Finding My Greatest Treasure

When I was six years old, my parents decided that our present situation was not enough, that our family deserved better. They made the decision to leave our extended family, our friends, and our memories for a better future for their two little girls: my sister and me.

My parents sacrificed what was once considered home for the American Dream: a life full of hardships, struggles and sacrifices. The American Dream was everything for them, regardless of the sleepless nights, double shifts and little time with their children. They left everything behind to give us the opportunity to obtain an education.

Throughout the years, I noticed the work ethic of my parents – they worked twice as hard as most people. They were so strict about our education, getting good grades, and attendance. At first I didn’t understand why, but it became clear in 8th grade.

It was that time of the year when the 8th graders would fundraise to pay for the traditional Washington D.C. trip. I was eager to get home the day our history teacher gave us the application for this trip. I knew my parents, with a little convincing, would sign off and give me money to spend out there in D.C. Little did I know that my reality was much more difficult than obtaining their signatures.

When my parents came home from their first shift, I made them lunch and cleaned the house. I made sure everything was perfect. I sat my parents down and showed them my report card full of straight A’s, then showed them my three certificates for honors, and made sure the application was last so they’d be convinced of my hard work and would sign off without hesitation. I asked them – but I was shocked that their answer was “No.”

I was so confused—I had worked so hard and kept a high GPA on top of playing club soccer and volunteering at school, mentoring my peers in math.

“Why can’t I go? Did I do something wrong?” My father let out a tear and hugged me. He said, “I’m sorry little one, we are so proud of you, but if we let you go, you will not be able to come home. We are not from here, we are undocumented.”  I’m sure you can imagine how I felt. My heart sank. This was the very first time I was told I was undocumented.

That summer I realized that if I continued doing well in school I could one day graduate and make money to go to D.C. I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be undocumented. When I went to a math camp to prepare for high school honors math, I found out about the famous acronym, AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.

This acronym caught my attention, not just because I was a determined individual, but because I needed to find a way to graduate high school.

Since our family began to grow, my parents found a bigger home in a nearby city; however, we had to move schools. My parents found a school that offered the same AVID program I was in. The AVID program at this new high school was where my future was. That year, 2011, I met the AVID Coordinator, at my school whom I instantly admired. This lady was so compassionate, so attentive and so focused to detail. She made sure I turned in everything necessary to get into AVID at this school. She then became my AVID teacher.

On June 15, 2012, President Obama instituted a piece of legislation that would change the lives of undocumented youth forever, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

This piece of legislation made my dreams attainable. I sent my application to immigration and soon after they requested a letter from a witness to verify my presence in June 2011. That’s when my AVID teacher became more than just my teacher. She was the first person I ever trusted with my status. I was so afraid she would judge me when she knew I was not from here; however, she was so understanding and wrote that letter verifying I was in summer school that year.

I shared this with you so you can fully understand what it’s like to be in my shoes.

I am one of 11 million undocumented people and one of 800,000 DACA students in the United States. I was supposed to be a statistic. I was destined to be a high school dropout because I am a female, low-income, undocumented, first-generation student.

AVID changed that for me.

It allowed me to dream and set my standards high. It gave me the courage to work hard for my goals and persevere until I reach them. AVID gave me a family who understood how difficult my journey was, yet stood by me.

I graduated high school with an exceptional résumé. I had 23 high school certificates, 11 senator recognitions for being an outstanding student, I was an intern on Kaiser Permanente and was accepted to intern at the local Children’s Hospital. Not only did I graduate high school, but I was also pinned as a medical assistant at age 17.

Without AVID and my AVID teacher I don’t think I could have accomplished all of this.

With the opportunities and experiences afforded to me through AVID – there was little room left for me to be concerned about much else. My only worry was graduating high school and becoming the first person in my family to make it to university.

I am now semesters away from obtaining my bachelor’s degree in biology. My goal is to become a doctor and help families in need. I continue to thank my AVID teachers for always going out of their way to find resources that would help me go to college. Now that I am in college I continue using all the tools AVID gave me to succeed.

As a DACA student I worry about the daily news. I worry about checking Twitter multiple times a day to see if the president has tweeted anything about DACA. I worry about my future as a student, I worry about losing my DACA status and not being able to continue going to school because of my status.

