Monday, September 15, 2014

My blog

Thank you for visiting my blog. I sometimes don't have time to post here
everything that I send to my school reform email list, so if you want to
receive my regular (approximately once a week) email updates, please
email me at WTilson at tilsonfunds.com. In addition, in between emails,
I regularly tweet the most interesting articles I come across, so sign
up to follow me on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/arightdenied

For more about me and links to my favorite articles, posts and videos on
education reform, see my School Reform Resource Page at
www.arightdenied.org, in particular my Powerpoint presentation entitled
A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform, which is
posted at www.arightdenied.org/presentation-slides.

The idea for this came to me after watching An Inconvenient Truth, Al
Gore's documentary about global warming. After seeing it, I thought to
myself, "That's exactly what school reformers need as well!" My
presentation is meant to be a collection of data and arguments that
forcefully advocates for an urgent school reform agenda. It was made
into a documentary in 2010 that you can watch at www.arightdenied.org. I
did an interview about it with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo:
http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=1507057055&play=1.

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The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio


http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/magazine/the-battle-for-new-york-schools-eva-moskowitz-vs-mayor-bill-de-blasio.html
Run, don’t walk, to read this NYT Magazine article on “The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio.” Eva takes no prisoners and pulls no punches in her crusade (and I use that word knowingly) on behalf of children who are being screwed by the system.

By 1997 she was teaching at Prep for Prep, a program in New York City for gifted minority students. She assigned her 11th graders to document the disparities between the city’s cleaning of parks on the wealthy Upper East Side and its non-upkeep of a park in the Harlem neighborhood where some of them lived. She told the students to take photos and complain to the sanitation and parks departments. “We created a little bit of a ruckus,” she said. “I think Prep for Prep was nervous about it. I was asked why I couldn’t just do simulations.” The park, she continued, got a cleaning.

During that period, Moskowitz grew consumed with the dismal performance of the city’s vast Department of Education, which is responsible for schooling 1.1 million children — and with the union-guarded contracts that continue to make it nearly impossible to fire teachers for incompetence or give raises for merit. “I remember reading,” she told me, turning to the protections for administrators, “that a principal had to demonstrate ‘persistent educational failure’ to be in jeopardy of losing his job. I remember thinking, that’s crazy! Persistent. Like a driver would have to persistently kill people before being taken off the road!”

Moskowitz’s zeal persists to this day. My first exposure to her was at an informational gathering two years ago; my girlfriend was about to enroll her daughter in a first-grade class at a Success Academy school. I caught a glimpse of an educator who can be dismissive of anyone whose opinions differ from her own, and over the past four months, as I met with Moskowitz or watched her at work, that impatience with dissent emerged as one part of a furious and almost crazed passion. She has devoted herself to training a legion of young teachers and principals in how to conjure “world-class schools” or even, as she puts it, “educational nirvana.” Two of her own three kids attend her schools. She claims that her academies can stand up to any private school — she calls much of the teaching there “lazy.”

Her students have been performing phenomenally. In 2013, on the state exams that gauge proficiency in math and English, Success Academy schools far outscored not only the city’s regular public schools but also its most highly regarded charters, networks like Achievement First, KIPP (the Knowledge Is Power Program) and Uncommon Schools. At one of Moskowitz’s Harlem academies, the fifth graders surpassed all other public schools in the state in math, even their counterparts in the whitest and richest suburbs, Scarsdale and Briarcliff Manor. That year was no fluke. The 2014 results, released last month, put the network in the top 1 percent of all the state’s public schools in math and in the top 3 percent in English. At one Bedford-Stuyvesant academy, where 95 percent of students are black or Latino, 98 percent scored at or above grade level in math, with 80 percent receiving the highest of four ratings.

It might seem as if any New York mayor would be thrilled to have thousands of the city’s most underprivileged children educated so well. But during Bill de Blasio’s campaign last year and then as he claimed City Hall, he and Moskowitz took each other on in a ferocious political battle. They are two liberal crusaders with profoundly divergent ideas about how the mission of aiding the disempowered should be carried out. De Blasio is essentially a populist; Moskowitz, whose network’s board is filled with Wall Street one-percenters, is hardly a woman of the people. The political differences have stoked personal enmity, with de Blasio moving to block the expansion of Moskowitz’s network and Moskowitz mustering her own political resources to move him out of her way. The ultimate outcome of their clash may determine the city’s educational future.

(I want to give credit where it’s due however: perhaps de Blasio is coming around, as just this week granted space to four charter schools, including two of Eva’s, so kudos to him for that! http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/nyregion/mayor-agrees-to-accommodate-4-larger-or-new-charter-schools.html)

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Colleges enrolling poor students


http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/09/upshot/top-colleges-that-enroll-rich-middle-class-and-poor.html
Another “run-don’t-walk” article in the NY Times, which published a College Access Index, showing which colleges are doing a good job of enrolling a reasonable proportion of poor students – and which aren’t (adjustment for size of endowment per student). This type of public acclaim (and shaming) is REALLY powerful. You better believe the folks at Wash U and Kenyon are going to do their darndest to get off the left side of the chart below:

Vassar has taken steps to hold down spending on faculty and staff. Amherst and the University of Florida have raised new money specifically to spend on financial aid for low-income students. American University reallocated scholarships from well-off students to needy ones. Grinnell set a floor on the share of every freshman class – 15 percent – whose parents didn’t go to college.

