Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Open Letter to the Board and Management of K12

This morning published this article, An Open Letter to the Board and Management of K12:

To the board and management of K12 (LRN):

Since I went public with my presentation and article detailing the many reasons for my short position in K12's stock, I've had the pleasure of both meeting and speaking extensively with CEO Ron Packard and also having a call with Executive Chairman Nate Davis. It's very unusual for senior management of a company to speak with a short seller (full disclosure: I continue to have a short position in the stock, as I discuss in this article), so the fact that they were willing to do so is a credit to K12.

I found Packard and Davis to be refreshingly candid about K12's challenges and what the company is doing to address them, and believe that both of them are genuinely sincere in wanting to do right by the students who enroll at the company's schools. As I discuss below, however, I think their words are inconsistent with many things K12 is doing. In particular, I don't think they fully appreciate the tension and trade-offs between their desire to maximize growth, profitability, and the share price vs. doing their best to ensure that every one of K12's nearly 130,000 students is engaged and learning.

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Shorting K12

One of the comments on my article is:
Perhaps rather than make money on this stock by shorting, you should work directly with them as you have a dialogue with them? I can not stand these investors who claim they are shedding light on a subject for the greater good meanwhile looking to profit off such a drop in a company that looks to improve the quality of life for others (ie Bill Ackman). Take off your short, work directly with the company, solve the problems.
Here is what I posted in reply:
RyanJoe555: I have indeed engaged in a long dialogue with the company -- mostly CEO Ron Packard -- about how it can better serve students. My views are reflected in this open letter.
I think K12 is serving tens of thousands of students who aren't engaging, learning, or succeeding in any way, and therefore the company needs to shrink its enrollment by at least 30% to get back on track (based on the example I cited of the Colorado Virtual Academy; for more details, see page 105 of my presentation, posted at: 
An enrollment decline would likely cause the stock to fall further, so it's a win-win as far as I'm concerned.
The fact that I'm still short the stock does indeed present an obvious conflict, which is why I disclose my position up front in anything I write or say about K12. But I'd argue that my conflict is less than Packard and Davis's conflict in growing at any cost -- they have FAR more at stake financially and reputationally in K12's stock going up than I have in it going down (it's a mere 1.8% position for me currently). I discuss my views on my conflict of interest further here:
Rest assured that my advice to the company would be exactly the same even if I had covered my short.

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Report on K12

Never let it be said that I won't present views contrary to mine. Attached is a report on K12 by the Wells Fargo analyst entitled: LRN: What The Short Case Gets Wrong: K12 Take-Down Offers Little New Information. I don't have time to rebut it point by point, but it does a reasonable job of capturing K12's point of view (I have no doubt that the analyst collaborated closely with the company on it).

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Online learning

An interesting new report on online education that is mainly focused on higher ed, but the findings are, if anything, more applicable to younger students. The overall conclusion that at-risk students are, in general, least likely to benefit from online learning is spot on:
The report makes fact-based arguments for why online education is not the best way for underserved students to get a quality education.  For example:
• Underserved students frequently need substantial hands-on non-classroom academic support—e.g., financial aid, advising, counseling, and tutoring services.
• The digital dived still exists, meaning that there are major inequities between those who have regular, reliable access to the Internet and digital technologies and those who do not.
• Underserved students perform substantially better in face-to-face settings than online settings.
• There are much higher withdrawal rates for community college students in online versus on-campus courses.
• Social interaction for underserved students has a positive impact on performance.  When they interact with instructors and fellow students, they do better.
The report states, "Clearly, it is not enough to just promise increased access to higher education through online learning.  It is critical to understand what works and for whom... For most American students, who are increasingly diverse, low-income, and academically less prepared for the rigors of collegiate study, an uncritical rush to 'online everything' may, despite the promise, ultimately provide only access to failure."

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Senator Booker

Senator Booker – damn, I like the sound of that!
Cory A. Booker, who gained celebrity as a danger-dodging, super-tweeting mayor of Newark, was sworn into the United States Senate on Thursday, the first African-American to be elected to the chamber since Barack Obama in 2004.
Cory is a very old friend, dating back two decades when he first graduated from Yale Law School and moved to Newark. I long ago said he would be the first black President – I still think I'm right about his potential, but Obama's eight years older (52 vs. 44) , so he beat Cory to it.
When I was helping start Democrats for Education Reform, our strategy was to find Democratic politicians who:
a) Were willing to be courageous on this issue, break with the unions, and stand up for kids; and
b) Had big political potential.
Not to be boastful, but it's pretty remarkable that the two guys we really got behind early on have been elected President and now U.S. Senator!

