Archives for category: Innovation

This entry in today’s “Writer’s Almanac” astounded me.

On this day in 1902, archaeologist Valerios Stais discovered the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient analog computer from the first or second century B.C., that was used to calculate the position of the sun, moon, and stars in relationship to the observer’s position on the surface of the earth. For many decades, archaeologists did not recognize the mechanism’s degree of mechanical sophistication, which is comparable to a 19th-century Swiss clock. To date, the only other artifacts with that degree of mechanical sophistication have come from the 14th century or later.

Stais uncovered the mechanism while exploring the Anitkythera shipwreck off the northwest coast of Crete. Today the mechanism is on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Michael Hynes is the superintendent of schools in the Port Washington school district on Long Island in New York. He is one of the most creative, innovative, and unconventional thinkers in education today. His new book was just published, offering advice to school leaders and, frankly, to everyone, about what is most important in life.

Mike Hynes is my candidate for the next State Commissioner of Education in New York. He has fresh ideas, deep experience, and values the well-being of children more than test scores.

In this brief essay, he outlines what schools should do after the pandemic.

He writes:

Now is the time for our school leaders to generate a new compelling philosophy of education and an innovative architecture for a just and humane school system. We must refocus our energy on a foundation built on a sense of purpose, forging relationships and maximizing the potential and talents of all children. Let’s take advantage of the possibility that our nation’s attention can shift 180 degrees, from obsessing over test scores and accountability to an entirely different paradigm of physical, mental, and emotional well-being for students and staff.

It is our collective responsibility to foster engaging and meaningful environments when educating our children in the new era of a post pandemic education. As the great philosopher John Dewey stated over one hundred years ago, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” The first sentence in the 2018 World Bank Group’s Flagship Report- Learning: To Realize Education’s Promise states, “Schooling is not the same as learning.” I couldn’t agree more. The report continues to speak about that as a society, we must learn to realize education’s promise.

Now is this the time to revolutionize this antiquated system built on old structures and ideologies. I recommend we change the purpose of schooling to the following core values:

· Emphasize well-being. Make child and teacher well-being a top priority in all schools, as engines of learning and system efficiency.

· Upgrade testing and other assessments. Stop the standardized testing of children in grades 3-8, and “opt-up” to higher-quality assessments by classroom teachers. Eliminate the ranking and sorting of children based on standardized testing. Train students in self-assessment, and require only one comprehensive testing period to graduate from high school.

· Invest resources fairly. Fund schools equitably on the basis of need. Provide small class sizes.

· Boost learning through physical activity. Give children multiple outdoor free-play recess breaks throughout the school day to boost their well-being and performance. We observed schools in Finland that give children four 15-minute free-play breaks a day.

· Change the focus. Create an emotional atmosphere and physical environment of warmth, comfort and safety so that children are happy and eager to come to school. Teach not just basic skills, but also arts, crafts, music, civics, ethics, home economics and life skills.

· Make homework efficient. Reduce the homework load in elementary and middle schools to no more than 30 minutes per night, and make it responsibility-based rather than stress-based.

· Trust educators and children. Give them professional respect, creative freedom and autonomy, including the ability to experiment, take manageable risks and fail in the pursuit of success.

· Improve, expand and destigmatize vocational and technical education. Encourage more students to attend schools in which they can acquire valuable career/trade skills.

In short, if we learn anything at all from this pandemic, we should clearly recognize that we need our teachers more than ever before. It’s imperative that schools focus on a balanced approach to education, one that embraces physical, emotional, cognitive and social growth. We have an enormous amount of work to do, but our children deserve nothing less.

If you agree, please send his essay to every school board member you know and to anyone else who is interested in finding a new way to educate our children, one that develops their well-being and joy in learning, instead of subjecting them to an endless and useless series of standardized tests.

