The Prize

A few weeks ago, the Gotham Gal said to me “considering how much time and money you are investing in K-12 education efforts, you should read this book.” The book she recommended is called The Prize by Dale Russakoff and it tells the story of the Newark, NJ public school system reform effort over the past five years.

I’m almost done with the book and I’m very glad she suggested it to me. I’ve long been a fan of the education reform movement, in particular the rise of charter schools, but I’ve also been troubled by the knowledge that charters don’t solve all the problems and some students are beyond the reach of even the best teachers.

The Prize tells two stories at the same time. It tells the story of the “top down” Newark reform effort driven by Cory Booker and Chris Christie and funded with Mark Zuckerberg’s incredibly generous $100mm gift. It also tells the story of real teachers and real students and the challenges they face every day in a few of the charter and district schools in Newark. By telling the story this way, Russakoff gets to the fundamental challenges facing the education reform movement and the entire K-12 system, at least the K-12 system in inner city schools.

In Newark, and in the New York City school system where I’ve spent time the past five years, you have both charters and “district” schools. The charters benefit from flexibility due to having non-union teachers, they benefit from not having the overhead burden of the “district bureaucracy”, they benefit from often having wealthy donors (like us) who cover startup costs and other needs, and they benefit from the self selection that comes from parents who care enough to get their kids into a charter school. The results that the best charter operators have produced with this formula in Newark and New York City is undeniable. They have created some amazing schools that are getting fantastic results. I know many of the leaders of these charter schools and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work, their schools, and their commitment to the students and we have supported them financially and in other ways.

But not every child gets into a charter and there is a growing number of people, in and out of the education reform movement, who understand that district schools aren’t going away and we need answers for these schools and the children that attend them. And it is also important to understand that, by their nature, charters tend to siphon the best families in a community out of the district school and those that are left in the district schools need more social and remedial support than they are getting and that the district schools have resources to provide.

A few years ago a friend of mine said to me “if you are interested in K-12 inner city education you need to go see this person. The person he sent me to meet with has been providing mental health services to children who are struggling in inner city schools. She explained to me that you can’t teach a student who is in trauma. It doesn’t work. So she has taken on the effort to try to provide mental health resources to the most challenged schools and the most challenged students. That is an example of the “social and remedial support” that district schools need more of.

If there is any lesson that I took away from The Prize it is that we can talk until we are blue in the face about bureaucracies, and unions, and bad teachers, and fraud, and corruption, and the need to reform all of that. And we do. But where the rubber meets the road is the student and its the inner city students who are failing in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade who we need to focus on. Because once they fail at that level, it is so hard to get them back on track and most don’t make it.

I sat next to NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina at Mayor de Blasio’s recent speech on his education efforts. When the Mayor mentioned the big investment they are making in second grade reading performance, Carmen turned to me and said “this is critical. these kids need to read in second grade”. She’s right.

If you are interested in this stuff, as I am, I would strongly recommend reading The Prize. It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. But I helped me think about this stuff and that’s super helpful.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Tom Labus

    Tough to teach and get to a kid who is always hungry too.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s also part of the “social and remedial efforts”great point

      1. Web Team

        @fredwilson:disqus also tough to teach children that have dangerous, or unsupportive, home environments too. Does The Prize have a unique proposal for that problem?

        1. LE

          I don’t think the intellectuals fully grasp the environmental “family and neighborhood” issues. As such they will not be able to craft a solution. Quite frankly I am not sure that a solution even exists. Not only that but the environment (and this is important) is more than what happens in the household. It’s also the building someone lives in (if multi family) the neighborhood and the friends that are in the neighborhood. Who is hanging out and what their values are.

          1. CJ

            You can’t abstract education from environment.

      2. LE

        My sister in law (a new teacher) teaches at a poor school in Delaware. Amazing stories about the home life of the students and their behavior. Unfortunately this is a difficult problem to solve, given the age and immaturity of some of these parents or the fact that in many homes there is only one parent. This really boils down to a social issue (birth control as one part) and not an education issue. That is people having kids that they can’t afford.

        1. PhilipSugar

          Wish I could give more than one upvote.

        2. creative group

          LE:can agree in most cases but social engineering doesn’t work. We can list those born on third base who had two parents, wealth, etc. and shouldn’t have been born. The countless serial killers, serial rapist and just the worst of humankind born to upper middle class and wealthy families with two parents. Then there are numerous raised by a single parent who contributed and turned out well.Just to name a few people raised by single parent.1. Kate Beckensale (Father died of heart attack at 5)2. Andrew Jackson (President, Father died before he was born)3. Thomas Jefferson (President, raised by Mother)4. George Washington (President, father died at 11)5. Gerald Ford (Orphan)6. Demi Moore7. Barbra Streisand (Father died when she was one)8. Al Pacino (East Harlem)9. Ben Carson (Neurosurgeon, Republican Presidential Candidate)

    2. bsoist

      That’s a big part of the untold story re: charter schools. If you read some of the contracts teachers sign to teach at some of the more successful charters, you find that the “magic” is in doing some of the parenting for these students. It’s not really scalable. @fredwilson:disqus

      1. creative group

        Success Academy in Harlem.

        1. bsoist

          what about it?

          1. creative group

            Your thoughts?

          2. bsoist

            It’s one of the schools I was thinking of when I left my first comment. I think it is very hard to scale what they are doing – real scale, think nationwide.Do you work in education?

          3. creative group

            bsoist :our space is Commercial Real Estate investing. Our love for technology started when Day Trading in early 90’s. We were nurtured in Harlem so everything in New York City interests us.

      2. CJ

        It just requires a lot more teachers and money to scale. District teachers have argued for smaller class sizes for individualized attention for decades and the answer they’ve heard back is larger classes and Charter Schools.

  2. gregorylent

    it’s an entire culture. tv. junk food. an economic system that requires everybody to work more than they parent .. i can go on .

  3. jason wright

    i know nothing about the US education system. for example, what’s K-12?

    1. Matt Zagaja

      In the US you receive free education from Kindergarten (K) to 12th Grade. Beyond that (pre-school, college) you are generally paying for it out of your own pocket. So when people talk about education policy that’s typically their focus.

      1. jason wright

        thanks Matt.what age is 12th Grade?

        1. Matt Zagaja

          Usually you graduate 12th grade at or around age 18. Just in time to be able to put yourself on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.

          1. pointsnfigures

            Depending on your path. Depending on your choice. There are plenty of ways to get a 4 year degree and not be in killer debt.

        2. laurie kalmanson

          12th grade is the end of high school; the last year before collegeK is for kindergarten; starts at around age 5 or 6Pre-school is generally private and expensive; some places offer Head Start programs for disadvantaged children

          1. jason wright

            thanks Laurie.

  4. pointsnfigures

    Agree on the outcome, disagree on the process to get there. Zuckerberg’s gift fed the bureaucracy-mostly paid pensions and consultants. Interestingly, the economic Nobel yesterday was given to Princeton economist Angus Deaton who studies poverty. His conclusions generally have been that the more power and choice that you give to the individual, the better the outcome. This is why Education Savings Accounts and vouchers are a powerful idea. Nevada is rolling out ESA’s next year. New Orleans has done a lot with charters. The guiding principle should be “empower the individual to have choice and encourage competition among providers.” Simply spending more money on the educational bureaucracy flies in the face of that principle, and also flies in the face of data.Not to pile on, and I am cognizant it’s Chicago but:… our head of the public school system just got caught using her position to make money for herself.

    1. Matt Zagaja

      But there is competition already, because when people with families buy residences they are buying the school system.

      1. pointsnfigures

        That’s actually not competition. They buy a residence and get one size fits all school system. Cities are different. In Chicago, if you live near a poor performing public school, it’s awfully hard to get into a good performing one-and almost impossible to traverse there. Turning public education from a hierarchy into a network would be a game changer. Nevada is on the road to doing that.

        1. Matt Zagaja

          But that’s still a purchasing decision. You can allocate more income to your rent/mortgage to be in a house that is in a nicer area and get into the nicer school, or allocate less and then be in the not as good one. In many ways the expense of living in the “nicer parts” of the city is probably a premium for the school. There is also the option to live in a suburb and commute in.

          1. pointsnfigures

            Not really an option for many people. In Chicago, I might not be able to afford to live in a suburb or area of the city that has good schools. But vouchers for every person, ESA’s for every person allows the network to happen. It gives me the opportunity to get into a variety of schools. It also offers the chance for private schools to startup and educate kids.

          2. Matt Zagaja

            But unless the government imposes price controls won’t we just see the same power law price distribution we see on property values and higher ed tuition?

          3. pointsnfigures

            Bluntly, The more govt fucks with markets, the more the market gets fucked up. Price controls will create shortages. Always. Competition will create all kinds of solutions. Maybe I send my kid to a “cheaper” school, but I pay a tutor with the money I am saving. Let individuals determine how to spend their vouchers. http://www.sutton-associate

          4. Matt Zagaja

            It seems weird to believe that government should intervene in a market with subsidies through vouchers and that this intervention won’t introduce any distortions but price controls are a step too far. We have competition today, you can buy private school for your kid if you live in a city and many choose to do that. You can also choose where you live.

          5. pointsnfigures

            But poor people have no option. For them, there is no competition. Let government give them a voucher, let everyone else have tax free education savings accounts.

          6. Matt Zagaja

            I still don’t see how that isn’t a decision. Everywhere in the US has social services for the poor. You can get Section 8, WIC, SNAP, etc. in NYC, San Francisco, or Boston. If we move to vouchers and let people pay for school we’ll just end up with same dilemma where people with less money are sorted into the same sort of low quality school environments they are in today. The wealthier will buy themselves the more expensive higher quality schools.

          7. pointsnfigures

            SNAP is a parallel example. What’s better? Should we give people a Snap account and let them shop anywhere they want, buying the food they want? Or should we set up a system of government cafeteria’s in poor neighborhoods that people are forced to eat all their meals at?The wealthy will always take care of themselves. Why are we worried about them at all? They will buy tutors, buy experiences and buy all kinds of things the poor cannot possibly afford. But, arm a poor person with money and choice, make things competitive, and if they get an education they will have a chance to succeed.

          8. Matt Zagaja

            Well to be honest I think you make a good point here. I’m going to ponder this further. Maybe vouchers are a fair solution, but they’ll have to be worth more than we pay for existing public school infrastructure.