Over the last decade, dozens of colleges have proclaimed that recruiting a more economically diverse student body was a top priority. Many of those colleges have not matched their words with actions. But some have.

These colleges have changed policies and made compromises elsewhere to recruit the kind of talented poor students who have traditionally excelled in high school but not gone to top colleges. A surprising number of such students never graduate from any college.

To see which selective colleges are doing the most, and the least, to change the situation, The Upshot has analyzed data for every college with a four-year graduation rate of at least 75 percent. We combined data on enrollment and tuition costs to measure how hard each college is trying to attract and graduate poor and middle-class students. The result is our College Access Index.

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Student survey to evaluate teachers


http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/04/technology/students-grade-teachers-and-a-start-up-harnesses-the-data.html
A third REALLY important article – this one about how a company is developing sophisticated surveys of students to evaluate their teachers. Not surprisingly, they know exactly who the good and bad teachers are – and can give teachers valuable feedback to improve.

Panorama is trying to assess how well teachers are doing by conducting scientifically valid student questionnaires that collect data about a variety of factors that might affect a teacher’s performance, from how well she conveys the material and whether she encourages interest in a subject to whether a school fosters a sense of belonging for students.

The company, which is run by two 23-year-old Yale grads with a penchant for computers and data crunching, has run surveys in more than 5,000 schools, and it has been adopted by some of the largest school systems in the nation, including the Los Angeles Unified School District and schools in Connecticut.

Panorama has followed the model of Uber and Airbnb in using the unconventional methods of tech start-ups to reinvent industries that have long been seen as tech backwaters. And its increasing popularity suggests that techniques pioneered by the tech industry — including the collection and analysis of large troves of data — may help address problems in American education.

The firm’s techniques have been widely praised by education experts, and it has won prominent supporters in the tech industry. Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, and Google Ventures, the search company’s investment arm, are among its largest backers.

Some of its innovations sound small, but they have been instrumental in making its surveys more widely accessible than older educational survey methods. For instance, to reduce the costs of its surveys, Panorama created its own scanning system, which allows it to print and collect students’ answers on regular paper, rather than the expensive bubble-scan sheets more commonly used for collecting responses. The firm says its surveys and analytics services are about half the price of older survey methods.

Panorama also hired a team of software engineers and statistics experts to create a kind of analytics “dashboard” for schools — an interactive panel of graphs and charts that presents practical information teachers need in a comprehensible, rather than overwhelming, user interface.

Teachers can dig into how they performed on a question-by-question basis, and they can monitor their performance by subgroup. The survey reports allow teachers to see if they’re connecting better with boys than with girls, or if students who have trouble with English are having more difficulty in a classroom than those who are native English speakers.

Panorama has also invested heavily in improving survey science. It has sponsored research into the best way to ask questions of students to get the most accurate assessment of what’s going on in the classroom, including one recent study by Hunter Gehlbach, a professor of education at Harvard. Last week, again borrowing from the tech industry, the company announced that it would make the survey open-source, meaning schools can use and amend it free.

Seeing how students think about teachers, and how that perception is affecting what they learn, is an unusual development in public education. Today, schools assess the effectiveness of teachers primarily through standardized test scores and observations by administrators, but both measures have been criticized as too narrow, unable to shed light on the complex interplay between teachers and students on a day-to-day basis.

“Education is just starting to figure out what measurement actually means,” said Aaron Feuer, Panorama’s co-founder and chief executive. “Five years ago we thought test scores were the answer to everything. We’re offering a way to focus on the right metrics.”

But in some ways, what the company is doing isn’t new. Student surveys have long been seen as a potential third metric for education. In 2012, the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, a three-year study sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that when combined with test scores and observations, student surveys made for a more reliable and consistent way to measure how teachers were performing.

“A lot of people are unhappy with an overreliance on test scores, but I don’t think it’s an option to drop test scores and go to nothing,” said Thomas J. Kane, a professor of education at Harvard who directed that study. “Student surveys are the most obvious place to add some other measures that aren’t based solely on test scores.”

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Gina Raimondo


http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/matt-miller-gina-raimondos-win-in-ri-could-transform-debate-on-progressivism/2014/09/11/b5a324d0-39ab-11e4-9c9f-ebb47272e40e_story.html
This was great to see (DFER has long supported Gina, as she’s equally bold in challenging traditional Democratic entrenched interests re. school reform):

It seems preposterous to argue that an obscure primary in a state with a million people could alter the debate inside the Democratic Party — much less to claim that the race could transform the broader national conversation about how to achieve progressive goals in an aging America. But that’s exactly what’s in store after Tuesday’s election in Rhode Island, when state treasurer Gina Raimondo won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination over her union-backed foes.

Raimondo made her name in 2011 when, after taking office, she decided not to punt on the unfunded public pension woes that afflict virtually every state as well as the federal government. Instead, alarmed by the long-term projections, she barnstormed the state with graphs and charts to make a progressive case for reform.

Usually those out to trim future pension costs are cast as evil conservatives bent on decimating a dignified retirement (and sometimes they are). Raimondo reframed the debate from the left. She told Rhode Islanders that if they didn’t come together to tackle these unfunded promises, not only would public employees counting on secure pensions be left high and dry, but before long there also would be no public money available for schools, transportation, job training and other critical investments on which future prosperity depends.

