Category Archives: Poverty

I Got Schooled – Practice #3 – Feedback

So, here is Practice #3 – Feedback that is timely, consistent and teacher/principal-usable

M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) has written a book (I Got Schooled) describing how, and how not, to close the education gap in the U.S. It should be very supportive in the current conversation and climate regarding what’s wrong with, and how to fix, New Mexico education.

For five years through his MNS Foundation, Shyamalan studied what is succeeding in closing the education gap — that depended only on practices inside the classroom itself and that were scalable.

He discovered closing the achievement gap depended on five practices and couldn’t be figured out by examining just any single practice by itself.

These five practices must be implemented together to have any substantive effect:

•            Effective teachers – dropping poor; hiring good; why it’s important; how to do it

•            Leadership – how it’s important; what it looks like; how to do it

•            Feedback – critical: frequency, consistency, teacher/principal usability

•            Smaller (high) schools –part of the “system” that turbocharges the other practices

•            More time in school – summers matter – children of low income and of color fall behind a month every summer; by the time they reach third grade they are so far behind it’s virtually impossible to catch up

Covered: successful schools, programs, clinical studies, and data and statistics, including: Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), Uncommon Schools, Achievement First/Endeavor, FirstLine schools, North Star Academy, Arthur Ashe, Los Angeles Green Dot Public Schools, and more.

The study also found four popular, expensive practices contribute little to closing the education gap:

•            Small classroom sizes

•            Master’s programs and Ph.D.’s for the teachers

•            Paying teachers like doctors

•            Funding the schools at $20,000 per pupil


  • Some way is needed to improve the performance of teachers that are retained
  • To increase the value of existing teachers, some way to measure that performance will be needed
  • Value Added Method (VAM – in its ideal form) compares students’ actual progress to predicted progress, and assumes that differences are due to the instruction they received
  • While it is true, “kids can’t be reduced to a test score,” subjective grading is even worse; a flexible yardstick may not have created the achievement gap, but definitely perpetuated it
  • Measuring progress in literacy or math requires more than just observing reading or math level at age seven. It needs to include:
    • Family income
    • Parents’ educational background
    • Geographic location
    • Inner city versus suburbs
    • Past performance by other kids in same school
    • Past performance by the individual student
    • That is to say, some form of VAM
  • VAM works generally quite well so long as
    • good data are available, and
    • when it’s used to measure GROWTH rather than ACHIEVEMENT
    • important: these two measures are easily and frequently confused
  • The most effective schools are focused on GROWTH; based on their scores in the first grade, did our eighth-graders do better than predicted
  • An even more valuable way to use VAM data is for improving teachers and improving instruction; make the practice of teaching data-driven
  • Figure out the reasons for failure and success
  • A successful organization is one that goes through cycles of planning, doing, studying, and acting, over and over again, i.e., continuous Improvement
  • End-of-year tests tell a school whether it is doing its job, but not how to do it better
  • Value-added data adds value only when someone actually uses it
  • To work, data-based instruction can’t be just voluntary
  • Teachers and principals opting out of the feed-back loop system destroy the possibility of positive results
  • Data is collected everywhere, but no one has taught teachers and principals how to analyze, interpret, and use the data that are being collecting
  • Teachers at high-achieving schools receive some kind of feedback from classroom visits and student achievement between 16 and 13 times a semester
  • High-achieving schools make 4 interim assessments (tests) every semester in math and language arts
  • High-achieving schools have more strategies for using data to customize instruction for different students, i.e., different data-driven ways to create individualized lesson plans
  • The frequency of this feedback is critical
  • The effect size for employing effective feedback is twice as large as the effect size for reducing class size
  • The effect size for employing effective feedback is even larger for the estimated effect-size from replacing the lowest-performing 8 percent of teachers with average ones
  • Feedback and consistency are also important for empowering students
  • Feedback must be meticulous, frequent, and mandatory
  • Feedback must be produced in a form that is usable by teachers and principals
  • Keep realistic the number of teachers that every principal is responsible for; maybe schools need to be smaller
  • And this practice is scalable

The Heckman Equation – economic development and education

This article in Businessweek January 20-26, 2013 is a wider public distribution of the concept, problem, and solution early child education speaks to that Governor Martinez spoke of in her State of the State address today. Heckman’s Equation brings hard, observable data into the realms of making public policy.