DACA or not, I will find a way to reach my goals and not live in fear because AVID gave me a family, it gave me everything I need to succeed, to persevere, and most of all it gave me the greatest treasure I possess, which is my education.

 — Citlali

A Comprehensive Approach to Schoolwide Impact

As a leader in a suburban Wisconsin school district, I have shared in the increasingly common experience of fellow suburban school leaders: my student population is growing more diverse. Last school year, nearly one in four of our students were students of color.

While I am proud of our district’s ability to build the programs necessary to support students from all backgrounds, I am also cognizant of the critical importance–and challenge–of doing it well.

Our district has approached this challenge by partnering with AVID, a system that focuses on supporting both teachers and students to build essential learning skills. AVID has also introduced us to a broad national community of educators who are committed to making sure all students have access to both academic and soft skills to be successful.

Over the summer, I had the honor and privilege of addressing part of this community at one of AVID’s Summer Institutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My take-away from the event was clear: whatever the national dialogue, education is more important than ever.

The challenge of educating each of America’s youth at the highest levels—equipping and empowering every one of them to find and use their voices, make themselves relevant and impactful, and discover their true potential— is a moral imperative. For the sake of our collective future, we must answer this call.

This commitment is critical not only for “those students” who need remedial work, nor just for “those students” who are tagged early in life as honors or AP, but for all students. We know all students can succeed given the appropriate amount of support and encouragement.

On a personal level, AVID has fueled my fire for equity and social justice, reminding me what striving to educate all students really means.  It has equipped me with tools to affect positive change as a lead learner at our school. And it has sharpened my sensibilities about the need for systematic and systemic change so I can help all the young people entrusted to me become the best version of themselves.

Learning involves asking challenging questions and heeding the call of creative thoughts. AVID schoolwide is one of those expansive ideas we have embraced because it centers on providing the best instruction and developing the skills of all students on campus.

The program includes encouragement of inquiry based, student-centered learning to fully engage students in their studies, transferring the responsibility of learning from teacher to student. It also allows for discourse, sharing of ideas and increased confidence in how to express ideas and learn new concepts.

AVID provides a roadmap to help students decode the material presented, whether in lecture, print or digital form, so students deepen their understanding of academic subject matter.

We work to integrate the AVID time-tested strategies referred to as WICOR – Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization and Reading – not just for the underrepresented across the campus, but for all students. And it’s changed the way students approach their learning.

This change in instruction across our campus is perhaps the most obvious and outwardly noticeable evidence of AVID’s impact at our school.  The look, feel, and sound of learning today stand in stark contrast to our instructional methods in the past. Click here to see what an AVID classroom looks like.

AVID’s transformative effect is even more profound than what an observer might perceive.  Beliefs about students, their place in the classroom, their abilities, and their potential are changing as well.  With our ever-evolving mindsets, AVID continues to challenge us to refine or in many cases demolish and completely rebuild entire systems with the intent of better serving and building upon the assets of all our students.

Each student needs—deserves—the skills AVID can help them to build. Skills like coherently communicating their thoughts and ideas in writing and in discourse; asking good, deep questions and identifying complete answers and banding together to accomplish meaningful work. Beyond these skills, students need to know their voices matter and that they, as people, matter.

With skills, drive and self-assurance, our students can change the policies and traditions that hold us back from realizing our potential as a nation. They, together, can make us all better.

If we work to implement AVID with fidelity, passion, and fierce determination in our classrooms, across our campuses and throughout our districts, we can and will raise a generation of students who are ready for college, ready for careers, and more importantly—most importantly—ready to change the world.

Brett Bowers is the principal of Homestead High School, an AVID National Demonstration School in Mequon, Wisconsin.  During his 14-year tenure as a principal, he has helped to launch the AVID College Readiness System in two high schools.  Brett supports AVID’s mission as a summer institute staff developer and curriculum writer, all with a focus on leadership development.


Advancing Equity in the Classroom with High Expectations for All

Each year, AVID has the opportunity to provide professional learning for over 70,000 educators. Nearly four decades of training experience have taught us that the most impactful learning occurs when we help educators understand the WHY?

At AVID our foundational WHY is equity: ensuring that all students have the skills, knowledge, and opportunities to maximize their potential, to realize their dreams, and to feel connected to and responsible for others. Equity is not something we DO; it is an outcome of what we do and our most powerful levers are our mindsets, beliefs, and our instructional decisions and actions.