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Blurb on Cory’s election by the WSJ’s Jason Riley

Different Democrats

Oct. 18, 2013 11:51 a.m. ET


Cory Booker's double-digit victory Wednesday over Republican Steve Lonegan in New Jersey's special Senate election surprised no one. The Garden State hasn't elected a GOP senator in four decades, and Mr. Booker is considered by many (judging by his fundraising prowess, among other things) to be one of the most talented young Democratic politicians in the country.

Mr. Booker, a black Rhodes scholar educated at Stanford and Yale, regularly draws comparisons to Barack Obama, and many suspect that Mr. Booker, who is only 44, will someday run for president. But in at least one important respect the Obama comparison sells Mr. Booker short. As mayor of Newark, the state's largest city, Mr. Booker has taken on the teachers unions and pushed relentlessly for more educational options—including school vouchers—for low-income families. In other words, he is a Democrat from a blue state who has picked a fight with a special interest group that wields tremendous influence on the political left.


By contrast Mr. Obama, at the behest of the same labor groups that Mr. Booker has challenged, repeatedly tried to end the school voucher program in Washington, D.C., and might have succeeded but for opposition from House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans. More recently, the Obama Justice Department has sued to block a voucher program for low-income students in Louisiana.


Blacks overwhelmingly support school choice and have for decades. Both Cory Booker and Barack Obamaare aware of this, but only Mr. Booker has spent significant political capital putting the interests of students ahead of teachers unions. It is hard to see how black outcomes will improve—with respect to employment, income, crime rates, health and other measures—without better educational opportunities for kids stuck in crummy schools. Democrats like Mr. Booker seem to understand this. Democrats like Mr. Obama have other priorities.

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Colorado ballot initiative

Speaking of DFER, it's joined with both teachers unions to support a groundbreaking ballot initiative in Colorado that will hopefully pass on Tuesday. Here's an op ed by the NYT's Frank Bruni on it (with a well-deserved plug for TFA alum and CO state senator Mike Johnston):

If there's a key to this nation's sustained competitiveness, it's education. And if there's a key to the kind of social mobility that's integral to our country's cherished narrative, to its soul, it's giving kids from all walks of life teachers and classrooms that beckon them toward excellence. But like all aspects of American policy making these days, the push to improve public schools bucks up against factionalism, pettiness, lobbies that won't be muted and sacred cows that can't be disturbed. Progress that needs to be sweeping is anything but.

That's why my eyes turn to Colorado. That's why yours should, too.

The state is on the precipice of something big. On Election Day next Tuesday, Coloradans will decide whether to ratify an ambitious statewide education overhaul that the Legislature already passed and that Gov. John Hickenlooper signed but that voters must now approve, because Colorado law gives them that right in regard to tax increases, which the overhaul entails. Arne Duncan, the nation's education secretary, has said that the success of Amendment 66, which is what voters will weigh in on, would make Colorado "the educational model for every other state to follow."

It's significant in many regards, especially in its creation of utterly surprising political bedfellows. Amendment 66 has the support of many fervent advocates of charter schools, which the overhaul would fund at nearly the same level as other schools for the first time. In fact one prominent donor to the campaign for Amendment 66 is Ben Walton, whose family's philanthropy, the Walton Family Foundation, champions school choice and is loathed by teachers' unions.

And yet the two most powerful of those unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, have endorsed Amendment 66. The N.E.A. and its state arm, the Colorado Education Association, have together donated $4 million toward the amendment's passage.

...He's by no means a conventionally liberal Democrat. Neither is the overhaul's chief architect, a young state senator named Mike Johnston who used to be a schoolteacher and principal and previously sponsored a law that ended traditional tenure in Colorado's public schools. It drew robust Republican support.

His education overhaul is a shrewd grab bag of ideas from different camps that recognizes the political imperative of such eclecticism and the lack of any magic bullet for student improvement. It invests in early childhood education, teacher training, a fund for innovative projects, charters. It ratchets up local control and flexibility, giving principals an unprecedented degree of autonomy over spending. It also enables parents to see, online, how much money goes into instruction versus administration at their children's schools. There's transparency. Accountability.