James Heckman, is a PhD economist at the University of Chicago and views education for 3- and 4-year olds as fix to a current serious market failure.  In terms of economic development, early child education is a hard-nosed investment that pays off in lower social welfare costs, lower teen pregnancy rates, decreased crime rates, and increased tax revenue, as opposed to  spending on prisons, health and adolescent special education remediation.

Through the Heckman Equation, he found that an initial investment in free instruction of $17,758 per child per year in 2006 dollars, yielded between $60 and $300  return on investment (ROI) in state and federal welfare monies, increased tax revenues, and, most significantly, savings in police and court costs. As an economist, he finds this is  a 7% to 10% annual ROI.

So, not only did this turn out to not be a cost, it more than paid for itself in annual ROI in improved human capital to business and society, he also found it consistently beat historical ROI on equity (the stock markets) of around 5.8%.

The data further show that the earlier a child gets help, the better the results continue to be through each stage of education. Literally, the greatest ROI or ‘bang for the buck’ exists in early intervention – early child education, and this effective ROI reduces throughout adolescence.

A big problem arises when kids ought to be in early education programs which most young parents can’t afford. Heckman says, “The accident of birth is a huge, huge imperfection in the (economic) market.”

The good news is, and data show, this is overcome-able through targeted early child education and it appears to be scalable.

As an aside, in a 2011 Heckman lecture, he points out that cognitive testing stressed by NCLB and Race to the Top, only speaks to one dimension of a multidimensional system that includes, at least: integrity, socio-emotional skills, character, collaboration, grit. Yet data strongly indicates these untested characteristics may account for the largest share of human development, effectiveness in life, and contribution to the economy and society. These are the “soft” skills that are so widely reported today to be both in short supply and increasing demand.

Beyond interesting, the data also show these “soft” skills even affect scores on cognitive tests!

I Got Schooled – Practice #1 – Effective teachers

I Got Schooled Practice #1 – Effective teachers – hiring good and dropping poor

Through his MNS Foundation, Shyamalan spent five years studying what is succeeding in closing the education gap that depended only on factors inside the classroom itself and that were scalable. He discovered closing the achievement gap can’t be figured out by examining just any single practice by itself; five things must be implemented together to have any substantive effect.

Shyamalan uncovers five factors present in schools he found were significantly closing the education gap for inner city children and children of color. He provides just tons of example schools, clinical studies, data and statistics, detailing each of these five factors.

These posts are highlights for each of these five factors for folks who might feel they are too busy to read the whole book … and strongly whet your appetite for doing so. The five factors are:

  • Effective teachers – dropping poor, hiring good
  • Right balance of leadership
  • Feedback that is timely and consistent
  • Smaller schools
  • More time in school