The hallmark of AVID’s professional learning is immersing educators into rigorous learning experiences examine their mindsets, challenge their beliefs, and experience instructional practices that scaffold learning to meet high expectations. The goal: equip educators to close opportunity and achievement gaps by ensuring equitable access to rigorous learning for students.

The Head: Aligning Mindset

Creating equitable classrooms requires a particular mindset. An educators mindset communicates how we expect students to show up in the classroom – whether we invite them to make the space their own or require them to comply to a pre-established environment. Mindset also drives expectations – do we evaluate a student’s chance of success based on perceived talent or on their willingness to work hard? These expectations determine whether or not students receive access to opportunities and support necessary to achieve at high levels.

Therefore, we encourage our educators to examine their “heads” or mindsets, reflecting honestly on how they impact students’ agency and ownership for their learning and how mindsets can set the stage for how hopeful and committed students feel to their success.

We challenge our educators to monitor responses to students’ attempts at learning for language like “Why do you think you got those results? What can you learn from them?”  or “I wonder what other options your group can try?” We want them to be able to indicated whether the messaging growth-oriented.

We also invite our educators to evaluate to what degree the classroom is student-centered vs. teacher-centered – what is on the walls, who does the most talking during a class period, and if lesson plans include more authentic student-driven activities or teacher lecture – and we ask them to consider the implications.

If equity is about creating opportunities for all students, educators must exercise mindsets that promote opportunity, hope, growth, and support.

The Heart: Building Relationships

Building relationships is a vital skill set for teachers. If educators are unable to connect with our colleagues, students, families, and community, then we cannot be successful in the classroom. Having capacity to build relationships – especially with students – is what makes it possible to do the hard work of remedying inequities in the classroom. Authentic relationships are built from beliefs that everyone deserves respect and that learning about others enhances our understanding of ourselves and the world.

Teaching students how to build relationships is also paramount–it enables students to collaborate in meaningful ways, to leverage others’ strengths and knowledge to learn, and to feel comfortable trying new things and potentially failing. What the teacher models and holds students accountable for in the classroom sets the stage for how well students build relationships elsewhere.

We encourage our teachers to create opportunities – including through learning experiences and the physical space – that allows students to authentically engage with one another.

A classroom where students are actively engaged in the learning because they care about living up to the teacher’s expectations, they care about what their peers think and say, and they take risks because relationships make it safe – here you have an equitable playing field.

The Hands: Leveraging Strategies

This is where the rubber meets the road: using instructional strategies that will challenge students and will also scaffold their learning to reach the high expectations bar.  This is also about equipping students with an arsenal of strategies that are portable, so they can learn anything anywhere–that’s maximizing potential and driving equity.

AVID’s WICOR framework provides a way to ensure rigorous teaching and student access. When students are Writing, Inquiring, Collaborating, Organizing and Reading every day, they improve their communication skills, critical thinking, and sense of ownership and efficacy. When educators are facilitating learning by leveraging these strategies to encourage learning, they are helping students tackle challenging content. Students learn how to write like a scientist, for example, and how to write focused notes; how to inquire like a designer; how to collaborate like a project team; and how to organize their thinking, time, and things.

Equitable teaching is accomplished when educators have high expectations for their students and they establish productive mindsets, build authentic relationships, and leverage intentional instructional strategies so students can meet those expectations.

Michelle Mullen oversees learning programs, products, and services, including K–12 and higher education curriculum, English learner and STEM support, publications, professional learning, leadership development, and AVID National Demonstration Schools. These teams support schools and districts with program resources and learning experiences to ensure quality AVID implementation, educator engagement, and student achievement. Ms. Mullen believes passionately in the potential of our young people and she is energized by work that builds student and educator capacity, opportunity, and hope.

Beyond Equality: Considerations for Equity in Schools

Today, it’s become popular to extol the benefits of equity and to talk about virtually everything a school or district does as an equity activity. But in a world where almost everything is equity, how can we know if our individual efforts are working?

Let’s begin by considering the definition of equity in its broadest sense–often defined in contrast with equality. Whereas equality means that everyone gets the same thing, equity means that everyone gets what they need.

In practical terms, equality might mean that every student has access to high quality curriculum, but equity might mean that every student has access to a high quality curriculum that also matches their experiences and calls upon examples to which they can relate. An equality paradigm isn’t necessarily bad or wrong, but it only gets us part of the way to helping every student realize his or her potential.