I don’t know why, but I find it fascinating to read about entrepreneurial ventures in education that launch with dazzling publicity, then quietly disappear. For some reason, entrepreneurs with no education experience think it should be easy to revolutionize schooling. Bill Gates has been reinventing American education for about 20 years. Laurene Powell Jobs started the Emerson Collective and the XQ Initiative to reinvent the high school and put on a show on all three networks to launch. SamuelAbrams wrote an excellent book about the high-flying adventures of Chris Whittle and the Edison Project, called Education and the Commercial Mindset. Joel Klein persuaded Rupert Murdoch to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in his plan to revolutionize American education with a program called Amplify, which Murdoch unloaded in a fire sale to Laurene Powell Jobs (Klein now works for an online health insurance company called OSCAR, founded by Jared Kushner’s brother). Jonathan Knee wrote a book called Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education.

And here is a new entry about the dangers of amateurs reinventing education.

Peter Greene tells the story of the glorious rise and inglorious descent of AltSchool.

It was founded by alumni of Google. They raised large sums of money from investors. What could go wrong?

Greene begins:

You remember AltSchool, the miraculous Silicon Valley technoschool that was going to Change the Game. We’ve checked in on them from time to time, and it’s time to see what has happened since the Altschool ship ran aground on the shores of reality a while ago.

After two years of tinkering and tweaking, AltSchool burst on the scene with a flurry of PR in 2015. Founded by Max Ventilla, formerly of Google, and Bharat Mediratta, also a Googlite, it was going to bring technology and personalization to new heights. Like a wired-up free school, it would let students and teachers just sort of amble through the forest of education. Teachers would capture moments of demonstrated learning on video, students would do work on modules on computer, and it would all be crunched in a back room full of IT whizzes who would churn out personalized learning stuff for the students. The school set up some branch schools, lab schools, hither and yon. All the big names wanted to invest– Zuckerberg, Powell Jobs, etc.

They had money. They had ideas. All they were lacking was knowledge and experience.

You will want to read the rest. It’s a cautionary tale for other entrepreneurs.

Anu Partanen and Trevor Corson we’re living in a comfortable neighborhood in Brooklyn but worried about economic pressure and the future. When Anu got an offer of a job in her native Finland, they moved there. They wrote this article to explain that Finnish society arrived at an agreement to provide excellent public services, to pay higher taxes, to protect the health and wellness-being of their citizens, and businesses thriving. The Nordic approach to social welfare is not “socialism,” they write. It’s rational thinking. Capitalists support the system because it works.

They write:

We’ve now been living in Finland for more than a year. The difference between our lives here and in the States has been tremendous, but perhaps not in the way many Americans might imagine. What we’ve experienced is an increase in personal freedom. Our lives are just much more manageable. To be sure, our days are still full of challenges — raising a child, helping elderly parents, juggling the demands of daily logistics and work.

But in Finland, we are automatically covered, no matter what, by taxpayer-funded universal health care that equals the United States’ in quality (despite the misleading claims you hear to the contrary), all without piles of confusing paperwork or haggling over huge bills. Our child attends a fabulous, highly professional and ethnically diverse public day-care center that amazes us with its enrichment activities and professionalism. The price? About $300 a month — the maximum for public day care, because in Finland day-care fees are subsidized for all families.

And if we stay here, our daughter will be able to attend one of the world’s best K-12 education systems at no cost to us, regardless of the neighborhood we live in. College would also be tuition free. If we have another child, we will automatically get paid parental leave, funded largely through taxes, for nearly a year, which can be shared between parents. Annual paid vacations here of four, five or even six weeks are also the norm…

Finnish employers had become painfully aware of the threats socialism continued to pose to capitalism. They also found themselves under increasing pressure from politicians representing the needs of workers. Wanting to avoid further conflicts, and to protect their private property and new industries, Finnish capitalists changed tactics. Instead of exploiting workers and trying to keep them down, after World War II, Finland’s capitalists cooperated with government to map out long-term strategies and discussed these plans with unions to get workers onboard.

More astonishingly, Finnish capitalists also realized that it would be in their own long-term interests to accept steep progressive tax hikes. The taxes would help pay for new government programs to keep workers healthy and productive — and this would build a more beneficial labor market. These programs became the universal taxpayer-funded services of Finland today, including public health care, public day care and education, paid parental leaves, unemployment insurance and the like…

The Nordic nations as a whole, including a majority of their business elites, have arrived at a simple formula: Capitalism works better if employees get paid decent wages and are supported by high-quality, democratically accountable public services that enable everyone to live healthy, dignified lives and to enjoy real equality of opportunity for themselves and their children. For us, that has meant an increase in our personal freedoms and our political rights — not the other way around.