    2. Alex Murphy

      As I read Fred’s post, and from what I have observed there is no question that Market dynamics can and do have profoundly positive outcomes in terms of the quality of education for those that end up in Charter schools.The problem, as Fred noted in his post, is that this doesn’t help those that are not able to make the choice. Specifically undereducated, poor, and fractured families and their young children in K-3.Those children, that are children of parents that don’t make the choice for whatever reason, end up in a really bad place because they aren’t getting the basic foundation needed in order to build their education throughout childhood.This isn’t a matter of “spending more money on the educational bureaucracy,” it is simply framing the problem.

      1. pointsnfigures

        Give them choice. Give them vouchers. Give them the opportunity to have tax free Education Savings Accounts. Give the individual power. Let them use the network to empower themselves. That’s reframing the problem.

        1. SubstrateUndertow

          You have never been really poor and uneducated I see !

          1. pointsnfigures

            Awesome, attack me personally instead of the idea.Here is my street cred on education. My father was a PhD in Education. He taught, and he also managed. He grew up dirt poor in the South and then Michigan. He taught at a community college. I was a public school kid-50% of my high school didn’t attend college. It was pretty blue collar-mostly children of tradesman. I played hoops where I was one of the only white kids. The guys I played with were plenty poor and you didn’t have to be poor to appreciate it. I attended a service academy for a short time, and there were plenty of kids that were middle class and poor there. Then I went to a community college. Some of my friends have started charter schools and a very good friend of mine runs Kipp in Chicago.

          2. Alex Murphy

            Everyone is poor and uneducated at 4. The difference in your life was clearly your parents chose to have you become educated. They chose to invest in you. They were able to do so. Regardless of your economic reality.Your point above about vouchers, tax incentives etc are all great. They help push those that are at the margin.But what about the kids with parents that aren’t at the margin? That is not a question with a specific answer. It is in fact a very big question. And it is not just about kids with poor parents. It is about kids with distracted parents. Parents that don’t invest in them, or sometimes just don’t care.In a world where there are too many helicopter parents, it is hard to see that there are in fact many kids suffering from the opposite problem which is more like a zombie parent.

          3. pointsnfigures

            So, if given the opportunity and the money lower income parents wouldn’t invest in their children?We can’t control for parenting. My mom stayed home and my Dad was a teacher. Plenty of my friends parents were blue collar and they did what they thought was best for their children too. Even if their parents didn’t go to college, most of my friend group went to college. (and I am talking about friends I have had since I was age 5-11)I have seen wealthy kids parents outsource the entire parenting process too.

          4. SubstrateUndertow

            Sorry didn’t mean it as a personal attack just as a friendly nudge to remind you and myself how blessed we are 🙂

    3. Jess Bachman

      Wouldn’t competition among schools have less effect than competition among other products? Everyplace I have lived it would have been very difficult to ‘choose’ another school, and even more difficult for those without my means.We should try to make sure that the “choice” we provide is not just another luxury item itself.

      1. pointsnfigures

        How many kinds of pop can you buy at the grocery? How many choices do you have when you want to buy something to drink? Why can’t education be like that? There are plenty of ways to educate kids. Sitting for 6-8 hours in a public school classroom might not be the only way. Why do we look at things like 3D printing and imagine the immense possibilities for it to disrupt the factory model, but we fail to use the same logic toward’s educating our children. Technology has enabled all kinds of networks. Let’s use em. is allowing kids to utilize social networking to learn math and science. Teachers in India and China are making it a part of their classroom.Chicago is going to pass a $600M property tax increase. All of it is going to pay for pensions. Not one penny will float down to the population that needs the money.

        1. Jess Bachman

          Sure, there are tons of ways my 8 and 5 year old can get a great education online or with e-learning. But at this age, most of the benefit they get is through socializing with other kids, in person.Lets not forget that sending your kids to some classroom for 6-8 hours a day is the most affordable childcare around.

        2. kidmercury

          the pension fund will still be under water even after the hike, so another one is coming next year too.

          1. pointsnfigures

            and the year after that. State, every county in Illinois, and the city of Chicago are bankrupt. Big time red ink. All because of pensions, and refusal to end spending. is great for this.

      2. pointsnfigures

        You are assuming the supply curve is vertical and won’t shift.

  5. William Mougayar

    You are very passionate and determined about your mission in improving/changing high-school Education. And you are doing some heavy lifting. Have you thought about getting an audience with the President of the US to help educate him on what needs to get done, so that your tune is sang top down as well?

    1. fredwilson

      i think this is largely a state and local issue and that the federal government has done as much harm as good on this issue

  6. John danner

    Fred, glad to see you going deeper in education. Your insight that the emotional state of the student is key is right on. Its why the best schools focus so much on culture and getting students and parents invested in learning. At rocketship, we used to say that culture + staff was responsible for 80% of our outcomes, which was always non-intuitive to folks from outside education. The best book i have read in the area of educating the most needy children is Paul Tough’s How Childreen Succeed. It talks about trauma, grit, and why social emotional skills are pre-requisties for success. Thanks again for putting your time into education, it is the highest leverage investment we can make.

  7. laurie kalmanson

    yes to all. i went to nyc public schools back when they were very very tracked; i never saw many of the kids in the school. that’s not an answer to helping those who need the most help; it’s what was done for prison or pay for schools; it’s one or the other. people might not like the parents, but children are children, and if they need help, they should have it.i have taught writing on an arts grant at a magnet school with mostly free lunch students; the school got the magnet funding as part of a settlement / consent decree wherein they promised not to treat children unequally anymore without admitting to having done so. there were great teachers, and there were actively awful teachers; there were children dealing with every type of chaos at home and overcoming it, and there were children who were drowning in it. i had my students write a newspaper about any topics of their choice; first person, reported stories, essays; anything they wanted — but it had to be done with effort and care. the results ranged from reminiscences about watching soaps with their grandmothers to play by play analysis of ball games; the goal was to help them write in their own voices, and they did that extremely well and with passion.i remember giving a talk at a middle school — on using social media wisely — and the class was diverse, engaged and aware; one girl had her head on her desk the whole time. i asked the teacher if the girl was okay, and the teacher said that she has been struggling in the months since her father went to jail. that is a child who needs help if her life is going to be whole. in affluent districts, when there is a tragedy, counselors and help are available; in many district schools, tragedy is part of life every single day.when charter schools first happened, i disliked them as a secret backdoor for evangelicals to have their no science, bible as textbook, brand of illiteracy and ignorance funded with public money. these days, i dislike charter schools for their broader approach to destroying, versus helping, public education.for the record, i send my child to private school, because (1) i can (2) i live in a place where the public schools are so poorly funded that anyone who can get their kid into another place does so. the tuition, of course, is close to what property taxes are in districts with excellent public schools; places that people pay a lot to live in because the schools are so good.

  8. Jim Borden

    thanks for the recommendation; and thanks for your work with DonorsChoose, my favorite charity, which can help support these types of efforts

  9. Susan Rubinsky

    As a parent who lived in a smaller city (New Haven, CT) with similar problems, I can tell you that Fred is on point about getting to the poor kids from fractured families as early as possible. These kids typically have very dysfunctional families and it is almost impossible for these kids to escape the cycle of poverty and dysfunction.I was one of those passionate parents who wanted very much to support and be part of the district elementary school my son went to. However, we escaped into the charter system in fifth grade due to the fact that there were so many dysfunctional poor kids that it affected classroom teaching every single day. When you have a classroom of 30 kids and five or six of them are incapable of functioning properly in the classroom, there is no way that teaching can actually occur. What happens is that you end up making a decision to save your kid and you leave the others behind. It is extremely disheartening. Really, the only way to solve this problem is to solve poverty.

    1. reggiedog

      Go see the documentary Paper Tigers at the Schubert next week to understand what trauma does to kids, schools and our society.

      1. Susan Rubinsky

        I will try to check that out! Thank you.

    2. PhilipSugar

      See my comments we totally agree. Now as to how to solve poverty. We need to think about this and have a really open discussion about this.What we have been doing for the last 50 years has not worked. That is just a simple fact.So it can’t be just throw even more money at it. My belief is that will just make it worse, it’s like when something isn’t working in business and you just throw more money at it without looking at the cause.

      1. Susan Rubinsky

        I seriously agree. I will check out your comments. But, alas, I have to get back to work. I will revisit later today.

      2. Stephen Voris

        I seem to recall a study mentioned in a relatively-recent Economist, dealing with African poverty and a promising approach to alleviating it; I don’t remember all the details (it involved giving chickens), but the takeaway I had was that two years’ attention to the same individual(s), by the same individuals, had much more lasting positive results (fewer chickens eaten, more eggs eaten) than less personalized methods of aid.Or as JLM would say, the hand up rather than the hand out.Translating that to education – right now, we segregate students by grade (read: age), and assign teachers based on that grade; this means, in the worst cases we’ll inevitably end up with, that a child is expected to be learning from a completely new set of strangers every year. And the teachers have the same problem in reverse, compounded by an increasingly rigid curriculum.On the other hand, if you’re working with teachers – or school administrators – whose capacity for imagination is rivaled by a McDonald’s line cook (and such teachers will tend to cluster in poorer schools), you very well might need that rigid curriculum, those rigorous standards – for some subjects. But the tests should focus on the results, not the methods: in math, for example, the whole point of teaching different methods to get the same result is because some kids will “get it” one way, and others will “get it” another.That “hand up” is going to have to pull in a lot of different places.

      3. LE

        In public they kick the can down the road by first commissioning a study done by academics and intellectuals which of course takes years to design and complete. Then waste time fighting over what they study says. Then they hold meetings where the most vocal and angry people manage to gum up solutions.

  10. Shaun Dakin

    I read the book as well. Awesome.I have a child in public school.The older I get the more I realize that the “best” schools are directly related to the general wealth of the community and the parents.Yes, teachers are important. Schools that have resources are important.But the single greatest predictor of student success is the wealth and education of the parents.Charters can’t fix that. Only a radical change in public school funding (from property taxes to.?)Why do most reformers send their kids to private schools?(I’m the result of private and boarding schools)

    1. DJL

      I think if you look closely you will see that wealthier parents are more involved parents. The money is just a ruse so we can go on a on about how much better rich people have it. 40 years ago this was not the case.

      1. Matt Zagaja

        Strongly disagree. The most talented teachers have been shown to have an outsize impact on student achievement and in any market they are going to try and get work at the highest paying school systems they can. The wealthier schools can afford to buy the better teachers. This is a talent problem and I think the market has shown that the best way to tackle talent problems are to throw money at it through training and also through attracting talent away from other high paying sectors like finance.