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Education overhaul in Colorado

On Tuesday, Colorado will try to address those problems with one of the most ambitious and sweeping education overhauls in the country, asking voters to approve a $1 billion tax increase in exchange for more school funding and an educator's wish-list of measures.

The effort has touched off a fevered debate in a state that two decades ago passed one of the nation's strictest limits on taxes and spending. It is emerging as the latest test of whether Democrats can persuade voters to embrace higher taxes by tying them to school funding.

Outside money is pouring into the state. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to support gun control here, has given $1 million to the school campaign, as have Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation is one of the largest philanthropic organizations involved in public education. Teachers' unions have contributed at least $4 million, and other pro-labor groups have given thousands.

…Supporters say the measure would provide enough money to revolutionize education for a generation. Opponents, which include anti-tax groups and Republican politicians, say it would raise taxes on struggling families and businesses with no guarantee of a better education.

"It's a very hard sell," conceded Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat and the measure's highest-profile advocate.

In 2010, Colorado spent about $9,306 per student, among the bottom 10 states in the country, according to data compiled by Education Week. Over all, the publication ranked the state's education system slightly behind the national average.

Amendment 66 would make full-day kindergarten standard across the state. It would set aside more money for students who do not speak English, have learning disabilities or come from poor families. It would send more money toward charter schools, as well as districts in poorer areas that cannot easily raise property taxes to buy computers or raise teacher salaries. The measure would also let people go online to track how schools spend every dollar.

"Total transparency, school by school," Mr. Hickenlooper said. "No state's ever done that."

The prospect of more money for all has united two usually warring factions, teachers' unions and the charter school movement.

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More on Blasio

At the other end of the Democratic party from Cory Booker is, I fear, Bill de Blasio, who is going to win in a landslide on Tuesday. I sincerely hope that he won't be a disaster for NYC schoolchildren, especially the 6% currently in charter schools. Seeing what Vincent Gray has done in DC gives me at least a bit of hope…
More broadly, I hope he won't be a disaster for NYC in general. I've met him on a couple of occasions and he seemed like a bright enough guy, but I spoke yesterday with a friend who's had extensive dealings with him and he told me: "He may well be the least qualified, least capable person ever to become mayor of NYC. He's not very smart, has bad judgment and zero managerial experience. Our only hope is that he surrounds himself with good people." This is from a lifelong, very active Democrat! I sure hope he's wrong…
I am stunned at how little the people of NYC appreciate the incredible job Mike Bloomberg has done. Maybe it's like air: you don't appreciate it until you lose it – and then you'll do anything to get it…

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Original KIPP in the South Bronx

Here's a brilliant article in yesterday's WSJ, which focuses on the original KIPP in the South Bronx, in particular Laura Reyes, a former student who is now a teacher there, and Frank Corcoran, her math teacher who is now principal of the school:

This mayoral campaign has intruded. KIPP shares the space with a traditional elementary and middle school, each on a different floor. Co-location is a lever used by charter opponents to fight their growth, but KIPP has survived this long with minimal friction with the neighbors.

"Our basic philosophy is we're a public school," says Mr. Corcoran. "We serve the same community."

As to Mr. de Blasio's proposal to stick him with rent, Mr. Corcoran says, "I'm just concerned about the impact on our program." Resources will have to be found and relocated to pay the state department of education for space. Charters supplement the $13,527 per student reimbursement from the state—several thousand dollars less than traditional schools spend—with outside donations from hedge-fund billionaires, foundations and elsewhere.

Walking along the corridor and stopping to chat with students, Ms. Reyes says she is troubled that "we're considered different" by some people. Last month, she joined about 10,000 charter parents, teachers and students in a march across Brooklyn Bridge to protest the de Blasio attacks. "That really was powerful," she says.

Mr. de Blasio's demand that charter schools pay rent will be a harbinger of his intentions. As mayor, he'll also pick a new city counsel, who will weigh on the flurry of lawsuits filed by union-backed groups to stop co-location. Mayor Bloomberg's lawyer sided with the charters. Every year, City Hall also considers requests for new and additional space for existing charters.

"Education should not be a political issue," says Mr. Corcoran. "It's a social justice issue."

If only.

