don’t finish.

One aspect: college remedial courses don’t seem to work.  See Freddie deBoer thoughts here on a new sobering study.

4. Neerav Kingland gets all Passover on us.  He asks what Four Questions the charter sector needs to answer.

Plus he (and we) can’t reblog enough the cautionary Fryer/Dobbie study.  (Where kids who attended Texas charters didn’t see much later-life wage gain).

5. The godmother of all edubloggers, Joanne Jacobs, always tells it like it is: <<Homework assignments in the early grades often are a waste of time. I like the idea of telling kids to read instead.>>

*Stolen from my friend Jim Stone, a wonk-worthy book.

August 16, 2017

Headline: Letter From Liberia

The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein.

Disclosure first: from 2013 to 2016 I served as chief academic officer at Bridge International Academies, which operates elementary schools in Africa and India.  I still volunteer there, as an advisor and “host parent” for some Bridge alumni who’ve won full scholarships to American boarding schools.  So please take my views with a grain of salt.

That said, I thought Nicholas Kristof said it well last month in the NY Times:

<<I understand critics’ fears (and share some about for-profit schools in the U.S.). They see handing schools over to Bridge as dismantling the public education system — one of the best ideas in human history — for private profit.

But I’ve followed Bridge for years, my wife and I wrote about it in our last book, and the concerns are misplaced. Bridge has always lost money, so no one is monetizing children. In fact, it’s a start-up that tackles a social problem in ways similar to a nonprofit, but with for-profit status that makes it more sustainable and scalable.

More broadly, the world has failed children in poor countries. There have been global campaigns to get more children in school, but that isn’t enough. The crucial metric isn’t children attending school, but children learning in school.

Here in Liberia in the village of Boegeezay in Rivercess County, I dropped in on a regular public school that officially had 16 teachers assigned to it. Initially, I saw four; a couple more trickled in hours later.

…In contrast, the Bridge schools I visited were functional. The teachers can themselves read. School begins on time, at 7:30 a.m., and continues until 3:30 instead of letting out around noon, as at many government-run schools. And students have books.>>


In the USA, there’s a healthy debate about traditional schools versus choice/charters/vouchers/reform.  One aspect: to the consternation of some reformers, many American parents are satisfied with THEIR nearby public school, even with low academic results.

In my experience, though, that is not typically true with Liberian parents.  The typical family craves a different option.

Some years ago, after RCTs showed that KIPP kids indeed had large achievement gains, when controlling for who attended, the AFT Shanker Institute blog conceded that KIPP was perhaps a good thing, and wondered what might be learned from those schools.

My hope is that if similar RCTs show large gains for Bridge kids, that the debate similarly shifts.  We shall see.

More backstory on the politics here.

Posted on Aug 16, 2017 @ 4:38pm

August 15, 2017

Old-School Personalization

The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein.

1. Old School

A few years back, my friend Alan Safran spun off a part of Match Education into a new nonprofit.  It’s called Saga.  They do Old School personalized learning.  Not Old School as in Andy R after a long day with the fish.  Old School as in tutoring by actual human beings, not computers.  Back story here.

Saga serves kids in large districts (like Chicago and NYC).  Alan, along with 2 Match High School alumni (Antonio, Ashlie), have been obsessing over quality until they felt “ready to grow.”  It’s that time now: a month ago, CZ made a large investment.

So Saga is likely to take on another other large high-poverty district as a client.  If you’re a big city supe and looking for a program that has gotten large, measurable results in Houston, NYC, and Chicago district schools, give Alan a shout.  Moreover, the politics on this one are pretty good: “ed reform skeptics” often like this particular program.  See here, for example.

Saga is still innovating, experimenting with “half-dosage” tutoring, plus a tiny pilot of great interest to me: tutoring incarcerated youth in Queens, NY.  [A friend recently observed one of the kids there struggling with a quadratic equation.  The tutor ably just sat tight, allowing the struggle.  After some energetic erasing, the kid looks up and nods, says “I got this,” boom, solves it.]