        1. Susan Rubinsky

          I saw this first hand in New Haven. Some of the teachers were clearly not getting jobs anywhere else. I was appalled at how truly dumb some teachers were. (Some teachers were amazing. Every single one of the amazing teachers my son had only stayed a year or two). I could not understand how some of them even graduated from college. There was a great study that came out last year by the Brookings Institute that indicated the 25% highest performing teachers are the most likely to leave for other industries, while the lowest performing 25% were the most likely to stay. My theory is that if you are one of the highest performing and have to work with really dumb people and onerous bureaucracy, you eventually leave out of frustration.

          1. Stephen Voris

            My theory is that if you are one of the highest performing and have to work with really dumb people and onerous bureaucracy, you eventually leave out of frustration.A particularly powerful theory since it’s not confined to teaching; the very existence of “gifted and talented” classes points to the same tendency for students, and I seem to recall a Paul Graham essay outlining the same behavior with regards to hackers.The danger here is that this segregative tendency pulls away exactly the people best able to fix it.

          2. Susan Rubinsky

            Would love to see that essay. Plus, that’s just my snarky “theory.” I am sure there are a variety of factors that contribute to this including frustration.

          3. Stephen Voris

            Sixth section in particular, the one labeled “Clumping”.…As for snark, I invite you to do a search on “conservation of ninjutsu”; this clustering tendency isn’t confined to reality.

          4. Susan Rubinsky


          5. Susan Rubinsky

            Thanks for the link! I think I may have read that post years ago. I forgot how good it is. It’s still applicable today.

          6. Matt Zagaja

            I think that’s a fair assessment. I’ve been in a full spectrum of environments and completely understand why. It is not at all engaging to have to re-litigate settled issues with your peers or fill out TPS reports. However the biggest difference is unquestionably culture. In some places the culture reacts to new ideas with “this cannot be done” but in places like where I am today the attitude is “how can we help you make it happen?”

    2. PhilipSugar

      Let’s reverse your statement. What you are saying is that kids that have uneducated and therefore poor parents (and the majority don’t have parents, they have a parent) do poorly in school just like their parents.Now when I say this many people recoil and think I am some sort of racist but it doesn’t matter if we are talking poor areas of places like Kentucky or inner cities like Newark, NJ.The key is breaking that cycle at the root, a radical thought is we should bring back orphanages like the Hershey School where we live. That is never going to fly.But we have to have some sort of incentive for the parent, and I believe in both the carrot and the stick. If we tied aid to how well your kids did that might be a start. If you have no kids you start off at the top rate.I know my ideas are radical but what we are doing is treating the symptom not the disease. The problem isn’t the schools. The problem is when you have places that are populated by people that don’t care about education and are therefore poor why would you expect different results.

      1. JamesHRH

        Every study shows parents’ valuation of education is the pivot point.

        1. PhilipSugar

          Exactly. My wife escaped poverty through education. Now how she self motivated I never know. She always worried about her background but for me and my parents we marveled at that unbelievable feat. (Bartending until 2am and then taking a motorcycle to the hospital and sleeping in a closet to be at 6am clinicals…How hard is that???)But if my kids don’t do their homework, or get less than a B on a test (and she checks each one)… out. Its uncomfortable for me.

          1. LE

            Kudos to your wife (as Ed McMahon used to say “I did not know that”).That said what’s interesting is that your wife puts so much on the grades that your kids got but my guess is that her success actually had much more to do with drive and motivation which luckily she was gifted in that area. Sure the grades helped. But even if she wasn’t good academically let’s say she didn’t go to college and started working as a admin assistant she could probably have easily risen above that, right?I know of a guy (relative of my wife … let’s leave it at that) who has a law degree and actually got a job at a top law firm. Smart well educated guy. Got fired because of a bad attitude I believe. Comes from a lower class family. He’s roughly 40 now and he lives in his parents house and works at some so so job. All of that potential wasted. So he had great grades but the drive and motivation are lacking. Part of this is probably the way he was raised.The fact is not everyone is cut (even people from middle class families) from the same bolt of cloth with the same drive and values. In your wife’s case the poverty almost certainly was a big motivator.Also with your wife she is able to handle the rigors of “working till 2am and sleeping at a closet to be at 6am rounds”. Not everyone, even if they want to, can physically do that. Just like not everyone can run a marathon (so it takes more than desire is my point).

          2. PhilipSugar

            She got into Penn Grad school because the Dean of UD was yelling at her about her painted Converse shoes (she could not afford nursing one’s) A student explained her situation and that Dean gave her a top recommendation to Penn, despite ok grades. She thinks my kids have everything and therefore should achieve.

      2. LE

        Now when I say this many people recoil and think I am some sort of racist…I know my ideas are radical Not me. Not at all.People have decided to expand the meaning of racist to include when someone makes any statement at all that shows that there might be differences in people or their situation. I refuse to accept that.The definition of racist is as follows:a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another.Comments made in jest in private or even in a forum should not be evidence of someone being racist. Freedom of speech is more important that being politically correct so that ideas can flow freely.By my way of looking at it what you are saying is not racist although it’s easy to see how people might think that it is.Unfortunately the collective group is quite ignorant and gets its ideas from what they read and what supports their way of looking at the world based on the way that they have been raised or, my favorite, “brainwashed”. That is exactly what prevents common sense solutions to problems that we have. Everybody immediately recoils finding reasons why something can’t work because it might have a scent of racism. Perhaps with both Trump and Carson we might actually move away from that a bit. [1]is we should bring back orphanages like the Hershey School where we live. That is never going to fly.My “racist” idea would be “adopt a poor kid and raise him in your white home”. To sell that we would need one of those guys who can sell ice to Eskimos.[1] Note how everyone (even jewish groups) rejected what Carson said about guns and the holocaust on it’s face. As if he didn’t even have a right to say it and how he didn’t know history. I am not a Carson fan however I think it’s fine (as someone whose family died in the holocaust) that he said that. Doesn’t bother me. I want people saying things, not holding back.

  11. jason wright

    so these charter schools are for what age range?don’t charter schools inadvertently (i’m being generous in my assessment) drive the process of wider socio economic inequality?

  12. reggiedog

    Plenty of people disagree with your off-handed comment,”The results that the best charter operators have produced with this formula in Newark and New York City is undeniable.”From everything I’ve read, charter schools are usually “successful” because they cherry-pick their students, often free-ride on public facilities and use lower quality, lower cost labor, cycling through under-qualified, short-term Teach for America.From everything I’ve read, charter schools are a classic genre of exploiting a system using marketing and PR instead of common sense metrics.

    1. Mike Zamansky

      I largely share these views so am not a fan of the charter movement and I’m certainly not a fan of the “no excuses movement” and the ones with constant test prep.That all said, there are some independent charters trying to do it right but when you look at the results they perform no better or worse than public schools.

    2. Susan Rubinsky

      The charter system my son went to did not “cherry pick,” it was a lottery system. The beauty of the lottery system in New Haven was that the whole city was a lottery system so all parents enrolling children in school had to fill out a lottery form.

      1. reggiedog

        Does your charter school kick out kids who are “undesireable”? Most do, so at a rate 20x higher than public schools, so they don’t have to deal with the “difficult” kids, which bring down their averages. That’s cherry picking.”Amistad Academy suspended 20 of its 96 kindergarteners last year, a rate 15 times higher than in traditional New Haven public schools.” http://www.newhavenindepend

        1. Susan Rubinsky

          Parents/guardians are required to sign an agreement that they will adhere to certain criteria, such as making sure your child does their homework; very basic agreements that are required to be a successful student.My son went to an Achievement First school, which Amistad is part of. If the children and the parents are not adhering to the basics like doing your homework, then, yes, that’s an issue. I’m not saying charters are the answer to everything, I’m just saying they are solving some problems and some of their methods should be picked up and utilized by district schools.The kids who are kicked out are the same kids who are left in place in district schools, effectively destroying everyone’s education. Those kids need intervention. It is not happening in district schools because there is no solution at the moment. It doesn’t happen at Achievement First because they receive less funding than district public schools so they kick the kids out for not adhering to their agreement. If the families are not adhering to the agreement, there is no way those kids are going to get a good education anywhere.There are a whole host of problems related to poverty that we need to solve. Charters are only a tiny sliver of a solution but currently a great escape route for low-income families. Our world is much better with the charters than without. They are the disrupters who are showing us new ways to do things more effectively with better results. Just like in tech. And, yes, some will fail. Just like in tech. But charters are wonderful incubators that, in most cases, blow away regular public schools. Do they solve poverty? No. But one escape route is better than none.

          1. PhilipSugar

            I can only upvote once.

          2. LE

            But charters are wonderful incubators that, in most cases, blow away regular public schools.A large part of that is the behavior of the collective group which in a charter school is controlled. For one thing the privilege of being at the charter school can be withdrawn (just like at a private school). They have something to lose if they act out. Attendance at the school. Under the assumption they want to be there and not lose that it’s a powerful compliance motivator.Do you know why there was an honor block at the prison that those guys escaped from? Because they needed to give them things that they could take away if they misbehaved. That’s why. It’s used for compliance. I didn’t read that anywhere either. It’s common sense and a way to manipulate. [1]So that’s perhaps the “solution”. At public schools there need to be perks that can be withdrawn and those perks can be used to regulate behavior. While the perks won’t work with everyone, they will work enough with the collective group to enforce good behavior.That would be part of my solution to the problem.[1] I do this at home. Tell the kid to do something. If they don’t listen, after a warning, “no more mindcraft for two days. When I say something you listen”. No mindcraft, nothing to withdraw to create compliance. The system works very well. As much as I think they waste to much time on mindcraft.

          3. Susan Rubinsky

            Which is exactly why charters are excellent models for regular public schools to gain new techniques from.

      2. LE

        ” it was a lottery system”A lottery among a select group of people that decided to enter the lottery. (Or accept the winning ticket if the lottery was everyone.) Hence the word cherry pick is not correct. Perhaps “self selecting” is better.Just like people who make comments on AVC are not cherry picked by Fred. They are self selecting.A charter school is a self selecting community at the core. Just like people who comment on AVC are. [1] Just like people who decide to travel from Kansas and live in NYC (or LA) are.[1] That is why it’s so civil here. None of us would be here if that were not the case.

        1. Susan Rubinsky

          All students who want to attend public school in New Haven must enter the lottery, otherwise the student is not enrolled in public school at all. There is no cherry picking. It’s one of the fairest school lotteries I’ve heard of. It’s fairer than districts where you go to school based on where you live.