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De Blasio’s education agenda

Checker Finn analyzes de Blasio's education agenda and concludes that it's "full of hot air":

Bill de Blasio's public-education agenda consists of seven boasts (things he says he's already done, part of his record as public advocate) and 19 plans for future changes ("policies, agendas and programs" that he promises to "work tirelessly to implement"). Minus the overlap, they add up to two dozen ideas. Here's how I score them:

…This kind of stuff may help him win Tuesday, but it's no battle plan for conquering ignorance with strategies and weapons that the nation's biggest city can plausibly mobilize, pay for and deploy.

De Blasio would've done more to persuade education-reformers that he's serious if he'd dispensed with 24-point agendas and instead said who he'd hire as schools chancellor.

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Bloomberg's Education Plan Is Working: Don't Ditch It

Paul Hill, Founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Research Professor at the University of Washington Bothell, with an in-depth article entitled Bloomberg's Education Plan Is Working: Don't Ditch It:

Bill de Blasio, the likely next New York City mayor, has made a lot of promises about public education.No additional charter schools; no free space for many charter schools educating city kids; less relianceon student test performance to judge schools; and a moratorium on the closure of low-performing schools.  Though these pledges have come piecemeal, together they would dismantle the reforms Michael Bloomberg implemented during his 12 years as mayor.  Before this happens, it's worth looking at what Bloomberg's policies have accomplished and what is at risk if they are tossed out.

This essay will show what has been accomplished—how children have benefited from Bloomberg's education policies and how the system has changed in positive ways. Then in later sections it discusses, first, how the positive results came about; and second, how the next can mayor make sure those gains are not lost.

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Progress under Bloomberg

More evidence of progress and success under Bloomberg:
University researchers from MIT and Duke found that students who attend small high schools established by Bloomberg are 9% more likely to receive high school diplomas and 7% more likely to attend college, compared with students who go to older, larger city high schools.
You can download it at:

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NYC's high performing charter schools

This report by Harvard economist Roland Fryer shows how NYC's high-performing charter schools are laboratories of innovation, showing what ALL schools should be doing. De Blasio wants to attack THESE schools?!

Lessons from New York City's Most Effective Charter Schools

Harvard economist Roland Fryer has a new Hamilton Institute report on the practices that separate the most effective New York city charter schools from the least effective, and he offers a policy proposal designed to apply these lessons to in conventional public schools:

Our analysis demonstrates that input measures associated with a traditional resource-based model of education—class size, per-pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree—were not related to school effectiveness in our sample.

In fact, schools with more certified teachers have annual math gains that are 0.043 standard deviations lower than other schools. Schools with more teachers with a master's degree have annual English language arts (ELA) gains that are 0.034 standard deviations lower. Schools with smaller class size, higher per-pupil expenditure, more teachers with teaching certification, and more teachers with an advanced degree actually tended to have lower student achievement.

In stark contrast, five practices—more human capital or teacher feedback, data-driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased time on task, and a relentless focus on high academic expectations—were consistently found in higher- achieving schools. Together, these five practices explain roughly half the difference in effectiveness between charter schools.

Controlling for the other four practices, schools that give formal or informal feedback (more human capital) ten or more times per semester have annual math gains that are equal to 0.6 more months of school and annual ELA gains that are equal to 0.55 more months than other schools. Schools that tutor students at least four days a week in groups of six or fewer have annual ELA gains that are equal to 0.5 more months than other schools. Schools that add 25 percent or more instructional time to the average New York City traditional public school's time have annual math gains that are equal to 0.625 more months than other schools. Schools that prioritize high academic and behavioral expectations for all students have annual math gains that are equal to 0.55 more months and ELA gains that are equal to 0.375 more months than those schools that do not prioritize those expectations. …

Armed with these correlates of charter school effectiveness, we cannot simply wait for the expansion of successful charter schools. At their current rate of growth, it will take more than a hundred years for high-performing charter schools to educate every student in the country. For these benefits to reach the students who need them most, the United States will need to take the innovations from charter schools that have proven effective and apply them to the traditional public schools that serve most students.

Fryer calls for an effort to spread these practices to benefit the 3 million students attending the worst-performing public schools in the U.S., which he estimates would have a marginal cost of $2000 per student or $6 billion in total. It's not clear, however, that a spending increase is the only way to implement such a program, e.g., reforming teacher compensation and allowing for somewhat larger class sizes might free up enough resources to finance high-dosage tutoring. Regardless, Fryer's report merits close attention.