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How Arne Duncan Exposed the NEA.


http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2014/09/asd.html

Speaking of Duncan, here’s EIA’s Mike Antonucci on how he (and Obama and everyone else) is totally ignoring the NEA’s call this summer for his resignation:

How Arne Duncan Exposed the NEA. The big story that came out of July’s National Education Association Representative Assembly was the union adopting a measure that called for the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. You don’t have to take my word for it. The Associated Press ran it on The Big Story page.

There never was a realistic chance that Duncan would resign, but we were assured that it was necessary to send a message that it was intolerable that Duncan would “promote policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.”

But during the summer that new business item seems to have lost any teeth it had.

…NEA and Duncan do have a lot in common, and it’s only practical to continue to deal with the fact that he isn’t going away. But the union’s disillusionment with Duncan goes far beyond standardized testing, and it wasn’t even the trigger for the vote on the resignation NBI – his positive reaction to the Vergara ruling was.

I’m reminded of the laundry list of complaints about Duncan the union passed in 2011 – I described it then as “two counts of heavy focusing, four counts of failure to recognize, one count of felony myth-perpetuating, and a misdemeanor count of weighing in.”

Duncan has been U.S. Secretary of Education for five years, and there is every indication he will remain in that office for the rest of the President’s term. More than that, for all his perceived missteps and blunders, he hasn’t suffered a single tangible consequence. Indeed, the allowance from the NEA president that he’s “a very nice man” is probably the only compliment a union officer at any level will give him. Nevertheless, he is Education Secretary despite the union’s explicit and direct call for his ouster, and the education policies of the Obama administration move forward much as they have since 2009.

So the question arises: If President Obama and Secretary Duncan can safely ignore NEA’s demands, why can’t we all?

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Charlie Christ sell out


www.miamiherald.com/2014/09/10/4340927/charlie-crist-sides-with-teachers.html


Sad (but not surprising) to see Crist sell out FL kids, just as Jerry Brown is doing in CA (this is why we need more Dem governors like Andrew Cuomo, Dan Malloy and (soon) Gina Raimondo!):

Charlie Crist has made education policy a centerpiece of his campaign, but it’s also a wedge issue dividing two Democratic constituencies: teacher unions and black ministers who support school vouchers.

Crist made his choice clear Wednesday when he refused to heed the request of a major Panhandle civil-rights leader, the Rev. H.K. Matthews, who asked the Democrat to “publicly denounce” a new teacher union-led lawsuit that seeks to dismantle the major school-choice program.

“You cannot stay silent on this lawsuit,” Matthews wrote. “These families deserve to know if you support or oppose the lawsuit to evict 70,000 poor — and mostly minority — children from their schools.”

Asked about Matthews’ request to call on the unions to drop the suit, Crist said “I’m not going to do that. They have the right to sue for that if they want to.”

Matthews said Crist’s response left him “disappointed” because he recalled standing with Crist at the state Capitol in 2010 when the then-Republican governor expanded and pledged to support the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which gives corporations dollar-for-dollar tax credits to underwrite private education.

Now Crist is standing by a lawsuit that could undo that very program, which this year uses about $358 million this year — a figure that will grow to $447 million next year.

From the Panhandle to South Florida to Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, influential African-American ministers help run or are affiliated with private schools that accept students who receive the vouchers targeted by the lawsuit, led by the Florida Education Association.

Here’s another article about this lawsuit:

Nation’s largest private school choice program now under legal attack

By Travis Pillow on August 28, 2014

www.redefinedonline.org/2014/08/lawsuit-filed-challenging-florida-tax-credit-scholarships/#sthash.xmmcywMY.dpuf

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Rise Academy

From a friend at the wonderful RISE Academy in Newark (a KIPP school):

 

Although the education reform movement, and charter schools in particular, are often criticized for being too test-prep focused, failing to educate the "whole child", and ignoring things like sports and the arts, Rise Academy, a KIPP middle school in Newark, NJ enrolls more than 65% of their students in a diverse range of more than 25 extracurricular activities, from golf to ballet, that keep them safe, healthy, and engaged in continuous learning.  Rise Academy not only provides these exceptional extracurricular programs to their students, but is also one of the top-performing middle schools academically in the KIPP network year after year.  For more information about the extended learning programs at Rise Academy, or to get involved, follow this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_PUOfKO9rcccUZmN1RLWFZUdkk/edit?usp=sharing.

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Saturday, August 02, 2014

KIPP Summit pics and video

I’m fired up! (As I always am after the KIPP Summit and, in particular, the closing gala, which this year was the best ever.)

 

~15,000 (!) KIPP students, alums, parents, teachers, principals and supporters filled the Toyota Center (where the Houston Rockets play) to celebrate KIPP’s 20th anniversary – and they weren’t disappointed as the KIPP students put on a fabulous show, as did guest performers Common and Mary J Blige. Below are some pics and links to numerous videos I took.

