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):

·       A history of KIPP (Looking Back):


Here are my videos:


·       The crowd doing the wave:

·       KIPP Academy Nashville Choir:

·       KIPP Zenith Star Steppers:

·       Dominique Young (KIPP alum and now teacher):

·       KIPP Academy String and Rhythm Orchestra:

·       Michelle Obama video:

·       Earliest KIPP alums honored:

·       Common performs:

·       Common performs with Dominique Young:

·       Common:

·       Mary J Blige:

·       Mary J Blige:


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 (, 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 ( 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: (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:


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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:

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) ( 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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