EFFECTIVE TEACHERS – dropping poor, hiring good

  • Are the engine that make schools run
  • Not all teachers perform equally (as do neither all salesmen, lawyers, accountants, basketball players, school principals, …)
  • Get the least effective teachers out of classrooms
  • You can discover who underperformers are
  • National studies find just 2% of teachers are rated unsatisfactory
  • Teachers in the middle, performance-wise, may be the most important factor for scaling success to 132,656 K-12 schools nationwide in 2010
  • One year with a great teacher is worth $20,000 in lifetime earnings for every student in that class
  • The effects of poor teachers in student learning outweighs the benefits provided by the good ones
  • Someone who barely graduated from Nowhere State is just as likely to be a great teacher as someone with a Summa Cum Laude from Harvard
  • Until you see them teach, you are picking blind; seeing them teach takes 2 to 3 years
  • After 2-3 years, tenure locks both good and bad teachers in place
  • Release procedures can take  300 days and cost $250,000, and so becomes too much trouble to take on
  • By replacing just 5 to 8% of the least effective teachers with average teachers, student overall achievement scores would rise to those of Canada or Finland
  • There is no evidence we can improve teachers’ performance by giving them bonuses or sending them to graduate school
  • Reliable tools must be used to determine teacher competence and effectiveness
  • Actual-versus-expected student progress can be a valid rating system (i.e., Value Added Method – VAM)
  • But … “Perfect is the enemy of the good.”  Voltaire
  • Hence the teacher evaluation problem: “Until someone comes up with a perfect tool for judging teachers, one that judges no teacher unfairly, there’s no point in using anything.”
  • If no one can be fired without a “fair” evaluation, and a fair evaluation needs to be error-free, then no one can be fired.
  • Multiple tests, as designed by the Measures of Effective Teaching project (MET),  are providing greater reliability and validity to teacher evaluation (see the MET January 2013 final report)
  • Good news: an inner city student having a great teacher for four years in a row will close the gap separating her from her suburban counterpart, without doing anything else
  • Bad news: three great teachers won’t make up for one poor one
  • The ratio of great teachers to poor teachers is nowhere near three-to-one
  • For schools on the wrong side of the achievement gap, these “roadblock” teachers effectively trap students
  • Eliminating roadblock teachers is a necessary first step toward closing America’s achievement gap, but it’s not sufficient in and of itself. “You can’t fire your way to excellence.”
  • Hiring good teachers and releasing bad ones is a scalable practice

Next up: The right balance of leadership

Closing the education gap – new book – “I Got Schooled”

This summary, borrowed from Amazon:  I Got Schooledoffers a look at America’s educational achievement gap that could only have come from an outsider. 

Famed director M. Night Shyamalan has long had a serious interest in education. The MNS Founda­tion he and his wife started once gave college scholarships to promising inner-city students, but Shyamalan realized that these scholarships did nothing to improve education for all the other students in under-performing schools. When he learned that some schools were succeeding with similar student populations, he traveled across the country to find out how they did this and whether these schools had something in common. He eventually learned that there are five keys to closing America’s achievement gap. But just as we must do several things simultaneously to maintain good health— eat the right foods, exercise regularly, get a good night’s sleep—so too must we use all five keys to turn around our lowest-performing schools.

These five keys are used by all the schools that are succeeding, and no schools are succeeding without them. Before he discovered them, Shyamalan investigated some popular reform ideas that proved to be dead ends, such as smaller class size, truculent unions, and merit pay for teachers.  He found that the biggest obstacle to school reform is cognitive biases: too many would-be reformers have committed themselves to false solutions (*) .

This is a deeply personal book by an unbiased observer determined to find out what works and why, so that we as a nation can fulfill our obliga­tion to give every student an opportunity for a good education.

(*) Not the answer to closing the education gap:

  • small classroom sizes
  • master’s programs and Ph.D.’s for the teachers
  • paying teachers like doctors
  • funding the schools at $20,000 per pupil

Truly a book worth reading … and sharing … widely.

Here is a 58 minute video interview with M. Night Shyamalan that’s worth watching         [click here to watch].

For busy people, I am posting a summary at  of each of the five practices MNS Foundation discovered that “moved the needle” in closing the gap.


Eight problems with Common Core Standards

Eight problems with Common Core Standards

By , Washington Post,  Posted at 11:37 AM ET, 08/21/2012

Correction: The original post said incorrectly that the Common Core was written with no public dialogue or feedback from experienced educators. The post now says there was insufficient public dialogue and feedback from experienced educators.

This was written by Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author.

E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s book, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” was published March 1, 1987.