          1. PhilipSugar

            Where I live they have a compromise, which is what people could learn to do more. Half are by merit, half lottery. Do I like that?? Well no, but like all good compromises neither side got their way totally, but they each got some.

          2. LE

            Well then I will counter that with “variation of Hawthorne Effect”!!!Sigma Algebra if reading will back me up on this one.

          3. Susan Rubinsky

            Oh yes, I’ve heard of this. This is why teacher performance reviews, as they are structured today, don’t really work. The teacher, of course, does her best when she’s being observed.As for the lottery in New Haven, it’s pretty damn fair. At least as close to fair as it will be given the current circumstances. The people of privilege in New Haven (AKA, Yalies) send their kids to private school.

    3. Susan Rubinsky

      Also, the charter my son went to was not all about “marketing and PR instead of common sense metrics,” in fact, the system used testing in the exact way it should be used. Students were tested in every class, every six to eight weeks. The test results were processed immediately. If it was apparent that a particular student was falling behind, that student was given extra help after school. If it was apparent that a whole class wasn’t learning something, a group of educators would work with that class and circle back to the things that were not learned, exploring if it was the way it was taught and/or a curriculum issue. Also, the testing was not used as any kind of penalty, just as a way to constantly assess progress.There were many other benefits to the charter system, including 12 hour days with required extra-curriculars for all students (unless the student needed extra help, then the extra-curriculars were waived and the student was given one-on-one attention), triple time on the english curriculum (english was divided out into three distinct classes: writing, grammar, and reading), required music class which was a full-time class, etc. I could go on.Kids who were found to be gifted in certain areas, were then given extra attention in that area after school. For example, my son was performing at an exceptionally high level in math so his teacher ran an extra class after school, four days a week, just to instruct him at the next level.

      1. Mike Zamansky

        None of the benefits you mention are unique to the charter system. Most public schools have offer extra curriculars, tutoring, etc and they could easily be made required.

        1. Susan Rubinsky

          None of the tutoring was going on in any public school in any of the places I have lived. The only way you got tutoring was if your child was identified and then tested with some kind of learning disability. For example, my son was having problems with writing in third grade. I was notified by the school that my son was having a problem in this area. I was then told by the school psychologist and the school principal in a special meeting that the only way the school would give extra help was if I pulled my child from advanced reading (he was going to fourth grade each day for reading) and allowed them to classify my son as having a reading deficit. This is because of the way schools are funded; they could only provide extra writing help to students who had deficits in reading. This is fairly typical for most public school districts, unless you live in a wealthy area. They must adhere to the stipulations of the funding, even if it makes no sense.

          1. Mike Zamansky

            I have no idea as to the ed scene in Ct so I wasn’t implying that they were available to you. I think every school in NYC has funding for one on one tutoring (called AIS or Academic Intervention Services), sports and other extras.Now, there are also some of the best public schools around and some of the worst.

        2. Susan Rubinsky

          Required extra curriculars would be excellent, especially in low-income areas.

        3. Susan Rubinsky

          Also, I have yet to see any non-charter public school adequately utilize testing as a method for continual, progressive improvement.

          1. Mike Zamansky

            Well, I’m a 25 year veteran teacher and I’ve heard I’m a pretty good one. My wife also has over 20 years in the system. Neither of us would send our kids to a school that utilizes testing the way the reformers want us to sue them.As a side note – this year, my official rating fell from Highly Effective (top rating) to Effective based on student test scores on History and English regents — I teach computer science.

          2. Susan Rubinsky

            I totally understand. That’s why I used the words “adequately utilize testing,” because most public schools aren’t. But at the charter my son went to, did use data in really timely progressive ways.

          3. LE

            (Well definitely don’t sue them!)Anyway I fear that the problem is that you are a pretty good teacher. The fact is I think it’s reasonable to assume that it’s not possible to duplicate you. You are an outlier. The same way certain doctors, nurses, attorneys or even kitchen contractors are outliers in their profession. You know that’s the case, right? Teaching is an art more than a science. It’s not an assembly line process.

          4. Mike Zamansky

            Agree 100% – it’s an art or a craft which is one of the reasons why teaching doesn’t lend itself to scale and simple metrics.It’s also why when we try to constrain teachers and make them teach to scripts or to tests, it kills the artistry.I do think you can grow great teachers, though as I’ve had a hand in developing around a dozen great ones (not all stayed in the profession, however).

          5. LE

            I’ll tell you a funny story about “art and craft”.I had a customer that was a movie producer and director who hired me to do some things. He told me “I want to know everything that you do, who you talk to, what you say, and why you do it the way that you do”. This guy was a tough New Yorker (that you probably have heard of) who was used to being in control of all aspects of his work. This to him was another piece of work to control.I told him “sorry I don’t do that type of thing”. I said to him “see what I do is a creative process. And if I have to run things by you I will mentally stutter and won’t be able to be creative and solve the problem that you have. So if this is what you need I am not the right guy and I won’t do work for you. Sorry.”He immediately relented and backed down. Why? Because he is a creative guy himself and understood and has the same problems with movie studios (or so I have read). That’s why I actually pitched my reply the way I did. Was no accident. Was deliberate for his hot buttons. I understood his mentality and his own thought pattern and I played to it. And it worked. We became friends. And I actually ended up sharing (and enjoying) all of the details of what I did for him but not because I needed to. Selectively without deprecating my creative instinct. This is the problem that teachers have. They can’t just say “fuck you” like I did.I dated a few girls who had parents [1] who were “phone it in NYC teachers”. They didn’t live or breath teaching. It was a way to get the million dollar TDA (NYC?) and do easy time. One in the last year told me she just played movies for her kids like her friend did.The truth is you could have more impact if you weren’t teaching at this point but spending full time inspiring other teachers. However you probably can’t do that because of the golden handcuffs that you have now doing what you are doing. That’s really unfortunate.[1] And one girl who was a NYC teacher on the lower east side for that matter.

          6. Mike Zamansky

            Nice story.Those phone it in teachers shouldn’t have been tenured and even if they were should have been dealt with by administrators.That’s where we need real ed reform — we need to get principals, asst. Principals, superintendents, etc. to have real skin in the game.Golden handcuffs, I wouldn’t say golden but in any event, as of Oct 1 I’ve been granted the right to a release on time served (25 years in) so am looking for the next opportunity.

          7. LE

            Well with respect to golden handcuffs, teaching is a job, that as I understand tenure, if you (Mike Z.) were 15 years into your career and you needed or wanted to move to Florida to teach there you would have to start the tenure process all over again. Correct? So there is no mobility with jobs and as such you are kind of a lifer in a district that you start in, at least after you’ve been there maybe 5 years and don’t want to lose those 5 years of advantage? What if tenure could be made portable in some way? (Big “if”). Tenure to me is golden handcuffs.

          8. Mike Zamansky

            Yep – you’re right – which is one of the reasons why teaching isn’t like other professions where you’ve got lots of mobility.I’m just questioning the “gold” part. 🙂

          9. PhilipSugar

            I think if you look at the NPV value of a Pension I would disagree.

          10. LE

            The pension is only one part “money” and you are right. The thing that creates the handcuffs is the tenure ie “can’t get fired or laid off”. This creates an adverse incentive to work somewhere else.Now maybe your wife or my wife can go and work anywhere they want however not the same with teaching plus when you start in many places (like my sister in law) you start in the shitty schools and put your time in there (I am told..)

      2. reggiedog

        I don’t see why the benefits of charter schools shouldn’t be the benefits for all students as a societal value. Shouldn’t society have some values expressed in it’s public institutions, rather than making them all “for profit”? Certainly, human weakness (greed and laziness, particularly) is apparent in every system but I have yet to see anything in the privatization movement – healthcare, education, utilities, transportation infrastructure – that improves overall outcomes for society in general and isn’t designed by the owners to game the system.

        1. Susan Rubinsky

          Charter schools are not private. At least here in Connecticut they are not.

          1. reggiedog

            “Not Private” is a weird term that lends to slight-of-hand. The darnedest thing is that in 10 minutes of Googling, I can’t find out who owns Achievement First, the operating company. They do a great job on Google. We all know the PR effort that goes on in this debate, but it is very strange that one can’t easily see who is behind the charter schools in CT. I’m pretty sure it is a private corporation, at least not a gov’t service. Seems they are privately owned… but mostly government funded, no?

          2. Susan Rubinsky

            AF is a non-profit started by several Yale graduate students over 15 years ago and is based in New Haven, CT. It holds a charter with the State of Connecticut and also with the State of New York.

          3. reggiedog

            I totally get why people who benefit from an unequal system defend it… but Achievement First has so many questionable aspects to it that it is very, very hard to see it as an overall good for society. And it is easy to see it as a marketing scam that is detrimental:They won’t/can’t explain their financials…and…Particularly read the comments to understand why people are questioning them. They won’t explain their finances!They won’t address their forced dropout rate (that makes their numbers look better than they are. A big splash at Yale for their first graduating class to college touted their success, but didn’t mention that almost half of their original class is no longer with the school. http://www.newhavenindepend…The founder of AF has no teaching or school experience. She founded the program out of law school. That is similar to Teach For America, which was founded by a student as well. Google Teach for America for insider and outsider views about the value of under-qualified, 2-years-and-done teachers being what our kids need.While they are “not-for-profits” that doesn’t mean the founders are not very well compensated…Imagine if a public school got away with using money and paid teacher and student time to lobby…Charter schools makes a good narrative with the classic “welfare queen” villian of lazy teachers, (and they are a great way to break union’s), but they just don’t seem to be a good service to society. There are just sooo many questions, fudging numbers and marketing spin that none of them pass a basic smell test. If they were all so good, they’d be transparent and inclusive and wouldn’t have to use gov’t money to lobby for gov’t money.Again, I sympathize with parents who want the best for their kids. And I’d do the same if I lived in New Haven. But the charter school “movement” is so full of holes, false narratives, and fudged numbers, with no transparency, that it is obvious that they are yet another scam to benefit a few at the expense of the many.

          4. EdReal

            Yes, they are. They are private schools that use public dollars.

    4. LE

      From everything I’ve read, charter schools are usually “successful” because they cherry-pick their studentsOh yes all of this is quite ridiculous. And the ones that are cherry picked are from a group that has enough positive values (the parents) to even apply to the school in the first place. Similar to the private school that I went to. The poor students there (on scholarship) had the type of parents that were able to get the school to even look at their kids. Not representative of the group of poor kids in any way shape or form.