Yes, this requires capitalists and corporations to pay fairer wages and more taxes than their American counterparts currently do. Nordic citizens generally pay more taxes, too. And yes, this might sound scandalous in the United States, where business leaders and economists perpetually warn that tax increases would slow growth and reduce incentives to invest…

Here’s the funny thing, though: Over the past 50 years, if you had invested in a basket of Nordic equities, you would have earned a higher annual real return than the American stock market during the same half-century, according to global equities data published by Credit Suisse.

Nordic capitalists are not dumb. They know that they will still earn very handsome financial returns even after paying their taxes. They keep enough of their profits to live in luxury, wield influence and acquire social status. There are several dozen Nordic billionaires. Nordic citizens are not dumb, either. If you’re a member of the robust middle class in Finland, you generally get a better overall deal for your combined taxes and personal expenditures, as well as higher-quality outcomes, than your American counterparts — and with far less hassle.

Why would the wealthy in Nordic countries go along with this? Some Nordic capitalists actually believe in equality of opportunity and recognize the value of a society that invests in all of its people. But there is a more prosaic reason, too: Paying taxes is a convenient way for capitalists to outsource to the government the work of keeping workers healthy and educated…

While companies in the United States struggle to administer health plans and to find workers who are sufficiently educated, Nordic societies have demanded that their governments provide high-quality public services for all citizens. This liberates businesses to focus on what they do best: business. It’s convenient for everyone else, too. All Finnish residents, including manual laborers, legal immigrants, well-paid managers and wealthy families, benefit hugely from the same Finnish single-payer health care system and world-class public schools.

There’s a big lesson here: When capitalists perceive government as a logistical ally rather than an ideological foe and when all citizens have a stake in high-quality public institutions, it’s amazing how well government can get things done.

Ultimately, when we mislabel what goes on in Nordic nations as socialism, we blind ourselves to what the Nordic region really is: a laboratory where capitalists invest in long-term stability and human flourishing while maintaining healthy profits.

Capitalists in the United States have taken a different path. They’ve slashed taxes, weakened government, crushed unions and privatized essential services in the pursuit of excess profits. All of this leaves workers painfully vulnerable to capitalism’s dynamic disruptions. Even well-positioned Americans now struggle under debilitating pressures, and a majority inhabit a treacherous Wild West where poverty, homelessness, medical bankruptcy, addiction and incarceration can be just a bit of bad luck away. Americans are told that this is freedom and that it is the most heroic way to live…

The success of Nordic capitalism is not due to businesses doing more to help communities. In a way, it’s the opposite: Nordic capitalists do less. What Nordic businesses do is focus on business — including good-faith negotiations with their unions — while letting citizens vote for politicians who use government to deliver a set of robust universal public services…

Right now might be an opportune moment for American capitalists to pause and ask themselves what kind of long-term cost-benefit calculation makes the most sense. Business leaders focused on the long game could do a lot worse than starting with a fact-finding trip to Finland.

 

 

 

Chalkbeat reports on a meeting in New York City where educators gathered to learn about the XQ-Robin Hood competition for “innovative” schools. First they watched a flashy video claiming that American high schools haven’t changed in 100 years, the usual disrupter claptrap. Then, after hearing that schools are obsolete, they were urged to reinvent them.

But XQ and education department officials included few specifics about what problems the city is hoping these schools will help solve, what future jobs they should be preparing students for, or the criteria that will be used to pick the winners. (Education historians have also disputed the idea that schools haven’t changed at all in the past century.)

Little has been said about where the new schools, 10 of which will be high schools, could be housed or how many students they will serve. Many educators in attendance said they were just learning about the competition for the first time and expressed interest in addressing basic needs, such as more social services and better support for students with disabilities — a contrast with much of the event’s rhetoric about reinventing school.