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Current Events Test

This is a terrific test. And it shows results in a number of ways.  It surely indicates that the majority of Americans don't know what's going on.  No wonder our politicians take such advantage. 
Interesting and simple test.  It's astonishing that so many people got less than half right.
 These results say that 80% of the (voting) public doesn't have a clue – and that's pretty scary
There are no tricks here - just a simple test to see if you are current on your information.

This is quite good and the results are shocking.

Test your knowledge, and then be ready to shudder when you see how others did

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Mike Wang on Tea Party and teachers' union

Mike Wang of the Philadelphia School Partnership clarifies his comparison of Tea Party and teachers' union tactics, which I included in an email a few weeks ago:
After receiving some feedback, I wanted to clarify that the note I wrote was part of a much longer conversation about political tactics that came on the heels of aggressive anti-education reform protests in Philadelphia. These were my personal views and were meant to be a critique of political tactics, not a discussion of substantive policy; I've always worked with and for advocates of education reform from all backgrounds, political parties, and beliefs and PSP is party agnostic and politically diverse, focused on expanding high-quality schools for Philadelphians. Also, a quick correction: the head of PSP is executive director Mark Gleason; I am the managing director.

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OECD Skills Data

Re. the OECD report that came out on Oct. 8th (see and this NYT, a friend wrote:
Those OECD skills data are, I believe, the most devastating indictment of the status quo in American education that I've ever seen. I want to emphasize, since too many in the media read the report too quickly and too sloppily, this point: if you look at the tables on pages 75, 85, and 95 of the full report, you see that, simply adding the literacy, numeracy, and problem solving scores together, the USA has the worst results of any of the 22 countries that can be compared -- BELOW those of Italy and Spain. And since the report states that tertiary graduates in those two Mediterranean countries are less skilled than those completing secondary school in Japan and the Netherlands, it is entirely possible that average American college graduates are also less skilled than those Dutch and Japanese teenagers; and the current national strategy of regaining world leadership in the college completion rate could make this problem worse, and could lead to lives of worse opportunities, accompanied by more indebtedness and devalued degrees, for this rising generation than those my generation has had, unless learning standards associated with these qualifications are strengthened, rather than reduced, which is what I see happening all around me.

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Education in Korea

The Economist on how South Koreans may be TOO focused on education:

The cost of education may be the main reason why South Koreans are having so few babies. In surveys, they cite financial burdens as the biggest obstacle and single out education as one of the heaviest components. Thomas Anderson and Hans-Peter Kohler of the University of Pennsylvania have shown that the South Korean provinces with the lowest fertility rates are also the places where families spend the most on education.

This spending, however, no longer yields rich returns. Going to university racks up tuition fees and keeps young people out of the job market for four years. After graduation it takes an average of 11 months to find a first job. Once found, the jobs remain better paid and more secure than the positions available to high-school graduates, but the gap is narrowing. The McKinsey Global Institute reckons that the lifetime value of a college graduate's improved earnings no longer justifies the expense required to obtain the degree. The typical Korean would be better off attending a public secondary school and diving straight into work.

If the private costs are no longer worthwhile, the social costs are even greater. Much of South Korea's discretionary spending on private tuition is socially wasteful. The better marks it buys do not make the student more useful to the economy. If one student spends more to improve his ranking, he may land a better job, but only at the expense of someone else.

…South Korea's education arms race poses a puzzle. Students spend vast amounts of time and money to move up in the queue for good jobs. But queues are needed only for things that are in short supply. Why should good jobs be rationed? The number of "good" employers should, in principle, expand in line with the scale and skill of the available workforce. So perhaps the preoccupation with educational qualifications reflects problems in the labour market.

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Coursera, a California-based venture that has enrolled five million students in its free online courses, announced on Thursday a partnership with the United States government to create "learning hubs" around the world where students can go to get Internet access to free courses supplemented by weekly in-person class discussions with local teachers or facilitators.

The learning hubs represent a new stage in the evolution of "massive open online courses," or MOOCs, and address two issues: the lack of reliable Internet access in some countries, and the growing conviction that students do better if they can discuss course materials, and meet at least occasionally with a teacher or facilitator.

"Our mission is education for everyone, and we've seen that when we can bring a community of learners together with a facilitator or teacher who can engage the students, it enhances the learning experience and increases the completion rate," said Lila Ibrahim, the president ofCoursera. "It will vary with the location and the organization we're working with, but we want to bring in some teacher or facilitator who can be the glue for the class."