Today’s schools are far more diverse than they were fifty years ago in the sense that more students from around the world — and more students who used to go to schools across town — are now learning together in the very same buildings. But schools have also long been places where highly unique individuals come together to learn what they need to pursue academic and life pathways that are a fit with their goals and abilities. We do not expect every second grade student to become a plumber or a computer scientist, so why would we design an education system that narrows their opportunities instead of expanding them as broadly as possible?

In many ways, broadening opportunities is exactly what we’re doing. We’re working to personalize learning and create individualized experiences that resonate with, engage, and excite students. But for some students, we’re too often overlooking critical opportunities to provide them with what they need. In particular, students of color and students from immigrant backgrounds, as well as students with intellectual and emotional challenges, rarely see people like them in key roles in the education system.

Across the United States, people of color compose just four percent of district executives – superintendents and other senior system leaders.  And for women of color, this percentage plummets.

The stark absence of educators and leaders of color and other minority groups sends the message that education is something that is really designed for a mainstream that includes mainly White and middle class people. Not for students who possess great potential but whose demography doesn’t match that of their teachers and leaders. But we need our schools to reflect the demographics of our community so that all students, regardless of background, get the clear and profound message that “people like them” can and do succeed.

While we work to ensure that all students have meaningful and productive learning experiences that help to build a pipeline of future educators, though, we can also do more to help students build the key skills they need to be successful in class beginning immediately. That’s what we at AVID had focused our energy and attention on for the last nearly forty years: helping teachers build the skills to teach student the strategies that can make them better learners.

Adversity visits all of us in different ways. Some students face disadvantages in the form of limited resources, perhaps including few adults to nurture and support them. In many schools, adults want to provide the support students need, but the best ways to do that are not always self-evident. AVID partners with those teachers to provide programming and training on how to help students learn to do things like take effective notes, use those notes to study, and check their own learning. As pedagogy evolves, our programs do, too. We partner with educators in diverse settings across the U.S. to regularly review and update our training so that it matches with all forms of teaching and learning — and with the changing worlds that children experience outside of school.

Whether you adopt AVID or develop the skills to support equity in a different way, we encourage you to attend not just to whether all of your students are getting access to high quality materials and teaching, but to ensure that all of your students are getting what they need.

Dr. Edward Lee Vargas began working with AVID in 2016. Prior to AVID, he was a school administrator in California, New Mexico, Texas and Washington where he received recognitions such as State Superintendent of the Year in California (2006) and Washington (2014). He is known for developing innovative approaches in diverse communities leading to improvement of test scores and graduation rates and increasing family and community engagement.

#ThisIsAVID: Proven Achievement. Lifelong Advantage.

In 1980, Mary-Catherine Swanson, a high school teacher in southern California, noticed that the students coming into her classroom were different from the ones before them. Not just because the district had recently began busing in students from other neighborhoods who looked different, but because the new students came from dramatically different educational backgrounds. These students – undoubtedly capable of meeting the high expectations set for their peers–hadn’t been key foundational skills. Mary-Catherine decided to create the program that would come to be known as AVID–founded on the belief that if students were willing to work hard, they could be taught the skills needed to be college-ready.

Her focus on improving their writing, time-management, and note-taking led to substantial results—so good, in fact, that she was initially accused of falsifying records to make her students look better!  But when Mary-Catherine was able to replicate these effects year after year, her effort began to garner local–and then national–attention. Today, AVID is offered in over 6,000 schools serving 2.0 million students nationwide.

AVID helps educators refine their teaching skills to better provide the foundational instruction to help ALL students succeed in school and beyond. As a non-profit organization, we continue to work with district leaders, principals, teachers, and researchers to scale innovative methodologies that resonate with today’s students.

We serve diverse populations across the United States, and the impact our approach has had on students is remarkable–especially when considering that the AVID student often comes from a population that is under-represented in college, including students eligible for free and reduced lunch (FRL). We have noticed that in our more suburban districts, which are now serving more diverse populations, AVID has also become a go-to partner.