 

In the pics (clockwise from upper left): my wife and oldest daughter, who came with me to KSS for the first time (and now have a better understanding of why KIPP is so special); Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg honoring the 10 winners of the Harriett Ball Excellence in Teaching Award; the crowd, which filled the arena; Michelle Obama, who spoke via a recorded video; another crowd shot; the ~57 alums from the first two KIPP classes, Houston ’94 and ’95 and Bronx ’95 (truly amazing that so many came back); me with two of my favorite people, Kathleen Nugent, the rock star head of DFER NJ (on the left) and Joanna Belcher, the amazing principal of KIPP SPARK Academy in Newark:

 

 

KIPP has posted two videos:

 

·       KIPP School Summit annual video (Looking Forward): http://vimeo.com/102245560

·       A history of KIPP (Looking Back): http://vimeo.com/102244102

 

Here are my videos:

 

·       The crowd doing the wave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nm-_EpUVAfg&list=UU6SeteW-LiLF__C1s35Jjiw

·       KIPP Academy Nashville Choir: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKEKslHtRTY&list=UU6SeteW-LiLF__C1s35Jjiw

·       KIPP Zenith Star Steppers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ddO_7nvJ_w&list=UU6SeteW-LiLF__C1s35Jjiw

·       Dominique Young (KIPP alum and now teacher): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOsVB5l3AAc&list=UU6SeteW-LiLF__C1s35Jjiw

·       KIPP Academy String and Rhythm Orchestra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiaqOA2vgHc&list=UU6SeteW-LiLF__C1s35Jjiw

·       Michelle Obama video: http://youtu.be/JVfVbv6YmOI

·       Earliest KIPP alums honored: http://youtu.be/ifOzyf80krY

·       Common performs: http://youtu.be/69nyrlQEe-0

·       Common performs with Dominique Young: http://youtu.be/msgt5a3adw0

·       Common: http://youtu.be/s92W15wQFwg

·       Mary J Blige: http://youtu.be/d4w8UeVF92w

·       Mary J Blige: http://youtu.be/ZnkgZEHIi-A

 

All in all, an AMAZING event! Enjoy!

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Greetings from the KIPP Summit

I’m at the annual KIPP Summit in Houston, celebrating KIPP's 20th anniversary, at a quick break before dinner and the closing gala, which is always incredibly inspirational (and will have 13,000 people this year!), so I wanted to send out a quick email related to what I saw today.

 

Here are some pics:

 

 

The top pic is of Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) giving a great talk this morning; the lower right pic is NYT columnist, David Brooks, who spoke last night; and the last one is me with Dan Porterfield, the ed warrior President of Franklin & Marshall College (note our matching beards – I have some summer stubble going…; also note my KIPP Infinity t-shirt; those of you who’ve been on this email a long time will recognize the shirt, which is at least a decade old and has been around the world many times).

 

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Amanda Ripley & The Smartest Kids in the World

Amanda Ripley also spoke this morning about the findings of her book that was released a year ago, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1451654421/tilsoncapitalpar), which is an absolute must read. Below are the first three items from the email I dedicated to it last August, including a link to an extended excerpt from the book (including my underlining).

-----------------------

1) STOP THE PRESSES!  I just finished reading Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1451654421/tilsoncapitalpar) and it is an absolute must read! I’m dedicating this entire email to it.

 

The book covers a lot of ground, but mainly focuses on three American high school students who spend a year at regular public schools in Finland, Poland and South Korea – all countries that, unlike the US, have made great progress educationally and now score well above us (despite, needless to say, spending a ton less per pupil than us). Each country has lessons for us:

 

·       Finland is the model we should aspire to, especially the way they recruit and train fantastic teachers – and then give them great autonomy. It’s the way EVERY successful school (and school system) I’ve seen works, rooted in what Charlie Munger calls “a seamless web of deserved trust” (he was referring to how one of the largest companies in the world, Berkshire Hathaway (of which he is Vice Chair to Warren Buffett), with nearly 300,000 employees, operates with only a couple of dozen people at headquarters).

·       I’d never heard anything about Poland’s educational system, but we could learn a lot from their first phase of reform in which the country re-set the bar to a rigorous, high level and outlined a standard national curriculum – but then gave schools and teachers freedom in how to meet the goals (Poland’s next phase is upgrading teacher quality).

·       South Korea has a laser-like focus on education – to an obsessive, insane degree, including private cram schools called hagwons – that could never be fully replicated here, but if we took education even half as seriously as they do, it would make a HUGE difference.

 

To summarize the book in three points:

 

1.     Set up a system to get only top-caliber people into teaching and then train (and retain) them well (like we do with doctors, for example).

2.     Set a high bar and demand hard work and critical thinking. “Nine out of ten international students reported that school in America was easier than school back home. Seven out of ten American students agreed with them.” Ripley’s research confirms that what I’ve long said is true worldwide: young people, like big organizations, will like up – or live down – to whatever expectations you set for them.

3.     There needs to be a national ethos regarding the importance of education (as opposed to, say, high school football).

 

As I write these points, I’m realizing that there’s another reason this book might be very powerful: it focuses on things that folks like Ravitch and me might (I hope you’re sitting down) actually agree on.

 

2) So much of the book is a must-read and I underlined and starred so many pages that I had trouble narrowing down what to share. I scanned 27 pairs of pages and posted them at: https://www.yousendit.com/download/bWJwZFh1d0FwTVY4SjhUQw (the file was too large to attach, sorry). Here’s a rough table of contents (using my page numbers since the book’s page numbers were cut off by my scanner):

 

a)     Page 1: a chart that shows how different countries have done on the PISA test since the 1960s – note the US stagnation, Korea and Finland soaring (and, lest you think all rich, homogeneous countries do well, Norway crashing).

b)     Pages 2-3: Korea rising from the ashes of the Korean War

c)     Page 4: our startling (and horrifying) math deficiency

d)     Pages 5-11: if you read anything, read this section, called A Tale of Two Teachers, which compares how Finland and the US recruit and train teachers.