In the linked article, Historian Jack Schneider scoffed at the idea that high schools have been static for a century and are waiting for a billionaire to redesign them:

A century ago, teachers were largely untrained and oversaw very large classes in which rote memorization was the rule. Students brought their own books from home and the curriculum varied from school to school. Courses like zoology and technical drawing were common and classical languages still maintained a strong foothold. Students of color, when educated, were largely denied equal access, and special education did not exist. It was a different world.”

XQ is offering “only” $500,000 to reinvent the American high school, which is cheap-o because the last time XQ (Billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs) held a competition, she offered $10 million to the winners of her competition. Four have already failed. If they couldn’t reinvent the high school with $10 million, how does she expect NYC educators to do it for $500,000?

XQ offers advice about how to build a team for your innovative school. Only one educator needed.

Here is an innovative idea for Mrs. Jobs. Open a private school with no tuition. Demonstrate your best, most innovative ideas. Show the world the results of your innovation. Do you have any innovative ideas?

 

Peter Greene took a look at New York City’s decision to go into a public-private partnership with well-known Corporate Reform groups and asked whether the Reformers were helping out or the City was selling out. 

After a fruitless pursuit of “innovation” for 20 years, Mayor DeBlasio has turned to two organizations that have no track record of success.

He writes:

Last week the de Blasio administration announced that New York City schools will be entering into a public-private partnership to create 40 schools. Twenty will be brand new, while 20 will be transformed versions of existing schools, and all will be the result of a competition of school designers in the Imagine Schools NYC Challenge.

The partners in this undertaking are not new to the education reform business. The Robin Hood Foundation will put in $5 million to set up ten new schools. The foundation was launched by hedge fund managers; Fortune called them “a pioneer in what is now called venture philanthropy.” Their board shares memberswith boards of charter schools in New York. The other player in this initiative is the XQ Institute, an organization co-founded by Laurene Powell Jobs. The press release calls XQ “a national leader in transformational high school design,” and the institute has certainly maintained a high profile, most notably in 2017 when it bought time on four television networks to broadcast a flashy special about education. That special boosted the Super Schools competition, a contest in which XQ looked to give away nearly $100 million to ten schools, but many of the winners encountered problems even getting their schools open. XQ has been at the business of “reinventing school” for a while, but it doesn’t have much to show for its efforts.

What are some quick takeaways from this announcement?

First, it’s awfully cheap.

The private side of this partnership has put up $15 million for a plan to open or re-imagine forty schools. XQ has previously put up $10 million per school. This is peanuts, and not nearly enough money to get a new school off the ground. The press release saysthe program will launch with $32 million (so, $17 million from the city), but that is still less than one million dollars per school.

If I were a New York taxpayer, I’d want to know where the money will be coming from once this initial funding runs out. If I were a parent, I’d be worrying about whether or not the funding will come from my child’s school.

He added:

This is a slap at public education.

“This is a big endorsement of public education in New York City,” said de Blasio, according to the New York Times. That’s hard to see. A big endorsement of public education might have been to turn to the people in public education to head up this initiative. There are thousands of public school educators and education leaders in New York, and dozens of college programs invested in the public education system. But instead of turning to any of them, the mayor has brought in some rich amateurs to help him find a big fix.

No, Mr. Mayor. Turning 40 schools overto Laurene Powell Jobs, who knows zip about education, and the Robin Hood Foundation, which has raised millions for Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain and other charter operators, is definitely not an endorsement of public education. It is a slap in the face to the city’s thousands of experienced, dedicated educators.

 

 

Peter Greene recognizes the RAND Institution’s adroit use of the Reformy vocabulary in its latest report. 

Almost all your favorite jargon and buzzwords are found there, he says.

Check it out and see if they overlooked any of your favorite buzzwords.

RAND Corporation, with its vision to be “the world’s most trusted source for policy ideas and analysis.” regularly contributes to the total thinky tank output of material that wants to be viewed as “a report” or “research” or “a study” or “a paper,” but is more like an op-ed or blog post that has put on a tie and juiced up its vocabulary.

This week they cranked out a new one entitled “Reimagining the Workforce Development and Employment System for the 21st Century and Beyond.” Its scope is fuzzy and wide, like a wooly mammoth that has overindulged in pizza and beer, and while it doesn’t lay all the blame there, it does take some shots at K-12 education, and in doing so manages to tick off plenty of the boxes on the Reformster Talking Points Bingo Card.