So it was probably in March of that year when, sitting at a dining room table in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, my host — a publishing executive, friend, and fellow West Virginian — said he’d just bought the book. He hadn’t read it yet, but wondered how Hirsch’s list of 5,000 things he thought every American should know differed from a list we Appalachians might write.

I don’t remember what I said, but it was probably some version of what I’ve long taken for granted: Most people think that whatever they and the people they like happen to know, everybody else should be required to know.

In education, of course, what it’s assumed that everybody should be required to know is called “the core.” Responsibility for teaching the core is divvied up between teachers of math, science, language arts, and social studies.

Variously motivated corporate interests, arguing that the core was being sloppily taught, organized a behind-the-scenes campaign to super-standardize it. They named their handiwork the Common Core State Standards to hide the fact that it was driven by policymakers in Washington D.C., who have thus far shoved it into every state except Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia.

This was done with insufficient public dialogue or feedback from experienced educators, no research, no pilot or experimental programs — no evidence at all that a floor-length list created by unnamed people attempting to standardize what’s taught is a good idea.

It’s a bad idea. Ignore the fact that specific Common Core State Standards will open up enough cans of worms to keep subject-matter specialists arguing among themselves forever. Consider instead the merit of Standards from a general perspective:

One: Standards shouldn’t be attached to school subjects, but to the qualities of mind it’s hoped the study of school subjects promotes. Subjects are mere tools, just as scalpels, acetylene torches, and transits are tools. Surgeons, welders, surveyors — and teachers — should be held accountable for the quality of what they produce, not how they produce it.

Two: The world changes. The future is indiscernible. Clinging to a static strategy in a dynamic world may be comfortable, even comforting, but it’s a Titanic-deck-chair exercise.

Three: The Common Core Standards assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects. In fact, the unexplored intellectual terrain lying between and beyond those familiar fields of study is vast, expands by the hour, and will go in directions no one can predict.

Four: So much orchestrated attention is being showered on the Common Core Standards, the main reason for poor student performance is being ignored—a level of childhood poverty the consequences of which no amount of schooling can effectively counter.

Five: The Common Core kills innovation. When it’s the only game in town, it’s the only game in town.

Six: The Common Core Standards are a set-up for national standardized tests, tests that can’t evaluate complex thought, can’t avoid cultural bias, can’t measure non-verbal learning, can’t predict anything of consequence (and waste boatloads of money).

Seven: The word “standards” gets an approving nod from the public (and from most educators) because it means “performance that meets a standard.” However, the word also means “like everybody else,” and standardizing minds is what the Standards try to do. Common Core Standards fans sell the first meaning; the Standards deliver the second meaning. Standardized minds are about as far out of sync with deep-seated American values as it’s possible to get.

Eight: The Common Core Standards’ stated aim — “success in college and careers”— is at best pedestrian, at worst an affront. The young should be exploring the potentials of humanness.

You can read the full article  here.

The Real Reasons Children Drop Out of School

A very insightful view of the challenges by Franklin Schargel, a Former Teacher, School Counselor and School Administrator, appeared in a recent Huffing Post. In it Schargel names and discusses 5 main reasons kids drop out of school:

  1. The students themselves
  2. The families they come from
  3. The community they come from
  4. The school they attend
  5. The teachers they have

Read the full article here.



Research on Grit and Self-Control Recognized in “Genius Grant”

JTF Grantee Awarded 2013 MacArthur Fellowship

As an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Angela Duckworth’s work focuses on studying competencies beyond general intelligence and opportunity that predict academic and professional achievement. She is perhaps best known for her work surrounding the concepts of self-control and grit, and how those personality traits are better indicators of success than factors such as IQ and socioeconomic opportunity.

Click here to see 5 videos of Dr. Duckworth answering these 5 questions about her work and findings:

What is grit?

Are there virtues that are precursors or closely associated with grit?

What role does humility play, if any, in cultivating grit?

How has your personal story been a window into your research on grit?

What advice would you give to a parent who wanted to cultivate grit in their children?