e)     Page 12: Finnish students answer the American student’s question: “Why do you guys care [about school] so much?”

f)      Pages 12-13: A Finnish student comes to the US and can’t believe how dumbed down our standards and expectations are.

g)     Pages 14-15: traits of good parents (authoritarian vs. authoritative; cheerleader vs. coach)

h)     Page 16: Summary of what top countries are doing (“everything was more demanding”)

i)      Page 17: Our glorification of sports (at the expense of academics)

j)      Pages 18-20: The Poland case study

k)     Page 21: Inequalities in our system (but not in top countries)

l)      Page 22: The complaints and obstacles to change are similar around the world

m)   Page 23: How we make excuses for poor kids – but top countries don’t. (A Finnish teacher said: “Wealth doesn’t mean a thing. It’s your brain that counts. These kids know that from very young. We are all the same.”)

n)     Page 24: The one test in the U.S. that’s highly rigorous, which schools and students treat seriously: the Presidential Fitness Test.

o)     Pages 24-25: Summary of what top countries are doing.

p)     Page 26: A top teacher in a low-performing DC public school “discovers the airless void where the rigor should have been.”

q)     Page 27: Summary of what good parents should be doing.

 

3) Here’s a 5-min video of Ripley presenting her work at a Stand for Children event: http://youtu.be/BdE0fH8x0kU

 

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Reed Hastings' interview and presentation on Freedom & Responsibility Culture

David Bradley did his usual brilliant interviewing – last year, he brought Chris Christie to tears and this afternoon he did a one-on-one with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. A major part of the interview was around this slide presentation Hastings published in 2011, which is posted at: www.businessinsider.com/netflixs-management-and-culture-presentation-2013-2?op=1#ixzz395WrMXuI:

The presentation was created by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and it was first published in 2011. It's an easy-to-skim slideshow called Freedom & Responsibility Culture that explains the company's management philosophy.

Why does Sandberg feel it is so important?

Hastings mentioned a number of new, controversial ideas in the document. For example, Netflix has a "no vacation policy" for its employees. Its staff is allowed to take off as many days as they want, as long as they do so responsibly.

Other things in the presentation that caused a stir:

·        "Outstanding" employees only. Netflix doesn't accept anyone who does an "adequate" job (Hastings says those hires often lead to "generous severance packages"). 

·        "Freedom and responsibility" vs command-and-control: Employees get to make decisions; managers just give them the right context to do so.

·        No "brilliant jerks." It doesn't matter how good you are at the job. If you're a jerk, you won't stick around Netflix for long. 

The document has been read more than 3 million times on Slideshare and many of Hastings' controversial ideas have been implemented by other companies, including Business Insider.

 

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Why Do Americans Stink at Math?

Lastly, another panel raved about a new book by Elizabeth Green, Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone) (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0393081591/tilsoncapitalpar). Below is an extended excerpt from last weekend’s NY Times Magazine, entitled Why Do Americans Stink at Math?:

Instead of having students memorize and then practice endless lists of equations — which Takahashi remembered from his own days in school — Matsuyama taught his college students to encourage passionate discussions among children so they would come to uncover math’s procedures, properties and proofs for themselves. One day, for example, the young students would derive the formula for finding the area of a rectangle; the next, they would use what they learned to do the same for parallelograms. Taught this new way, math itself seemed transformed. It was not dull misery but challenging, stimulating and even fun.

Takahashi quickly became a convert. He discovered that these ideas came from reformers in the United States, and he dedicated himself to learning to teach like an American. Over the next 12 years, as the Japanese educational system embraced this more vibrant approach to math, Takahashi taught first through sixth grade. Teaching, and thinking about teaching, was practically all he did. A quiet man with calm, smiling eyes, his passion for a new kind of math instruction could take his colleagues by surprise. “He looks very gentle and kind,” Kazuyuki Shirai, a fellow math teacher, told me through a translator. “But when he starts talking about math, everything changes.”

Takahashi was especially enthralled with an American group called the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, or N.C.T.M., which published manifestoes throughout the 1980s, prescribing radical changes in the teaching of math. Spending late nights at school, Takahashi read every one. Like many professionals in Japan, teachers often said they did their work in the name of their mentor. It was as if Takahashi bore two influences: Matsuyama and the American reformers.

Takahashi, who is 58, became one of his country’s leading math teachers, once attracting 1,000 observers to a public lesson. He participated in a classroom equivalent of “Iron Chef,” the popular Japanese television show. But in 1991, when he got the opportunity to take a new job in America, teaching at a school run by the Japanese Education Ministry for expats in Chicago, he did not hesitate. With his wife, a graphic designer, he left his friends, family, colleagues — everything he knew — and moved to the United States, eager to be at the center of the new math.

As soon as he arrived, he started spending his days off visiting American schools. One of the first math classes he observed gave him such a jolt that he assumed there must have been some kind of mistake. The class looked exactly like his own memories of school. “I thought, Well, that’s only this class,” Takahashi said. But the next class looked like the first, and so did the next and the one after that. The Americans might have invented the world’s best methods for teaching math to children, but it was difficult to find anyone actually using them.

It wasn’t the first time that Americans had dreamed up a better way to teach math and then failed to implement it. The same pattern played out in the 1960s, when schools gripped by a post-Sputnik inferiority complex unveiled an ambitious “new math,” only to find, a few years later, that nothing actually changed. In fact, efforts to introduce a better way of teaching math stretch back to the 1800s. The story is the same every time: a big, excited push, followed by mass confusion and then a return to conventional practices.