2. What’s In a Name?

We call it “high-dosage”* tutoring, to try to separate it from regular ol’ useless badly managed tutoring.  Roland Fryer popularized the term when we worked with him on the Apollo project in Houston.

But “High-dosage” captures just one of two essential components of Match-now-Saga tutoring.  That’s the “how much.”  Hours are very countable, as are tutor:kid ratios.  Scholars like “countable.”

What’s missing is the “who.”  It’s like describing the Patriots’ “bend don’t break” defense or Spurs ball movement — and expecting those strategies to work without Devin McCourty and Bill Bellichick, without Kawhi Leonard and Gregg Popovich.

The Saga team carefully vets tutor candidates, rejecting for more candidates than they accept.  Sometimes just 1 in 20 gets taken.  Then they obsessively coach and measure the tutors.  So it’s really “High Dosage plus Unusually High Quality Tutoring” that seems to work in the RCTs we’ve done.

What’s missing from the Old School High Quality Tutoring RCT evidence base is all the FAILED tutoring efforts that have happened around the country, in charters and traditional schools alike.  Sometimes low dosage, sometimes low quality, sometimes both.  I can name several off the top of my head.

Strategy matters, but execution matters more.  Sound familiar?  This seems like a common problem in our sector.

Without elite/unusual execution, it’s hard to help kids make large gains through school-based strategies.


Edujob: Portfolio Manager At Strategic Grant Partners

Here’s a great edujob, in Boston, (and just in time for the Red Sox playoff run this fall) Portfolio Manager at Strategic Grant Partners:

In September 2002, fifteen families, bound by the common goal of improving the lives of struggling children and families in Massachusetts, launched Strategic Grant Partners (SGP), a foundation and a pro- bono consulting firm. We invest in, and work closely with, great leaders with game changing ideas that have the potential to dramatically improve the lives of children and families in Massachusetts…

…The Portfolio Manager will be responsible for spearheading select grant making efforts, with a focus on the education sector including K-12, post secondary, and workforce development. The Portfolio Manager will also play a critical role continuing to refine SGP’s strategy. S/he will report to the Director.

Learn more about the role, about Strategic Grant Partners, and about how to apply here.

August 14, 2017

Giving Up Control

The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein

Hi wonks.  A few thoughts this week from Red Sox country.

On Being An Acton Academy Parent is a blog I’ve come to treasure.  It’s by Laura Sandefer, who combines her voice as Acton’s co-founder with her role as a mom.  A recent entry:

<<(Coach Carpenter) came to P.E. when he should have called in sick. He had a sore throat and a headache, but it was the last class of the session and he wanted to be there. No way was he up to running up and down the field, though, much less doing the “Acton Insanity!” warm-up.

So he called over a couple of the older Eagles (students).

“I’m sick,” he said. “You mind running the show today?”

Was it perfect?  No.  Was there anarchy?  A little.

Did they love it?  YES!

Coach Carpenter had the long summer break to think about what he saw that day and about where the school was heading. Was he ready to change? Was he okay with giving up control?>>

Read the whole thing here.

When a school maxes on “self-directed” and/or “personalized” learning, there are tradeoffs.  At Acton, student agency is baked into the org DNA.  But when the same concept is foisted on traditional schools, Zombie Reform is often the result, says the estimable Larry Cuban.

He cites four 20th century iterations of this heavyweight fight: age-graded schools in one corner, personalized learning in the other corner.  So far “age-graded school” is 4-0, all knockouts.


Coming Attractions Part II

After Goldstein is done this week, TeachPlus founder Celine Coggins will be here for a week to share the teacher voice work she’s led and ongoing work and issues. Enjoy!

Coming Attractions: Goldstein Is Going Wild!

I’m taking a week away from the blog but you will be in good hands with Mike Goldstein. In a throwback to the early days of Eduwonk, it’s Goldstein Gone Wild. He will go wild starting today and running all week, enjoy!