  13. joahspearman

    Thanks for sharing this, Fred. I’m going to add this to my read list. I’m not sure if you ever read anything by Ron Suskind, but “A Hope in the Unseen” is a great read along with Paul Tough’s Whatever it Takes” which you’re probably already familiar with.

  14. Tom Shakely

    Great insights. I’m curious, are there many people or organizations focused on those first few grades, K thru 2nd, when kids are likeliest to succeed or fail? Advocating and equipping families for “the first 36 months” seems like an opportunity with unrealized potential.

  15. DJL

    My wife was a school counselor for many years in public schools. The giant elephant in this discussion is the destruction of the core family system. Inner city kids are “traumatized” because of their home life – not what happens in school. My wife observed in many, many cases that the single biggest factor for success was parental involvement. (This is a good study because all of the kids came from the same socioeconomic background, mostly Hispanic.)Modern culture is attacking the traditional family from every angle. Save the family and you save the country. Period. Involved parents doesn’t take money. (Just ask Dr. Ben Carson.)I have no idea how to solve this problem. The family has been eroding for years. But I think it is very important to recognize.

    1. kidmercury

      at the heart of the family problems is economic problems. the vast majority of families need 1.5 if not 2 (or more!) working parents to support 1-2 children. solve the economic issues, and the family and education stuff largely solves itself.

      1. jason wright

        when the elastic band holding rich and poor together as a cohesive society snaps the result is the USA.

        1. PhilipSugar

          No, it would be China, India, etc.

          1. jason wright

            the US seems to be the prime example of the elastic that snapped.

    2. PhilipSugar

      I agree 100% it starts with the family at home. Now I don’t care if that is two men, two women, or a man and a woman.You are right that is the Elephant in the room. If you have a child that is “raised” by an uncaring single parent that was also raised by an uncaring single parent, you really are doomed.That does not mean we shouldn’t try but we need to break that cycle and the incentives that cause it.

  16. Joseph Burros

    The amount of children who have learning challenges in our schools is huge. If we want to improve underperforming schools, this challenge needs to be addressed in a more complete and creative way.My cousin Dr. Richard Selznick,, who is director of the Cooper University Learning Center in South Jersey, is doing some fantastic work in this field. His books The Shut-Down Learner, and School Struggles, describe the various learning problems kids can have in straight-forward, easy to understand, and common sense manner. He is in the trenches every day working with a wide variety of children and knows these challenges from the inside out.

  17. sigmaalgebra

    Two hundred or so years ago, much of the US very much wanted an identifiable, common labor, underclass, and we got it. Now, we have it. Now we reap what we have sown.As we know very well, the problems in the bad schools are nearly all brought to the bad schools from the homes. The real causes are in the homes.Example 1: I have a friend who went to some awful NYC school. His description was that mostly the kids communicated in just different inflections of just two words, “mother f**ker”. In about the second grade, he was home sick for a week, and is mother was shocked to discover that he didn’t know how to read. So, she taught him, right away. Net, the school was awful, but the home was terrific. He got PBK at SUNY, Ph.D. at Courant, and was a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.Lesson 1: The real problems are in the homes.Example 2: The school I went to was relatively good; when we moved to that city, Dad, who knew a lot about education, asked around and right away discovered what was by far, a very long way, the best school in town and bought our house to be in the district of that school. So, sure, the Latin teacher was terrific, and each year on the state Latin test her students blew away everyone else like the Cavs against some middle school hoopsters. MIT came recruiting. The year before me, three guys went to Princeton and ran against each other and some poor fourth guy for President of the freshman class. My 9th grade algebra teacher looked really good — he sent me to the math tournament. My 10th grade plane geometry teacher looked terrific — I took the state plane geometry test. Uh, I slept in her class. Each day she assigned three exercises from the front of the book, and mostly I ignored those. I worked the more difficult supplementary exercises in the back of the book. All of them. Never let myself miss one. Wish I’d had A. Gleason’s lecture on plane geometry. I got sent to an NSF summer math/physics program. My Math SAT score was just fine, thank you! For my freshman year in college, I went to a college that I could walk to. They wouldn’t let me start with calculus and had me in some what the heck trivia. I’d already been there and done that and much more in high school. I gave the course a good chance, gave up, had a girlfriend tell me when the tests were, showed up only for those, had the teacher say I was “the best math student he’d ever had”, got a calculus book, dug in, and for my sophomore year went to a much better college, one with a quite good math department, started on their second year calculus, from the same text Harvard used, found it easy, made As. Right, I’ve studied calculus, advanced calculus, and much more, taught calculus in college, used calculus in my career, published good peer-reviewed research in the part of math called analysis, grown up calculus, but never took freshman calculus.So, in my high school, I got a good start in math. But across town, the students had it easy: Each school day, they went to school only half a day. They used the same text books we used — after we’d used the books for four years. I doubt that any of those students went to Princeton or did well in plane geometry or calculus. And, the situation was all just as planned — that part of town was supposed to have the identifiable, common labor, underclass.But, gee, that was a mistake of 200 years ago. We’ve learned our lesson, right? I mean, we wouldn’t do any such thing again, right? Of course we would, and we have, and we are. Again we want an identifiable, common labor, underclass and refuse to enforce our immigration laws and do leave our border with Mexico open so that we can have just such labor. The Republicans want the labor to work but not vote, and the Democrats want the labor to vote but not work. Those immigrants look like cheap labor until also count the social costs, e.g., that Fred described.Lesson 2: We’re still doing the same thing.Of course we have those social costs: We setup that situation, deliberately. And likely 200 years from now we will be wrestling with the social costs of what we did 200 years ago plus what we are doing now.Fred’s book is like someone asking for sympathy because they are in trouble because some years ago they drank a fifth of whiskey a day. But, the thing is, they are still drinking a fifth of whiskey a day. We’re still doing the same thing.We know in very clear terms just what the heck is going on. E.g., there is The Education of Michelle Rhee at…Rhee tried hard, really hard. Net, she was a total flop. She tried to move that rock up that hill, and when she left the rock was just where it was when she started. And since Congress is right there in DC, money for bricks and mortar were not a problem, and the school buildings, equipment, etc. all looked terrific. One hundred years ago, a lot of people in the US got much better educations in one room school houses.So, we are back to Lesson 1 — the problems are in the homes, and the students bring those problems to the schools.At one time, Obama’s proposed solution was to supply Federally funded nannies, that is, for each child at risk, starting at birth, supply full time, as far as I can tell, 24 x 7, nanny aid. So, apparently Obama, in his work as a community organizer, concluded that the problem was so bad that, really, just replace the bad families that are the real cause. Uh, I don’t think that that would work. Uh, if want to take that idea seriously, then run a very, very carefully designed, controlled, monitored, analyzed pilot program. That is, do some really good social science. So that the results are reproducible. Right, reproducible social science — super tough to do.But, we know what the real solution will be: There’s Darwin, and he’s on the case, 24 x 7. Sure, there’s genetic Darwinism, but there’s also social Darwinism. So, we will just let Darwin solve it.If the poor neighborhoods have too much crime, then we will have some guys like Giuliani bend the Constitution, send in a lot of police, frequently stop and frisk the poor people on the streets, and keep down the crime.I would take the cries about how bad the problem is much more seriously if we were not working so hard now to create more of the same problem, that is, to create a much larger identifiable, common labor, underclass.I know; I know: We have romantic views of how well immigration worked when the US was growing very quickly with immigrants from the boot of Italy, north, to the Arctic and from the Pyrenees to the Urals. A lot of that culture melted into the melting pot. Right. In my family, my mother’s ancestors were from Germany and my father’s, from England. My mother in law’s background was from Ireland, and my father in law’s, Germany. So, for them, the melting pot worked. But, as in my examples here, mostly the melting didn’t work very well for the identifiable, common labor, underclass.My brother, with his big heart, took his Ph.D. to a poor college and tried to help. The students were at about the level of the fifth grade, at best, middle school. He tried really hard. Eventually he discovered that the college administration really wanted things as they were and didn’t want his help. So, he gave up.My wife was highly interested in saving the world and in the last weeks before her death worked with Literacy Volunteers of America. Her Valedictorian, Summa Cum Laude, PBK, Ph.D., were wasted; she did no good at all. Then she died.More generally, there is a lot of pushing and shoving, nasty behavior, in the US. The winners can do really well, and the losers, really poorly. Some version of that is just some of what we do in the US.

  18. Mike Zamansky

    I don’t know if those charter results are undeniable:https://garyrubinstein.word…Some good, some bad, just like everything else. In education there are no miracles.

    1. Susan Rubinsky

      Every charter system is different because each state sets it’s own mandates. Some states are far more rigorous than others in setting metrics.

    2. Susan Rubinsky

      Here in Connecticut, the inner city charter schools are extremely high performing and, in some cases, outperform the highest performing (wealthy) school districts.

  19. Shaun Dakin

    Imagine being a teacher and having your entire career determined by factors pretty much beyond your control? (income, poverty, crime, education of parents, hunger, etc).Imagine being told that you are a horrible person in the media and by education reformers every day of your life?Would you want that job?Now, imagine being a student in today’s testing nightmare world. Where, starting in K, you are expected to be able to take tests and perform.Is it any wonder that 1) the “best and brightest” want nothing to do with teaching. 2) Parents are opting out of testing (common core) left and right 3) students are not motivated.Again, why is it that education reformers mostly send their children to private schools where teachers are not measured by out of state “experts”?Why?

    1. Susan Rubinsky

      Testing can be positive if it’s done for improvement. however, I have yet to see a non-charter public school effectively do it.

      1. laurie kalmanson

        i have really mixed feelings about this: talent identification programs that invite middle school children, based on previous test results, to take the sat or act in 7th grade. upside: potentially lifechanging opportunity for bright disadvantaged students. downside: more high stakes testing sooner…Center for Talent Development, Northwestern UniversityCenter for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins UniversityRocky Mountain Talent Search, University of Denver

        1. Susan Rubinsky

          My son tested into Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins in eighth grade. Because of how high his SAT math score was, he also was awarded a slot in their Scholars program; highly unusual for a white kid. Traditionally, the awards go to minorities (there are approximately 50 slots a year). I know many of these kids personally. It was so heartening to see low-income minority kids go through this program which basically guided them to college. Almost all of the kids in the program won full scholarship to ivy league or other prestigious universities. At their graduation ceremony from CTY this past Spring, I sat next to an african american Mom who told me that her son was the first person in their family to go to college. Another family only spoke Spanish and were working class; their son won full scholarships to both Yale and Carnegie Mellon. While programs like these are small and only help a few, they are experiments in finding out what low income kids need and how to effectively help them get to college.Testing is necessary, despite all the outcry against it. If you don’t have the SAT or ACT score, you don’t get into the colleges that have the endowments to give you scholarships. Period. It’s the way the system is structured now. Without scholarships, most low-income kids don’t go to college and the cycle remains unbroken. Testing also builds character, builds grit.