The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them. One 1965 Peanuts cartoon depicts the young blond-haired Sally struggling to understand her new-math assignment: “Sets . . . one to one matching . . . equivalent sets . . . sets of one . . . sets of two . . . renaming two. . . .” After persisting for three valiant frames, she throws back her head and bursts into tears: “All I want to know is, how much is two and two?”

Today the frustrating descent from good intentions to tears is playing out once again, as states across the country carry out the latest wave of math reforms: the Common Core.

 

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

For-profit schools

I’m not opposed to for-profit schools (either in the K-12 or higher ed arena) (I’m a hedge fund manager after all!) – I’m just opposed to the messed up system we have that allows for-profit operators to run amok. We could learn a lot from how Brazil is doing it:

After equally hectic expansion, Brazil’s for-profit institutions have three-quarters of the country’s higher-education market—and fees are low and quality is rising fast. And since a degree boosts wages by a bigger multiple in Brazil than in any other country tracked by the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, graduates can make back their tuition fees in just a few years.

Soon Brazil will become home not only to the world’s liveliest for-profit education sector, but to its biggest for-profit higher-education firm, too. Last month the antitrust regulator, CADE, approved the purchase by Kroton, the biggest such firm in Brazil, of Anhanguera, the second-biggest, to create a giant with a stockmarket value of around 18 billion reais ($8 billion).

“Quality [in education] is easy,” says Rodrigo Galindo, Kroton’s energetic young boss. “And so is quantity. What’s difficult is combining the two.” The trick, he explains, is to abandon “handcrafted” teaching methods for scalable ones: online course materials and tutors; star teachers’ lessons broadcast by satellite; tightly specified franchise agreements with hundreds of local teaching centres staffed by moderators. The company has invested heavily in “adaptive” learning materials—computerised courses that react to users’ progress by offering further explanation and examples where answers suggest they are struggling, and moving on swiftly where they are not.

 

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The idea for this came to me after watching An Inconvenient Truth, Al
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did an interview about it with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo:
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For-profit colleges are lobbying hard to weaken rules

At long last the for-profit college sector, which completely ran amok and became predatory and exploitative, is being brought to heel by the Obama administration (exhibit A being the recent crackdown on Corinthian Colleges, one of the very worst actors). The industry and its army of lobbyists and bought-and-paid for (mostly Republican) politicians is franticly trying to keep the gravy train going, so the Obama administration needs to stay strong:

For-profit colleges are lobbying hard to weaken rules proposed by the Obama administration that would deny federal aid to career training programs that burden students with crippling debt and worthless credentials. But a recent spate of state and federal investigations into potentially predatory behavior by the for-profit sector — combined with the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, one of the country’s largest operators of for-profit colleges and trade schools — makes clear that the rules need to be strengthened and that federal oversight generally needs to be broadened.

That’s the only way to shield students and taxpayers from exploitive or irresponsibly managed for-profit institutions that rely on federal student aid for up to 90 percent of their revenue.

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/09/opinion/lessons-of-a-for-profit-college-collapse.html

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The regulatory failure

The NYT’s Gretchen Morgenson with more on the regulatory failure – and the costs we taxpayers will bear – in the for-profit ed arena:

In the years before the mortgage crisis, financial regulators often looked the other way as banks and other lenders pursued reckless activities that cost investors, taxpayers and borrowers billions of dollars. When trouble hit, these regulators had to scramble to fix the mess that their inertia had helped create.

This same dismal pattern is now playing out in the for-profit education arena.

For years, federal and state regulators have done little as dubious operators of for-profit colleges and trade schools have pocketed tuitions funded by taxpayer-backed loans. Many students left these colleges with questionable educations and onerous debt loads that cannot be erased in bankruptcy.

Regulators have finally woken up to this ugly reality. And, once again, taxpayers and borrowers will pay the price of regulatory failures.

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/13/business/flunking-out-at-a-price.html

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We think we have the world’s best colleges, but don’t

Two outstanding articles by Kevin Carey: the first on how we think we have the world's best colleges, but don't (my view is that our top colleges and universities are the best in the world by far, but below that there's a lot of mediocrity – and true rot at the schools serving our neediest students – just like our K-12 system!):

Americans have a split vision of education. Conventional wisdom has long held that our K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while our colleges and universities are world class. While policy wonks hotly debate K-12 reform ideas like vouchers and the Common Core state standards, higher education is largely left to its own devices. Many families are worried about how to get into and pay for increasingly expensive colleges. But the stellar quality of those institutions is assumed.

Yet a recent multinational study of adult literacy and numeracy skills suggests that this view is wrong. America's schools and colleges are actually far more alike than people believe — and not in a good way. The nation's deep education problems, the data suggest, don't magically disappear once students disappear behind ivy-covered walls.

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/upshot/americans-think-we-have-the-worlds-best-colleges-we-dont.html

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Our broken, unaccountable community colleges

Our broken, unaccountable community colleges:

For the last two years, the City College of San Francisco has operated in the shadow of imminent death. It is the city’s main community college, with 77,000 students, and in June 2012 its accreditor warned that chronic financial and organizational mismanagement threatened its future. If the problems weren’t fixed in short order, the accreditor said, it would shut down the college. A year later, the accreditor decided that City College’s remedial efforts were too little, too late, and ordered the campus to close its doors this July.