Authors with no actual background in education? Check, check, and check. (For bonus points, two of the three are economists.)

Bloodless gobbledeegook? By the truckload. For instance, the authors note that during childhood “people make decisions about schooling and other aspects of human capital acquisition.” Yes, I often think back fondly to when I sat down with my children to discuss their human capital acquisition. Them was the days.

21st century skills? Yep. Employers are “struggling to find workers with 21st century skills that go beyond routine cognitive skills and stock academic knowledge to capture competencies in such areas as information synthesis, creativity, problem-solving, communication and teamwork.” Wait– those are 21st century skills? Really? Communication?? Because it makes me wonder how humanity survived all the previous centuries. On the other hand, I know feel like my colleagues, my college teacher program, and I were all forward-looking savants, given the fact that we were talking about all these things well before Y2K was a bug in a shortsighted programmer’s eye.

Schools haven’t changed in the last [fill in your favorite time frame here]? Yep. What the reportish thing calls “the current approach” is characterized as “a linear pipeline from kindergarten through 12th grade education to possibly college and then a job” and it hasn’t changed, despite “technological change, globalization, and important demographic changes.”

Half-baked ideas they read about somewhere? Sure. Hey, isn’t gamification a thing? Wouldn’t schools better if they did that?

Pitch for personalized learning that goes on forever? Yep. The need to keep training throughout “lifecourse” is necessary because employers need workers to acquire new skills, though not necessarily through any fancy college-type stuff. Quick micro-credentials (yes, check that box off, too) that you can shop for yourself online– that’s the ticket.

Peter concludes:

It’s a discouraging read, but since it advocates for vouchers and choice, it will be lapped up by Certain People. There really isn’t anything new here, but an outfit like RAND can put the old wine in fancy new skins. Well, maybe not wine. More like koolaid.

How about a really innovative idea? Like, for instance, starting babies in college, then moving them into kindergarten at puberty.

 

A few years ago, billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs pledged $100 million to launch 10 super new innovative schools, which she dubbed XQ schools. Each would get $10 million to show their stuff. She surrounded herself with veterans of the failed Race to the Top, like Arne Duncan and Russlyn Ali. What could possibly go wrong?

I reported last week that two of the 10 had failed.

The XQ school in Somerville, Massachusetts, was rejected when town officials realized that the cost of running a new school for 160 students would cause budget cuts to existing schools.

Leonie Haimson pointed out that a third had failed, in Oakland.

More on the Somerville story here (not behind any paywall): https://hechingerreport.org/anatomy-of-a-failure-how-an-xq-super-school-flopped/The XQ Institute also awarded $10M to start a Summit Learning HS in Oakland that never opened. https://www.sfgate.com/education/article/Backers-abandon-10-million-Super-School-project-11176992.phpThat means 3/10 of the awardees of their Super School prize have already failed. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-09-14-xq-institute-announces-ten-winners-of-super-schools-competition.

Stay tuned.

You may recall that Laurene Powell Jobs decided to reinvent the American high school by creating a design competition for new models. In 2026, she offered prizes of $10 million each to the ten best plans. Over 700 proposals came in. She called it the XQ competition. She hired leading lights from the Obama administration, including Arne Duncan and Russlyn Ali, to advise her. She bought airtime on all three major networks to bring together celebrities to proclaim the failure of U.S. education and the need for Mrs. Jobs’ XQ Initiative.

The awards were announced. Earlier this year, an XQ school in Delaware closed. It was called the Design Thinking Academy.

About 5he same time, an XQ project in Somerville, Massachusetts, was killed by the School Committee, the Mayor, and the superintendent, who were once enthusiastic about it. 

The Boston Globe tells the story, which is behind a pay wall. I will try to summarize it briefly and hope to do it justice.