          1. LE

            I sat next to an african american Mom who told me that her son was the first person in their family to go to college. Another family only spoke Spanish and were working class; their son won full scholarships to both Yale and Carnegie Mellon.My question with this is what percentage of the people that end up getting these types of benefits go back and help others in their community? Or do they just move on into either the white privileged world or their own upper or middle class minority world? And when I say “help” I don’t mean token help “I gave at the office”. I mean activity get involved and help to bring others out of poverty in a significant way.Almost all of the kids in the program won full scholarship to ivy leagueThat’s actually part of “the problem”. The entire brass ring US News and world report way of life in terms of degrees and education. Of course the Ivy League (and it’s prestige) predated US News (and it’s competitors). But there are more desirables today and it’s easier to shove everybody else into a “doesn’t matter” category. Ditto for SAT and standardized testing. Creates two classes of people. Those who test well, and those who are viewed as being inferior (and not given opportunities) because they don’t test well. Testing is important, but not for everybody in every job. And some people simply don’t test well. (I am one of those people despite being able to claw my way into an Ivy League school which I deserved to be at because I managed to get in by other skills).

          2. Susan Rubinsky

            Oh yes, I agree that we have a higher education problem. However, if you come from a low-income minority background, the key is getting scholarships otherwise your family can’t afford college. State university is out of reach for low-income and working class*. Their only option is universities with great endowments.There is so much that needs to be fixed but, meanwhile, we live in the system that exists today.I do not know stats on low-income and/or minorities returning to their communities to help. However, I am for utilizing whatever exists currently to help as many low-income people get educated as possible. Right now, only a tiny percentage of people are getting the education they deserve. Our culture and our economy depends on it.*For example, UCONN costs almost $30K a year and the federal cap on grants and loans per student is just a little more than $10K. If a family of four is living on, say, $20K a year, there is no way that family can afford to send their child to state university.

          3. LE

            If a family of four is living on, say, $20K a year, there is no way that family can afford to send their child to state university.Making bad choices. In other words at the cost of others to clean up the mess. There seems to be the idea in this country that people should be able to have as many children as they want, and the rest of us should all pay for those choices through our taxes. In my first marriage I had only two children. The cost of raising children (and other things of course) factored into the choice to have only two kids. And not four. And I earned a living at that time and a decent one at that.That said making 20k per year means you don’t have enough to support perhaps even one child so that’s a separate issue. But one thing is clear, the problem with college cost is more on people who are middle class, not from people who don’t have any money at all. At least that is the way I read the situation with respect to college aid and/or scholarships.

          4. Susan Rubinsky

            That’s quite judgmental. Would you think the same thing if a a family of four did have middle class jobs and resources and then lost it all in the recession or due to an illness in the family?

          5. LE

            Illness in the family is an “act of god”.That said I have been paying for disability insurance since the mid 1980’s. Every single year. So while it is not fair to think everyone is me with regard to covering obvious bases (and illness potential is an obvious base, right?) I would probably allow others to go slightly behind this line since I hold myself to a higher standard than others. I don’t need the disability insurance now but I still pay for it (it’s not much since I got it when I was younger..)And yes you are right I am quite judgmental. I don’t deny that. I just don’t like to clean up the mess that others create. But to your point about “illness” yes I realize everybody is not me and won’t buy disability insurance (or can’t for some medical reason). But I do think it’s reasonable to not live beyond your means and pump kids out just thinking that “everything will just work out” because it doesn’t always work out. Make sense?

          6. Susan Rubinsky

            I understand your points. Just don’t agree. Compassion is necessary. I personally know many people who have done their best with what they have and still have been sidelined by circumstances beyond their control. The older I get and the more I see, the less I judge and the more time I spend thinking about attainable solutions.The average IQ in the United States is 98. I cite that because I used to be really judgmental but then one day was doing some research (out of curiosity) and I sat back, stunned, over that number. I realized that maybe the reason why I often felt that most of the people around me were idiots was because, well, they were. I started paying more attention when I felt judgmental. I would force myself to say nothing when I was feeling that way and then start asking questions instead. I slowly came to realize that most of the people around me are doing the best they can with what they have. I really can’t judge that.On education, too many children in our country are born into low-income dysfunctional families. I don’t have any judgement about that because I have met many of these families and know they are doing the best they can with what they have. What I do think about is: what are some attainable ways we can works to solve these problems. I like to use the word attainable because solutions born out of judgement typically are not attainable because they lack compassion, they are more about punishment. You can look at our incarceration rate in the United States as an example of that. Imagine if that funding was spent, instead, on education.

          7. LE

            Great comment.I slowly came to realize that most of the people around me are doing the best they can with what they have. I really can’t judge that.Well that is the problem where empathy goes to far as I see it. Because then you have a hard time holding people accountable for what they do. This is actually I believe more of a Christian type way of thinking where you make choices and get plenty of “do overs”. Try drugs? No problem you are off the hook. Cheat on your wife? No problem get a second chance. Murder? Forgive the murderer. (Gross examples for sure to make a point). Perhaps that is baked into the “98 iq and mediocre” base of the masses. They will make mistakes so we have to give them do-overs. The way I was raised in judaism (with the guilt) you have to think ahead because you won’t be forgiven. (Your last name obviously appears jewish but maybe it’s a married name..) I never even dated non jewish because of the way I felt my parents would view that choice as doing the wrong thing.Look you do know that people smart, rich, poor, stupid will take advantage of anything they can to find a loophole and get by, right? So if they perceive weakness and compassion they will exploit it. That is the way I see it. So my balance would be maybe 10% compassion and 90% hard ass “sleep in the bed that you have made”.

          8. Susan Rubinsky

            Well, I am a buddhist and an athieist, not a christian. I do not agree that everyone will exploit a loophole. I think most people are good and a small percentage are bad. So therein lies the big difference in how we each think.

          9. Stephen Voris

            “There’s no free will,” says the philosopher; “To hang is most unjust.””There’s no free will,” agree the officers; “We hang because we must.”To some degree I agree with LE here – forgiveness is dangerous as the default response to an offense, because over time that offense becomes the status quo. On the other hand, there are a lot of ways to mess up unintentionally, one of which is “waiting too long to do something while you figure out all the ways you could mess up”.

    2. Susan Rubinsky

      I absolutely agree about teaching. It’s underpaid and undervalued in our culture. That definitely should change. I am a huge advocate of paying higher salaries for teachers but I also think they should have higher credentials. It should be a five year college program, where the education credits are taught IN ADDITION to the core college curriculum. The way it stands now, is that teachers have less credits in their core area of teaching than someone with a non-education degree.

    3. Susan Rubinsky

      However, the overall point is not teachers or specific methodologies or charters vs public, etc. The point is that learning does not occur unless you solve poverty.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Social science 101: Poverty is a spurious correlation. Sorry ’bout that.Ah, my wife’s Ph.D. was in mathematical sociology with professors J. Colman, P. Rossi, i.e., both elected President of the American Sociological Association. My brother’s Ph.D. was in political science. My Ph.D. was in applied math, stochastic optimal control, i.e., highly probabilistic, and much of my early career was in applied statistics. My father’s Master’s was in education.Broad lesson: In social science, getting at real causality is usually quite challenging. In particular, spurious correlations are more common than fleas on the back of a stray dog.More generally, statistics looks at data from the past. Then using that data to build a statistical model that will effectively capture causality so that can see what changes, i.e., interventions, to make to get some desired results, especially when the data had no such interventions, is super tough to do.E.g., the academically really good students come to school with relatively expensive clothes so that, if we give the academically poor bad students such clothes, then they will become like the good students? Of course not. But much that is being discussed in this thread is not much different.Uh, with some of that stuff they call irony, we’re talking about the importance of education, right? Sometimes when I was trying to do something and just making a mess, Dad used to say, “I love to see a man work, but you make me cry.”. Well, I hate to see people without enough education make a big mess. So, (A) spend more money, (B) have interventions, (C) break the cycle, (D) solve the problem! So in the thread today we have lots of proposals of (A) and (B), but we are working with ignorance, not good science.Yes, reductionism, where we understand the causes and use those, is great stuff. E.g., can use that to send a nice spacecraft to Pluto, on the first try. But another approach is just empiricism, i.e., use the TIFO method — try it and find out. So, with TIFO, still don’t have the causes but, with enough trials, may have the desired result. Darwin would catch on here right away.But for the TIFO method, yes, can hope that some good insight, and there likely is some in this tread today, would help, but, really, need some quite well designed, controlled, monitored, and analyzed experimental trials.Gee, not new stuff: Some of my wife’s early grad school apprenticeship work was in an effort called “The Study of the Social Organization of Schools” or some such. Yup, they were trying to solve these problems then. Uh, they were less than 100% successful.This stuff’s not easy. I hate to see lots of floundering around, waste, accusations, recriminations, etc. that result in just more failure. We’re talking about education, right? To get a solution, maybe we should try some?

        1. Stephen Voris

          “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink; you can lead a kid to facts, but you can’t make him think?”Well, you can, actually, but no single technique works on all kids (or any group of people, really).It is reasonably plausible for poverty to have a causal connection to academic failure; “lack of financial resources” I suspect correlates rather well (obviously not perfectly) with “lack of social/legal/cultural/other intellectual resources that positively affect academic success”. It’s not a direct link, but neither is it particularly far from the undesirable results.From a somewhat different perspective: One source of poverty is people who invest in their short-term happiness to the detriment of their long-term happiness, possibly because they aren’t aware of the tradeoff when they make it. Due to human social pressures, these people tend to cluster: if you party like there’s no tomorrow (to the point where it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy), you’re probably going to be friends with, and therefore influenced by, other people who party like there’s no tomorrow.Kids immersed in a culture where no one knows how to invest in long-term happiness… well, education is kinda one of those long-term things, isn’t it?