The political backlash was fierce. The faculty union lodged a formal complaint with the Department of Education against the accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, challenging its right to exist. A separate lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial this year. Politicians including the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, whose district includes part of City College, issued public condemnations. Finally, last month, with the scheduled closing date weeks away, the accreditor gave in. The college was granted two more years to improve, and most observers assume that the threat of dissolution has passed.

Most of City College’s problems, however, remain unsolved. Its brush with mortality illustrates a much larger problem in higher education. Millions of students are enrolled in colleges accountable to no one other than accreditors that lack the will and authority to govern them. Because the consequences of closing these institutions are so severe, they have become, in effect, “too big to fail.”

PS—the main argument I heard from defenders of the for-profit colleges is that “we’re not as horrible as the community colleges that serve similar students,” citing statistics that their graduation rate is, say, 15%, while the community colleges are half that (believe it or not). While there’s some truth to these awful statistics, the for-profit colleges cost 4x as much (I’m not kidding – along the lines of $32k vs. $8k), so when students fail at, say, Corinthian (as most do), they’re saddled with crippling debt that hounds them the rest of their lives (the only type of debt that’s not dischargeable in bankruptcy – outrageous, and topic for another day…).

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/upshot/city-college-of-san-francisco-survives.html

 

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Obama and college ratings

A spot-on NYT editorial – another area the Obama administration needs to stay strong:

College and university leaders have been up in arms since President Obama announced last year that the administration would soon deploy a rating system that evaluates schools based on factors like affordability, graduation rates, student earnings and how well institutions serve low-income students. Mr. Obama wants Congress to use the ratings to help guide the allocation of federal student loans and grants.

This is immensely controversial among college presidents, who have argued, unconvincingly, that such a system would elevate financial concerns above academic ones and that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to compare schools with different educational missions. Yet graduation rates, loan defaults and percentages of low-income students enrolled are extremely useful indicators of which colleges are serving their students and the country well and which are not. The federal government also has a compelling interest in getting the best possible return on its $180 billion annual investment in higher education.

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/25/opinion/tying-federal-aid-to-college-ratings.html

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The Reality of Student Debt

A very interesting, counter-intuitive article which claims that “The Reality of Student Debt Is Different From the Clichés” – mainly because, while the actual debt owed is very high today, interest rates are so low that the monthly payments aren’t too high:

The deeply indebted college graduate has become a stock character in the national conversation: the art history major with $50,000 in debt, the underemployed barista with $75,000, the struggling poet with $100,000.

The anecdotes have created the impression that such high levels of student debt are typical. But they’re not. They are outliers, and they’re warping our understanding of bigger economic problems.

In fact, the share of income that young adults are devoting to loan repayment has remained fairly steady over the last two decades, according to data the Brookings Institutions is releasing on Tuesday. Only 7 percent of young-adult households with education debt have $50,000 or more of it. By contrast, 58 percent of such households have less than $10,000 in debt, and an additional 18 percent have between $10,000 and $20,000.

“We are certainly not arguing that the state of the American economy and the higher education system is just great,” Matthew Chingos, a Brookings fellow and one of the authors of the new analysis, told me. “But we do think that the data undermine the prevailing sky-is-falling-type narrative around student debt.”

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/upshot/the-reality-of-student-debt-is-different-from-the-cliches.html

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Kudos to Starbucks and AZ State

Joe Nocera with well-deserved kudos to Starbucks and AZ State:

On Monday, Howard Schultz, the chief executive of Starbucks, unveiled his company’s newest — and possibly most important — perquisite for its employees: a free college education. He announced this new program on a stage in The Times Center in Midtown Manhattan, alongside his partner in the new venture, Michael Crow of Arizona State University.

Starbucks has long been a trailblazer in offering company benefits; part-time employees get stock options and health insurance. Schultz has also been one of the few chief executives willing to speak out — and do something — about the need to get people back to work again. A few years ago, I wrote a column about a Starbucks program that turned donations from customers into small business loans.

What I hadn’t realized is the extent to which Arizona State is a trailblazer as well. Under Crow’s leadership, it is attempting nothing less than the reinvention of the university. If Crow’s model succeeds, it offers some real hope that higher education can become, as it once was, a place that views its mission as educating everybody, not just the world’s elite.

“In the bottom quartile of family incomes, only 9 percent of kids attain a college education,” Crow said about five minutes after I met him on Monday afternoon. “And, in the top quartile, 80 percent get a college education, regardless of academic ability.” That statistic is what he is trying to change.

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/17/opinion/joe-nocera-starbucks-and-arizona-state-add-an-education-to-benefit-package.html

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Talented poor kids aren’t even applying to top schools that want them

I hadn't heard of this promising program in Delaware to address a vexing problem – talented poor kids aren't even applying to top schools that want them. Every state should be doing this:

Delaware's governor, Jack Markell, announced a program called Getting to Zero. Its goal was to get all high-school seniors with an SAT score of at least a 1,500 (out of 2,400) on the SAT to enroll in college. In recent years, state data show, about 20 percent of such teenagers did not.

State officials started the program last fall by working with the College Board to mail informational packets to all 1,800 high-school seniors deemed college-ready. In the packets, low-income students received application fee waivers to eight colleges, and students with the best test scores were encouraged to apply to top colleges. High-school guidance counselors and state officials then followed up with students and their parents — through evening phone calls and in-person meetings — to make sure the thorny logistics of college applications didn't deter them.

