Archives for category: Innovation

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): XQ Institute also awarded $10M to start a Summit Learning HS in Oakland that never opened. means 3/10 of the awardees of their Super School prize have already failed.

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.



Checker Finn and I used to be best buddies back in the days when I was on the other side (the wrong side) of big education issues. We became friends in the early 1980s. We created something called the Educational Excellence Network, which circulated a monthly newsletter on events and issues back in the pre-Internet days. I was a member of the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which was created and chaired by his father and led by Checker. Checker had worked for Lamar Alexander when Lamar was Governor of Tennessee, and he recommended me to Lamar when Lamar became George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Education. I accepted the job of Assistant Secretary of Education for Research and Counselor to the Secretary, the same job Checker had held during the Reagan administration, when Bill Bennett was Secretary of Education. We both served as members of the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution. As a member of Checker’s board, I opposed accepting funding from the Gates Foundation, since I thought that as a think tank, we should protect our independence and we had plenty of money. I opposed TBF becoming an authorizer of charters in Ohio, where TBF was theoretically based even though its main office was in DC. I was outvoted on both issues. As a member of the Koret Task Force, I was in regular conversation and discussion with the best conservative thinkers. Over time, however, I lost the conservative faith. I changed my mind, as I described in my book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. 

I became and remain a deeply skeptical critic of all the grand plans to reinvent American education, especially those that emanate from billionaires and from people who are hostile to the very concept of public education.

To my surprise, I read an article recently by Checker that captured my skepticism about the Big Ideas imposed on schools and teachers. This one was called the New American Schools Development Corporation. It was spun off during the brief time that Lamar Alexander was Secretary. It was David Kearns’ pet project. David was a former CEO of Xerox who agreed to serve as Lamar’s Deputy Secretary. He was a wonderful man and I enjoyed getting to know him. He thought like a CEO and he thought that the best way to spur innovation was to hold a contest with a big prize. (Race to the Top did the same thing and flopped.)

Checker relies on the work of a wonderful scholar named Jeff Mirel of the University of Michigan. Jeff, a dear friend of mine, died earlier this year, far too young. He was a strong supporter of public schools and a first-rate historian. I miss him.

As Checker show, the NewAmerican Schools project failed. But the $50 Million that Kearns raised from private sources was eagerly snapped up.

My reaction to Checker’s article was this: Twenty or thirty years from now, someone will write a similar article about charter schools and ask, “How could people have been so dumb as to believe that you could ‘reform’ American education by letting anyone get public money to open any kind of school? Why did they think it was a good idea to let entrepreneurs and for-profit entities open schools? Why did they allow corporate chains to take over community public schools? Why did they allow religious zealots to get public money intended for public schools? They must have lost all common sense or any sense of history!”






Veteran journalist Peg Tyre is in Japan right now, trying to learn more about their efforts to reform schools. She loves feedback from you.

Will “Spinach” Stop Japanese Schools From Teaching Kids in A Way That Promotes Innovation?
Here’s the project: The governments in Japan and South Korea say they want to educate students to become more innovative and creative in order to participate more fully in the global economy. They are promoting English language instruction (with an emphasis on speaking), self-expression, critical thinking and problem-solving. I’m on a research trip to those countries to find out more.
In my last newsletter, I asked for help. And I got it! I’ve been astonished (and delighted) by how many teachers, policymakers, researchers, students, and school administrators have reached out to share their reflections about the kind of teaching that produces innovators, what’s changing, the challenges, the opportunity, and potential for transformation in the U.S and in Japan. Again, thank you! Keep those emails coming (
Progress: I’ve been spending time with teachers, administrators and policy makers. A few days ago, I interviewed an educator, Joe Hug, who has a unique perspective on the school-to-workplace pipeline in Japan.
After working as a teacher and university professor, Hug started a consulting firm that helps Japanese teachers of English (junior high school, high school, and college) who are under pressure to create classrooms less dependent on rote learning. He also helps prepare university students to become more active learners so they can enroll and thrive in prestigious business school program in the West. He has a gig with two large, well-known Japanese companies (including a division of Mitsubishi) teaching “global competency” to their junior employees. 
Hug, who is married to Reiko Hug, a Hiroshima native, says the biggest blocker to the government’s efforts to produce a culture of innovation might be “spinach.” 
What Does That Mean? It’s a loose translation of the mnemonic Ho-Ren-So,which sounds like the Japanese word for that leafy green. In practice it works like this: Hokoku” means report everything that happens to your superior. “Renraku” means to relate all the pertinent facts (absent opinion and conjecture) to your superior. And “sodan” mean to consult or discuss all your work with your boss and your team-members. Ho-Ren-So was popularized in the 1980s by the Japanese executive and author Tomiji Yamazaki, who put the catchy name on this deeply held set of interlocking cultural values which prize collaboration, caution, and stability over risk-taking and creative problem-solving. To the Western eye, Ho-Ren-So in the workplace can look like repetitive back and forth with your team. Or having a micromanaging boss. To be clear, he wasn’t suggesting that tired ethnic cliche of “groupthink” but something more subtle: a learned aversion to “getting it wrong.”
What Does This Have to Do With Schooling? Ho-Ren-So reflects a set of norms that are reinforced in the early grades of nearly every Japanese school. Children are taught to collaborate. They are asked to follow directions precisely. And respond to questions with what the teacher has determined is the correct answer. It’s the opposite of “working well independently” which is actually something U.S. schools prize. (And a comment your parents might have read about you on your report card.) And it couldn’t be more different from the mantra of our latest crop of Silicon Valley billionaires –“move fast and break things” (which clearly has its own downside.) It’s about teaching and learning in a way to produce the answer that is expected.
Here’s Hug: “The Japanese school system is great but it focusses on teaching kids to come up with the right answer, the one that is required of them. But that’s not the modern world.” In the modern world, he says, students need to figure out “what are the possibilities.” It’s difficult to teach students that way, says Hug, when students don’t want to be seen as “getting it wrong.” 
These days, teachers are being challenged, says Hug, to create and support a classroom culture that’s flexible enough for students to make a mistake and recover from it. Where “getting it wrong’ is part of the process of getting it right. And “teachers feel abandon,” says Hug. Most didn’t learn that way. The “spinach” culture of Japan doesn’t support it. And teachers aren’t sure how to pull it off.  
Your Thoughts? Have you ever encountered “spinach” in Japanese schools or companies? How exactly are teachers in Japan going to be managing this transition? Do we have a version of that in the U.S.? Here’s a big question: Can fear of failure co-exist with innovation? I’d like to hear from you.
Know of someone who might be interested in this conversation? Send me their email.
My trip is made possible by a generous Abe Fellowship for Journalist (administered by the Social Science Research Council.) I retain full editorial control. I also appreciate the moral support of my colleagues at the EGF Accelerator, an incubator for education-related nonprofits in Manhattan.