          1. sigmaalgebra

            > It is reasonably plausible for poverty to have a causal connection to academic failure Okay, we’re considering causality. Good.For academic performance, poverty is a spurious correlation, that is, not a real cause.We like to know real causes because they can tell us what to do.E.g., the spacecraft to Pluto was very successful in just the first try. The reason is that we understood the main causes, (A) Newton’s second lawforce = (mass)(acceleration)and (B) his law of gravity that, between two objects, force is directly proportional to the product of the product of the masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. So, in designing and controlling the spacecraft, we knew just what to do, and, as we’ve seen recently with the data and images back from Pluto, the results were terrific.Knowing causes has been terrific in medicine: E.g., in the US West, a child gets sick, and a blood test shows yersinia pestis, i.e., the Black Death. Yes, there were some fleas around. So, look up the recommended course of antibiotics and, bingo, presto, the child is saved. It happened recently.If being poor economically is a cause of poor academic performance, then for a family to win the lottery should result in good academic performance. If you believe that would happen very often, then there’s a bridge across the East River I can get you a great deal on if you act right away.That being poor economically is correlated with being poor academically is a spurious correlation because changing poverty does not promise to change being poor academically.Really, the correlation is from only the examples that we commonly observe and do not have to hold in other examples that in principle could occur. That is, causality has to do with some fundamental mechanism of the system (say, black box) so that if our data on the system is limited, then we may not guess at the real causes.Indeed, that was just the case in the motions of the planets in astronomy: Not until we had a lot of good data from Galileo, Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, and Kepler was Newton able to identify some terrific approximations to the real causes. Indeed, poor Ptolemy just didn’t have enough data, came up with an astounding mechanism of wheels that appeared to fit the data but still had only zip, zilch, and zero to do with the real causes.If we have a lot of good data and analyze it with just A/B testing or, better, experimental design (analysis of variance,), then there is a chance that some of the data will illustrate the effects of the causes. But need enough data, i.e., on enough cases of A/B, etc. so that we have cases with the cause of success present and with the cause absent with everything else constant.Once we have a candidate cause, then we have to do more testing, basically trying to be sure we have a real cause and not just some spurious correlation. There is some well considered literature on how to do this.As we know with astounding definiteness, from the history of the past 125 years or so in NYC, there have been many examples, even a strong theme, even a standard situation, even expecting nothing else, of being poor economically but just terrific academically, in science, medicine, law, engineering, etc. The situation has been a bright star of the American experience and famous in the US and beyond.Indeed, one of the better compliments I got was from Dad about my SAT scores, that they were as good as the best students from NYC!Thus, for this forum, based in NYC to entertain that being poor economically is a cause of being poor academically is astoundingly ironic and even a gross insult to the history.While causes can be astoundingly powerful, usually they are not easy to find. Instead it is standard that spurious correlations are as common as fleas on a stray dog. E.g., the Mayans believed that they had to pour blood on a rock to keep the sun moving across the sky. More generally, poor understanding of causes has led to millennia of superstitions, really bad ideas, and ugly human suffering.Net, we really like to know causes.Using knowledge of causes to direct interventions to get desired changes is not the only approach that can work. Instead, at times it is possible to be successful without causes.So, we can try things, and what we try can draw from judgment, examples, intuition, guesses, etc. But there are two biggie issues: (A) From history we know that it’s tough to be successful, i.e., we can expect to need a lot of trials. (B) We need careful experimental design, controls, monitoring, and analysis. Then we need to replicate the results.E.g., what would be a good catalyst for artificial photosynthesis that could convert CO2, water, and sunlight directly into liquid fuels? Right, set up an innovative, highly automated production facility to try some millions of possibilities. That is, don’t go back to the quantum mechanics of chemistry and, instead, make massive use of the TIFO method — try it and find out.The economically poor students who are academically poor, are they poor at everything? Not necessarily! They can be just fantastic at, say, basketball.So, why? A guess: From the NBA, they can see a future that they very much want.So, here’s a guess at the cause of their poor academic performance: They don’t see a good future from working hard at academics. I.e., they lack motivation. That is, the motivation is easy enough for them to see with basketball but not with academics.So, if that is the cause, then a candidate intervention is to show the students, in strong terms they will really like, how (A) they really can do well in academics and (B) how doing well can lead to what they very much want.Okay, maybe if my startup is successful, I will try: So, maybe I’ll get a new, red, open top Ferrari and some bodyguards and drive to a neighborhood with poor academic performance and get some attention of the kids. Then run a lottery and invite 100 or so families to an effective party on a yacht in Long Island Sound.Then run some after school programs in math and computing. So, try to get the kids through, say, Halmos, Finite Dimensional Vector Spaces, Rudin, Principals of Mathematical Analysis, Spivak, Calculus on Manifolds, and Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming: Sorting and Searching before they are 18.Uh, the first three of these were at least at one time the main texts for Harvard’s famous Math 55 as in…Then the kids should do just fine on their math SATs, both aptitude and knowledge, and also be okay on their GRE Math. College admission should be easy enough!Maybe.

    4. Matt Zagaja

      I think the threshold question is do teachers matter? If we accept the beginning of your comment as true then teachers are merely commodities and we should be able to compensate them less and work towards standardizing the delivery of what they do the way we have standardized McDonald’s hamburgers. These sorts of careers will not likely ever attract the best and brightest because they don’t compensate highly and/or lack a certain challenge to them. But that’s ok because maybe we won’t need the best and brightest to deliver high quality education.Alternatively we can say that teachers do matter, talent does make a difference, but then we also have to accept that there are teachers that are underperforming. There has to be accountability there whether its through testing and then we need to either train them to perform better or buy the better talent.I don’t see anything wrong with testing in general. I take tons of tests. How else are people supposed to be accountable?

  20. Peter Meyer

    I haven’t read Russakoff’s book, but I did read her NYer piece that it was based on and that piece was terribly flawed. (I have been an education journalist for 15+ years and spent a good deal of time in Newark.) She downplayed Newark’s decades-long history of corruption in which local politician after politician ransacked the city’s schools and formed unholy alliances with the teachers union and gave the current political leaders and the unions an uncritical pass in their efforts to take back the schools. “Top down” reform? Are you kidding?The State undertook a rescue operation to save children! And Cami Anderson, the latest state-apppointed Newark superintendent, was making great progress for the kids before being driven out by the same local political machinery that has so damaged the city for the last 50 years. Read Robert Curvin’s recent book, Inside Newark, especially the last chapter, “Pity the Children.” Also, regarding Farina and the need to focus attention on the early grades, two comments: 1) of course, that’s true, and 2) Joel Klein and his team proved the “pipeline” approach to reform (i.e. start with the younger kids and work forward) is bogus: their small high school reform initiatives showed what is possible to do when you bring good ideas and good management to the task of school improvement, no matter what age the kids.

    1. Stephen Voris

      “Pipeline” is probably the wrong metaphor, agreed. “Vicious circle” is probably a better one – if you only fix one part of the circle, the pressure from the other parts reverts your efforts as soon as you stop pushing.

  21. Pete Griffiths

    “The person he sent me to meet with has been providing mental health services to children who are struggling in inner city schools. She explained to me that you can’t teach a student who is in trauma. It doesn’t work. So she has taken on the effort to try to provide mental health resources to the most challenged schools and the most challenged students.”Very true. And there’s a ‘second wave’ of kids who run into problems. Quite a few learning disabilities kick in later. ADD for example, often makes a destructive impact around 12 and it’s an unusual school that has any real competence at diagnosing learning difficulties. So huge numbers of kids going undiagnosed and they just stagger through school with no support.

  22. Thor Snilsberg

    Why do business leaders, educators, urban planners, etc. read case studies and histories of particular people, places, and points in time – to learn from them!Living and working in the post Bloomberg-Kline education reform era, I recommend reading the 2011 book from Harvard Education Press, Education Reform in NYC.

  23. Den Ski

    There is a great woman in NYC and her name is Eva Moskowitz. She is the CEO & founder of Success Academy Charter Schools. My daughter is fortunate enough to be part of that charter school system. What a difference!! Not sure where to begin… Every Morning school’s principle is in front of the door to shake each and every students hand and welcome them to a new day. On a DAILY basis we get to spend few mins with a teacher to get a status report on kids day, performance, challenges, etc. Huge accent on reading, math and science and that’s in K! School is absolutely free all we had to get was a uniform. Lunch is healthy food from local farmers and much much more. Discipline, unique approach to Every scholar and overall great results!I wish ALL schools in NYC followed Eva’s example including Public Schools. Yes, many might argue about funding, but I think funding is only part of the issue…I’ve spent the first 8 grades of my life in a public school in the former USSR. Where schools didn’t have any funding at all! Yet, the country produced some of the best mathematicians, scientists, computer scientists, athletes and more. How did they accomplish that without spending millions of dollars or even a fraction of that? Why an average student like myself, who didn’t speak a word of english, came into NYC Public Schools system as a freshman in high school and had enough knowledge in math, science, literature to be in top 5% and get into good university?Not everyone will be a computer scientist or a mathematician. In USSR, they taught guys how to carve stuff out of wood, how to make proper electrical wiring, how to make screws and bolts. They taught girls how to sew, cook, etc and all of that starting grade 5. They really prepared students for life after school which we all know is much different than formulas we study in physics. Everyone was in uniform, discipline was a priority. You can not teach a class of 20 without discipline and 100% attention. I wish we took some of the best practices from systems around the world and applied them to our Public School System after all kids are our future! (Sorry for the long post 🙂

  24. jason wright

    there needs to be an educational adoption service.

  25. Megs

    There are other issues with charter schools, which are not well known and related to children who have special services. Charter schools have provided a great avenue for many children and I wouldn’t want to discourage their progress. However, many charters don’t provide services to children with special needs and end up letting that child slip back into a public school setting. I have heard stories of this happening all over and it is a real struggle for public / district schools. I also feel top down approach is good but, only if the voice of the teacher is taken into account and added in as part of the solution. I am a parent and feel strongly that we need to trust teachers enough to help our children succeed. I wouldn’t go to a hospital administrator to ask what needs to change in an operating room, only a nurse in that surgeon’s operating room can answer that. I liked this book because it has great points to consider to move towards a child focused education, personalization, and that we aren’t solving for a single problem but many. The phrase death by a thousand paper cuts comes to mind because there are many smaller issues which are compounding a bigger issue in education. That’s my 2cents for now 🙂 Thanks for the post, and book suggestion!