While it's too early to judge the program fully, the early results are impressive. Every single one of those 1,800 college-ready high-school seniors applied to at least one college, and 98 percent are on track to enroll.

Ms. Nye is among them. She will be attending Stanford University, where the admissions rate — as she told me with a sheepish laugh, after I'd asked — was 5.07 percent this year. "Give or take a little bit," she added.

Delaware's efforts are part of a national wave of interest in getting more low-income students to graduate from college. The reasons are obvious: The wage gap between college graduates and everyone else has reached a record high, and yet recent research has found that many qualified low-income students do not earn a bachelor's degree. In fact, the college-completion gap between low- and high-income students has grown sharply over the last 20 years.

Think for a moment about what that means: Many teenagers who overcome difficult childhoods or troubled high schools and excel as students nonetheless fail to finish college. Some never enroll, waylaid by bureaucracy, financial fears or low expectations. Others attend poorly funded colleges and end up d

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/10/upshot/a-case-study-in-lifting-college-attendance.html?_r=0ropping out — even as upper-middle-class students with less impressive records graduate from better-funded colleges.

 

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The Rape Case

This is so horrifying (esp. since I have a daughter going to college)! Kudos to the NYT for its in-depth research and putting this story on the front page:

She was 18 years old, a freshman, and had been on campus for just two weeks when one Saturday night last September her friends grew worried because she had been drinking and suddenly disappeared.

Around midnight, the missing girl texted a friend, saying she was frightened by a student she had met that evening. “Idk what to do,” she wrote. “I’m scared.” When she did not answer a call, the friend began searching for her.

In the early-morning hours on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in central New York, the friend said, he found her — bent over a pool table as a football player appeared to be sexually assaulting her from behind in a darkened dance hall with six or seven people watching and laughing. Some had their cellphones out, apparently taking pictures, he said.

Later, records show, a sexual-assault nurse offered this preliminary assessment: blunt force trauma within the last 24 hours indicating “intercourse with either multiple partners, multiple times or that the intercourse was very forceful.” The student said she could not recall the pool table encounter, but did remember being raped earlier in a fraternity-house bedroom.

The football player at the pool table had also been at the fraternity house — in both places with his pants down — but denied raping her, saying he was too tired after a football game to get an erection. Two other players, also accused of sexually assaulting the woman, denied the charge as well. Even so, tests later found sperm or semen in her vagina, in her rectum and on her underwear.

It took the college just 12 days to investigate the rape report, hold a hearing and clear the football players. The football team went on to finish undefeated in its conference, while the woman was left, she said, to face the consequences — threats and harassment for accusing members of the most popular sports team on campus.

This is so horrifying (esp. since I have a daughter going to college)! Kudos to the NYT for its in-depth research and putting this story on the front page:

She was 18 years old, a freshman, and had been on campus for just two weeks when one Saturday night last September her friends grew worried because she had been drinking and suddenly disappeared.

Around midnight, the missing girl texted a friend, saying she was frightened by a student she had met that evening. “Idk what to do,” she wrote. “I’m scared.” When she did not answer a call, the friend began searching for her.

In the early-morning hours on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in central New York, the friend said, he found her — bent over a pool table as a football player appeared to be sexually assaulting her from behind in a darkened dance hall with six or seven people watching and laughing. Some had their cellphones out, apparently taking pictures, he said.

Later, records show, a sexual-assault nurse offered this preliminary assessment: blunt force trauma within the last 24 hours indicating “intercourse with either multiple partners, multiple times or that the intercourse was very forceful.” The student said she could not recall the pool table encounter, but did remember being raped earlier in a fraternity-house bedroom.

The football player at the pool table had also been at the fraternity house — in both places with his pants down — but denied raping her, saying he was too tired after a football game to get an erection. Two other players, also accused of sexually assaulting the woman, denied the charge as well. Even so, tests later found sperm or semen in her vagina, in her rectum and on her underwear.

It took the college just 12 days to investigate the rape report, hold a hearing and clear the football players. The football team went on to finish undefeated in its conference, while the woman was left, she said, to face the consequences — threats and harassment for accusing members of the most popular sports team on campus.

  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/opinion/the-rape-case-hobart-and-william-smith-and-readers-respond.html

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Rape is a serious violent crime

Some insightful letters to the editor – my favorites:

Rape is a serious violent crime. College administrations have shown themselves time and again to be completely incompetent when addressing charges of sexual assault. Why do we allow this process in the first place? Would we allow a college administration to investigate a kidnapping? Would we allow it to adjudicate a murder charge? Of course not.

But since we allow rape investigations to fall within the scope of its authority, we drive home the message that rape is not a serious crime, that it is merely a campus-related issue that does not require the same level of criminal legal investigation as other crimes.

And:

Foolish and courageous. Those are the two words that came to mind when reading this horrifying story. Too harsh?

Foolish, because we need to teach our young women to avoid being in situations in which they may become a victim. While assaults happen no matter how careful you are, drinking large quantities of alcohol and being alone with the wrong kind of man is a precarious position at best.

Courageous, because Anna is determined to have her story publicized and willing to help her peers become educated about the failures of our college administrators. The disciplinary panel that heard her case was a kangaroo court at best.

I hope Anna finds some kind of justice through the civil system as a last resort. I applaud her bravery.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/opinion/the-rape-case-hobart-and-william-smith-and-readers-respond.html

 

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