Early this year, using courses from Coursera and other online providers, the State Department ran a pilot program to open space where people could take free online courses in priority fields, including science and technology subjects, Americana and entrepreneurship.

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Comments by David Steiner, former NYS Education Commissioner

Former NYS ed commissioner David Steiner with some great insights (my emphasis added):

What is thus surprising about Ripley's book is how little it contains that is really news; instead, it serves to remind us in powerful terms that we simply haven't acted on what we already know. Education systems work when-

• Students are challenged with demanding and coherent curricula,
• Teachers are recruited from the top echelon of college graduates,
• We tell the truth to students about their performance, and
• Teachers, students, and parents are all committed to the difficult work of constant educational progress.

…The lesson for those who would reform American education is clear. We are right to work for higher standards and better teacher preparation; it's smart to realize that grit and self-discipline and determination matter alongside grades and test scores. But in the end, we simply have to do what we seem to find most difficult: teach demanding material well and not constantly underestimate our students' capacity to rise to the challenge. This means creating a teaching profession that draws in our best, and asking those teachers to teach a rigorous curriculum that progressively habituate our students to serious thinking, mastery of complex skills, and sustained study-habits. Ultimately, this is what it will take to build an effective progression from Pre-K to college and/or careers.

…In the end, if we are serious about preparing a far higher percentage of our students for college-readiness, we have to get serious about being serious. This means, above all, telling the truth: the truth about how little, academically speaking, we demand of our students, how poorly we select and prepare their teachers, how ineffectively we fund education, and how little effort too many of us make to work with our children to ensure that they come to see sustained hard work as the vital path to a better future.

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Comments by Wendy Kopp

Another article by Wendy Kopp:

It's no secret that America's education debate is increasingly polarized and increasingly public. We see it every day on Twitter, in the headlines, and occasionally even on the picket line. The public discussion pits reformers who think that our education system is failing students against anti-reformers who think what's wrong with our schools is the people trying to fix them. I've been immersed in American education for more than 20 years and have led a global education network for the last seven, and to me there's no question that our school system must improve, and quickly. But today's debate has become a distraction that keeps us paralyzed in old divisions and false debates, rather than uniting against common problems. 

Two recent bestselling books on education, Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error and Amanda Ripley's The Smartest Kids in the World, shine light on the conflict—and why taking a step back and embracing a global perspective is necessary to move forward.

…But while our education system hasn't changed, and the world we're living in has. So has the value of education. To Ripley, international standards are the relevant ones in a globalized information economy where higher education has become a virtual prerequisite for financial security.

Today, academic mediocrity comes at a much higher price. The U.S. used to lead the world in the percentage of students graduating from high school and earning college degrees. Now about 20 countries outpace us. Perspective is relative, and Ripley argues that standing still while the rest of the world pulls ahead is falling behind. America's marginal gains are not cutting it against a steep new learning curve. Sticking with schools that were designed for another era, as Ravitch suggests, would leave more of our citizens increasingly ill-equipped to compete for high-skill, high-paying jobs.

…Now when I come home to my own four kids in New York City, the education discussion I see on TV and Twitter seems woefully behind the times. The trumped-up debates that have stalled progress seem even more irresponsible because they are of our own making.

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Wendy Kopp on Malala

Wendy Kopp an insightful article:

Instead of silencing her, Malala's attackers made her campaign global. Around the world, demographics still determine destiny because the most disadvantaged students are the least likely to receive a quality education – or any education at all. Today, education is more important than ever, yet some 57 million children have never set foot in school. In rich and poor countries alike, race, gender and family wealth predict whether children will get the education they need to be informed, contributing citizens.

Consider this: by 2030 India will provide a quarter of the world's workforce. Yet if current trends continue, 90 percent of today's students will not finish secondary school. Conflict and repression flourish wherever education does not. We all have a stake in reversing these trends.

Every movement needs an ignition point, and Malala was ours. The leaders of both the UN and the World Bank have made education their highest priority. Parents, students and business leaders in dozens of countries are demanding greater educational opportunity.

The fact that it came as a surprise when Malala was not named this year's Peace Prize winner is a testament to how far we've come.