  26. Jacob C. Donnelly

    The work that The Possibility Project does in New York City with those same “inner city school” students is quite commendable. Disclosure: I’m on the Young Professionals Committee.These are young people who have to be cognizant of violence, drugs, gangs, and assault in ways many of us never will have to. Through this organization, over 100 of these students (every year) get to tell their stories through a self-written musical.There’s no denying that there is a serious problem with the education system in New York City. But what was a big, defining moment for me for The Possibility Project were the following three statistics: “Since 2002, 92% of TPP participants have gone on to college, compared to a national average of 68%. During that time, 99.3% of participants stayed in high school, compared to a national average of 71%. The average GPA increases by approximately 0.5, one-half letter grade.”I’ll get off my soap box now, but I would like to invite everyone to come see one of the shows these teenagers put on. It’ll make you think about areas of New York City that we don’t often see, but are only blocks away. http://the-possibility-proj

  27. CJ

    Charters are great except when they’re used to reward political cronies and other corporate interests. In Chicago charter schools perform no better than district schools but siphon off Public funds. It makes the problem worse and makes it harder to turn around a school system that no one cares about because 86% of the families are in poverty and 90% are minorities.The people who provide the best voice for these students, the teachers, are villainized and marginalized until the public sees them as money-grubbing union backed monsters for wanting to make a fair salary at a thankless job.Curriculum is determined with little to no teacher input, but large amounts of corporate input. Testing is at an all-time high though there are no metrics that suggest that MORE testing contributes to MORE or BETTER learning. In fact, CPS ordered teachers to present the tests to students whose parents had already opted out of the increased testing IN WRITING. Teachers had to make the student sit in front of a blank test for the entire test-taking period or until the first student finished, against their parent’s wishes.I could go on and on, but in my opinion the gulf between the haves and havenots starts HERE and just widens as these kids get older. And nothing ever happens here in Chicago because the no one cares what happens to poor people and minorities.

    1. Mike Zamansky

      NYC was no better under the previous administration. The jury’s still out on this one.

  28. Dave Pinsen

    A meta-question I have about this is whether it’s easier to get funded by Fred Wilson, Joanne Wilson, Mark Zuckerberg, Lauren Powell Jobs (has she dropped his name yet? I’ve seen her name written both ways.) as an education consultant than as an entrepreneur. My guess is that wealthy education donors are less skeptical when it comes to their education donations than they are when it comes to their business investments.

  29. Steve Lincoln

    The other two problems are: (1) Even though charter schools can be great laboratories for innovation and give kids a good alternative in some areas, there have been a lot of charter school failures,too (so they are not a panacea, just one piece of the puzzle); and (2) the far right looks to exploit charter schools by using them as a tool to weaken the public schools (as the better students and funds are siphoned off, as you mentioned), and then argue for complete privatization of the schools.

  30. Jamie Rosenberg

    I have been an advocate of empowering teachers with more budgeting and purchasing decision making power. Doing so would free them from the shackles of bureaucracy and enable them to meet personalized learning needs more efficiently. You can read more on my blog at

  31. sigmaalgebra

    In this thread I’ve posted some comments about education of academically poor students as if we’d never been successful doing that before. But likely there are some examples of good success. So, instead of reinventing the wheel, as I have outlined or otherwise, just draw from and/or copy some examples that have worked.

  32. sigmaalgebra

    Curious.Venture capital, business more generally, competitive athletics, high end academics, politics, etc. all understand with crystal clarity that some people, teams, and efforts are successful, a few are very successful, but too many are failures. And commonly working hard and smart are regarded as, on average, as crucial — the “on average” part stands to remove most of the effects of luck.People and society, especially polite society of, say, the 19th century, also understood with crystal clarity that some people, marriages, and families worked well, some did not, and were careful to distinguish between the two. E.g., a good family with a good daughter very much wanted a good marriage with a good husband for their daughter.Well, it’s easy enough to understand that poor families with children with poor academic performance constitute the examples of failure common in venture capital, business, … above.That poor academic performance is failure. Failure is an ugly thing; we know that; and it’s no surprise.So, it’s surprising that a leading venture partner, obviously extremely careful to reject failure in investing is so eager to accept and try to correct failure in families.Fred, it’s failure. You’ve seen plenty of it in business, don’t like it, and avoid it like the plague. Well, there’s a lot more and even worse failure in families.It’s nice that you want to reach down and give a hand up, but your willingness to put up with and try to correct failure is strikingly different in business and families. Curious.

  33. Will Richardson

    Fred,I’m an occasional reader of this space and a 30+ year educator. In fact, what brought me to your blog was the education forum you held a number of years on hacking education. I still refer to the transcripts of those conversations because of the really different thinking that a number of people offered.The problem with schools are many, but the “answers” coming from most directions are not grounded in what we know about how people and kids learn best. In my travels, I ask people all the time what the conditions are that support deep, powerful, sticky learning, and the answers are amazing in their consistency: agency, choice, freedom, authentic audiences, relevance, fun, challenge, teachers, social interactions, no time constraints, etc. Yet, the conditions that we create in schools by and large run counter in almost every case: desks in rows, standardized curriculum, standardized expectations (i.e. every kid needs to read in second grade), time limits, subject limits, lack of choice, etc.The disconnect between what each of us knows about learning and what we do in schools is stunning. And it’s almost inarguable that schools as they are currently constructed are not built for learning of the kind that sticks past the final exam. We all know this, but we never want to own up to it.Reading the comments in this thread, I’m reminded once again how totally stuck we are in a narrative about schools that was created at a very different time in history. We think that if you don’t learn this concept at this moment in this classroom with this group of kids and this particular teacher using this particular curriculum that you may never learn it because school is the only place to learn it. That’s just not true any longer. Curriculum is just a guess, and as Seymour Papert says (Have you read Mindstorms?) now that we have access to the sum of human knowledge in our pockets, “what one-billionth of one percent are we going to teach in schools?”My point is this: we’re having the wrong conversations about schools because those conversations are built on a context for education that no longer exists and, importantly, because they are built on myths about learning that we’ve concocted to make that narrative palatable. Until we start with clearly articulating what we believe about how kids learn most powerfully and deeply in their lives, these “reforms” will not serve kids. It’s only when we base our practice on those beliefs that things will really change.(See: Science Leadership Academy in Philly, led by Chris Lehmann, who I think you know.)

    1. BillSeitz

      Even the push for early reading may be unnecessary.From Daniel Greenberg’s book on Sudbury: “None of our graduates are functional illiterates. Some eight year olds are, some ten year olds are, even an occasional twelve year old. But by the time they leave, they are indistinguishable. No one who meets our older students could ever guess the age at which they first learned to read or write.”

      1. Stephen Voris

        A similar case has been made for math (search on “Lockhart’s Lament”); either way, for once, it’s the destination that matters, not the journey.

  34. Leo Cardell-Oliver

    Wow. really innovative publish. As a former university panel participant i can believe the fact that boat charters are not the response but can be a device. What’s required for city ed is much further than more instructors or better pay or only one solution–certainly not what they did in Newark.iPhone spy without jailbreak

  35. Cassandra Tognoni

    Love that you’re talking K12 education!BUT we can also talk til we’re blue in the face about wraparound services, early intervention, and prioritizing reading by 3rd grade (and we have), but I would say where the rubber *really* meets the road is in actual execution.We’ve been “prioritizing” STEM for over a decade and in most districts we’re still spending more on ceramics than math. We keep talking about the achievement gap, but keep spending more on middle class kids than poor kids.We don’t often see this data, because it’s so damn hard to get – instead of accounting systems generating clear reports for districts and the public to analyze, we’re stuck with decades-old systems built for compliance that don’t give us the answers we need.We can get high-paid consultants (The Prize is full of them!) to come in every few years to tell us about our money, or we can build better systems that make education spending transparent and that inform effective resource allocation.I went from investment banking at Goldman Sachs to helping found a charter school and was responsible for our $3M budget. It was mind-boggling how much harder my job was because of awful tech… So I left to start to create better edu data and empower better resource allocation. And we need more entrepreneurs tackling the less sexy (but very important) issues in education!

    1. corbin


    2. Lee Rotenberg

      Completely agree! Thanks for articulating such wisdom Cassie

  36. laurie kalmanson

    keep schools open 8 am to 8 pm, provide meals and healthcare; break the cycle of poverty for the next generation, and enable parents to work.

  37. Mike Zamansky

    The idea of wraparound services is great and critical, but one of the problem with charters is that things are far from transparent:

  38. PhilipSugar

    As usual exactly right. We have to address the home. There has to be some sort of incentive (and punishment) to get the home solved.

  39. bsoist

    and a great comment. Thanks.

  40. Dave Pinsen

    The best way to ameliorate poverty in the US would be to stop importing it from elsewhere. Any dollar spent trying to educate Q’anjob’al speakers who haven’t learned Spanish in 500 years is a dollar that can’t be spent on poor kids in Harlem.

  41. fredwilson

    Diane is not helpful because she’s an idealogue and we need pragmatic open minded people if we are going to solve this

  42. Mike Zamansky

    Fair point – actually important point. It is interesting though that she’s a leopard that has changed her spots on the whole ed reform thing.I should have linked directly to Gary Rubinstein’s piece (linked in Diane’s) – I’ve found him to be extremely even keeled in his views – he’s happy to debunk public school miracles as quickly as charter school miracles.

  43. Peter Meyer

    There’s plenty of good stuff going on all over the country, especially lately, as more reform-minded educators take the reins of city school systems and form partnerships with many different reform groups, including charters. Joel Klein and his team set the bar, but there are good things happening in Indianapolis, Oakland, Washington, DC,, New Orleans and elsewhere, thanks in large part to folks rolling up their sleeves and focusing on what works for kids. I’m hoping that Chris Cerf can bring Newark back into the fold.

  44. EdReal

    You’re a charter supporter. You *fund* charters. By definition, you’re an ideologue. So whatever Ravitch’s many faults, the fact that she operates from a fixed ideology makes her nothing more than just like you.

  45. CJ

    You need to replace the parents for those who have crappy parents. That’s the only solution. 8a-8p schools open, I’m good with this as long as it’s not just supervised daycare. Make it almost like boarding school except they go home at night. Replace the home environment with a better one and then you can break the cycle.

  46. fredwilson

    And I fund district schools too. In fact we’ve given 10x to district schools vs charters. I think that makes me a pragmatist, not an idealogue

  47. Dave Pinsen

    Steve Sailer anticipated this line of thinking seven years ago: “The Next Liberal Fad: A ‘Stolen Generation’ of Black Children?”.The “Stolen Generation”, of course, refers to this:

  48. Dave Pinsen

    Is the software academy considered district or charter?

  49. Rob Underwood

    Both software academies, AFSE and BASE, are district public schools, not charters.