It begins like this:

ALEC RESNICK AND SHAUNALYNN DUFFY stood in Somerville City Hall at about 6:30 on March 18, a night they hoped would launch the next chapter of their lives. The two had spent nearly seven years designing a new kind of high school meant to address the needs of students who didn’t thrive in a traditional setting. They’d developed a projects-driven curriculum that would give students nearly unprecedented control over what they would learn in a small, supportive environment. Resnick and Duffy had spent countless hours shepherding this school through the political thickets that all new public schools face. Approval by the teachers union, which became the most time-consuming obstacle, had finally come through in early January. Tonight, the School Committee members would cast their votes.

Resnick had reason to be optimistic. Mayor Joseph Curtatone sat on the School Committee, and he had been the one to suggest Resnick and Duffy consider designing a new public school in the first place, back in 2012. Mary Skipper, Somerville schools superintendent, had been instrumental in keeping the approval process moving forward when prospects looked bleak. She wouldn’t be voting, but she planned to offer a recommendation to elected officials. And then there was the $10 million. Resnick and Duffy had won the money in a national competition to finish designing and ultimately open and run their high school, and the pair knew it had helped maintain interest in their idea. Voting against them would mean walking away from a lot of outside funding.

The two had met as students at MIT. THey became interested in how children learn. They began making plans and trying them on a small scale in 2012. They called their school Powderhouse Studios. At full capacity, it would enroll 160 students. They intended to match the diversity of the district. The heart of their plan was “ambitious, self-directed, interdisciplinary projects focused on computation, narrative, and design — unheard of in a typical high school. Their work would be driven by goals laid out in individualized learning plans geared toward real-world concepts and would be supported by faculty serving more as mentors than as teachers. The school day would last from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the academic calendar would stretch year-round.”

In 2016, the pair had worked with middle-schoolers, trying out their project-based ideas. That year they applied to the XQ Project and had the support of the mayor and the superintendent. And they won. What could go wrong?

Finances. That’s what went wrong. Despite the initial enthusiasm of the school officials, they realized that the Somerville High School would lose $3.2 million each year to the new school when it had 160 students. The budget for the entire district is $73 million. The district’s comprehensive high school has 1,250 students. The new school planned to enroll about 13% of the existing high school’s students.

On the night of the decisive vote last March, the superintendent told the School Committee that “opening the new school would force the district to cut at least 20 teacher or counselor positions and to eliminate most before- and after-school programs districtwide. “As someone who believes in and has championed the power of new ideas my whole career, it pains me deeply to not be able to solve this problem,” she said. “In this case, the investment to create something that may only add an unknown amount of benefit to 2 to 3 percent of students, at the expense of the remaining 97 to 98 percent, is one I cannot recommend making at this time.

The School Committee voted unanimously not to open the school. The Jobs grant of $10 million was alluring, but when the startup money ran out, the district would have to absorb the ongoing costs.

And a second XQ project died.

 

Let us give credit to Chalkbeat: It is not afraid to give an equivocal review to one of its funders, billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs.

Barnum presents the facts about the spotty record of LPJ’s XQ Initiative. Her goal, she said, is to “reinvent” the high school. She has given grants of $10 million to a variety of high schools, each of which has its own plans and ideas. These high schools are supposed to become beacons of innovation that are copied by thousands of other high school, ushering in an era of breathtaking change.

She launched the XQ initiative with a public relations stunt: a star-studded TV program that ran on all three major networks. This was supposed to be a huge consciousness raiser that stunned the public and ushered in the demand for radical change.

The breathtaking naïveté of the XQ Plan boggles the mind. The goal and shape of change is undefined. All that is clear is that a billionaire wants change.

It didn’t help that Mrs. Jobs surrounded herself with policy types who never taught and never led a school (Arne Duncan, Russlyn Ali, others) and whose policy chops stemmed from failed policies (Race to the Top).

Why would a whiz-bang TV show ignite a revolution? Why would 10-15 examples of schools that are all doing something different create a template for thousands of other high schools?

The first Bush Administration tried something similar (New American Schools Development Corporation), which doled out $50 million to design teams to “reinvent” the high school. Like Ozymandias, it is lost in the sands of time.

Even if many people agreed that the high school years should be different, there is no agreement on how it should be different or that Laurene Powell Jobs and her team of tyros will lead us to the Promised Land.