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Tom Friedman on China visit

Friedman's previous column also focused on what he saw in China:

I've traveled here with Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, and the leaders of the Teach for All programs modeled on Teach for America that are operating in 32 countries. We're visiting some of the highest- and lowest-performing schools in China to try to uncover The Secret — how is it that Shanghai's public secondary schools topped the world charts in the 2009 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exams that measure the ability of 15-year-olds in 65 countries to apply what they've learned in math, science and reading.

After visiting Shanghai's Qiangwei Primary School, with 754 students — grades one through five — and 59 teachers, I think I found The Secret:

There is no secret.

When you sit in on a class here and meet with the principal and teachers, what you find is a relentless focus on all the basics that we know make for high-performing schools but that are difficult to pull off consistently across an entire school system. These are: a deep commitment to teacher training, peer-to-peer learning and constant professional development, a deep involvement of parents in their children's learning, an insistence by the school's leadership on the highest standards and a culture that prizes education and respects teachers.

Shanghai's secret is simply its ability to execute more of these fundamentals in more of its schools more of the time. Take teacher development. Shen Jun, Qiangwei's principal, who has overseen its transformation in a decade from a low-performing to a high-performing school — even though 40 percent of her students are children of poorly educated migrant workers — says her teachers spend about 70 percent of each week teaching and 30 percent developing teaching skills and lesson planning. That is far higher than in a typical American school.

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Teach for All Conference in China

Here are links to the videos that opened and closed the Teach for All conference: (3 min) and (2 min)

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Tom Friedman on China visit

Tom Friedman attended the Teach for All conference I was at in Tengchong (my article above has the link to his speech and his answer to my question) (I had the chance to meet him – what a great guy!) and wrote this NYT op ed last week about it:

I never thought I'd have to come to China for a breath of fresh air.

But that is exactly what I got last week by traveling to the China-Myanmar border area to visit Chinese village schools with the leaders ofTeach for All, the network of 32 countries that have adopted the Teach for America model of recruiting highly motivated college graduates to work in their country's most underprivileged schools. What was so refreshing about spending four days with leaders of Teach for Lebanon, Teach for China, Teach for India and all the others was the fact that, since 9/11, I've spent so much time writing about people who are breaking things and so little time covering people who are making things. This was a week with the makers.

Indeed, I could not help but remark to Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America and C.E.O. of Teach for All, that Teach for All is "the anti-Al Qaeda." It is a loose global network of locally run teams of teachers, who share best practices and target young people in support of a single goal. But while Al Qaeda and its affiliates try to inspire and enable young people to be breakers, Teach for All tries to inspire and enable them to be makers. Yes, plenty of terrorists are also well educated, but their ability to resonate and enlist followers diminishes the more people around them have the tools to realize their full potential.

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Observations From My Trip to China

1) The article I published on Friday in Seeking Alpha, Observations From My Trip to China, has been among the most read articles on the site since then:

I got back on Friday afternoon from a fascinating 10-day trip to China – the first time I've been to mainland China in 21 years. I spent the first half of my trip in Shanghai, China's most populous, modern, wealthy, capitalistic city, and the second half in Tengchong, in remote, rural, south-central China, bordering Burma, attending a conference of Teach for All, a growing network of Teach for America-like organizations in 32 countries (see this op ed in the NY Times, Meet the Makers, by Tom Friedman about it). I've posted pictures and comments from each part of my trip here and here.


I want to share a few observations about China – with the caveat that I am very emphatically not holding myself out as an expert on the country. I'm just endlessly fascinated by China on many levels, most importantly as an investor. Though I'm primarily U.S. focused, China has become such a large and rapidly growing part of the world economy that I can't ignore it – if China sneezes, the world (and my portfolio) will catch a cold.


So is China about to catch a cold? That's an important and vexingly difficult question. Jim Chanos is perhaps the best-known China bear and he makes a cogent argument (see here and here) that China is experiencing the mother of all infrastructure, real estate and financial bubbles – "Dubai times 1,000" – that is on the verge of bursting.


And it's not just Chanos. Just about every day, I read another story about fraudulent businesses, corrupt officials at all levels, crudely authoritarian and thuggish behavior by the government (censorship, jailing truth-tellers, etc.), rich people leaving (or at least stashing a lot of money outside the country), ghastly pollution, tainted products, out-of-control real estate prices, banks lying about their loan losses, untold amounts of lending that's not reflected in official statistics – the list goes on and on...


So one of the main reasons for my trip was to see the country for myself and meet with as many smart people as I could so I could form my own judgment.


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