For instance, increased enrollment of students with diverse backgrounds prompted North Clackamas School District in Oregon to adopt the AVID system as a tool to ensure that students received equitable learning experiences. Since implementing the program, they have seen an increase in the overall graduation rate – closing the gaps between students of color and their white peers. District Superintendent Matt Utterback, the 2017 Superintendent of the Year, sums it up this way – “the AVID programs supported the district in opening doors for all students.”

In 2016, AVID seniors enrolled in college at a rate of 71 percent, higher than the national average of 69 percent. This is especially significant because the AVID students come from below-average socioeconomic circumstances and are often the first in their families to attend college.

As a Superintendent in three different districts, I was able to coach leaders to impact educators who served almost 75,000 students. We often spoke about the importance of equity – how our behavior as adults could influence a child’s perception of themselves. I remembered developing relationships with families within our district who were dealing with unimaginable economic and social struggles.

Through these connections, learned two things: First, most parents, regardless of background, truly want better futures for their kids. Secondly, our teachers, by challenging their students to achieve academically and by supporting them emotionally, could make a huge difference in outcomes.

AVID has made that difference in many cases – when families find themselves without the resources they need, it is a lifeline for future success.

Seeing AVID positively influence thousands of students as a district superintendent was inspirational. So, when I had the opportunity to join AVID as the CEO in 2014, I considered it a privilege.

The millions that have experienced transformation because of their involvement with AVID have been deeply influential in my thinking as a leader–and in the intellectual growth of our organization. When I began to understand the profound ways in which the lives of both students and educators were being changed, I knew that I wanted to contribute, too.

This week you all are in for a treat as we take a deeper dive into equity — and spotlight some of the perspectives of AVID. You’ll hear from one of my colleagues working directly with teachers to create an equitable learning experience, from a former superintendent on equity across a district, from a principal on how AVID and its focus on equity expanded opportunity for all students on his campus, and from a student on how being a part of the AVID program gave her access to her greatest treasure.  #ThisIsAVID

Dr. Sandy Husk joined AVID as the CEO in 2014. Prior to joining she served as superintendent in three school districts, including Salem-Keizer Public Schools School district, Oregon’s second-largest school district. Sandy is responsible for implementing AVID’s strategic imperatives, which include furthering its mission of closing the achievement gap and preparing all students for college.With nearly two decades in education Husk has made it her goal to ensure that all students have access to an equitable education.

Secretary of Education LeBron James

A funny petition emerged today.  

I couldn’t resist: what would Secretary of Education LeBron James be like?

1. School Choice 
Debate here
LeBron leaves teams when they are not capable of competing for the title.
LeBron has, more than any player in sports history, embraced the right to “choose his own team.”   
He left Cleveland for Miami (taking his talents to South Beach). 
He left Miami when Dwayne Wade knees and Chris Bosh’s heart got old.  
He just left Cleveland again for the LA Lakers.
See here.  LeBron has put the “free” in free agency.  
Verdict: EdSec James would favor school choice.  
2. High Expectations
Debate here.   
Check this out from 2014:
For about the next 30 minutes, James told every player from fellow All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to the guys just hoping to make the team what was expected during the upcoming season.
Several Cavaliers players were impressed by James’ preparation.
Guard Dion Waiters said:”I was looking like, ‘Wow.’ That’s crazy that he broke down every individual thing he wants guys to do. He wrote down every player from the guy in training camp who may be here or may not be here. …It was unbelievable. It was great.”
Verdict: Yes to high expectations.  
3. Innovation
Debate here.  
One would think innovation is like apple pie.  But in K-12, there’s a solid case “against.”  
In the NBA, many NBA players just keep doing what they’ve always done — they don’t change much.  
LeBron, though, like Magic and Bird before him, is an innovator.  
Just this year he re-invented himself with the “Deep Three.”   
Verdict: Yes to innovation.  
4. Evidence versus Gut
Debate here.     
You’d think evidence would win.  
But LeBron says: 
Warren Buffet told me once ‘always follow your gut’.  When you have that gut feeling, you have to go with, don’t go back on it.
Verdict: Gut over evidence.  
5. Why American Schools Don’t Match Up Globally
Debate here.    
LeBron says: 
Success isn’t owned, it’s leased.  And the rent is due every day.
Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.
Verdict: I imagine EdSec James giving some version of this speech.  
– Guestblogger Mike Goldstein

Parents in China

China now has about 800 “taught-in-English” private schools.  My guess is a 15% growth rate over the next 5 years, similar to American charter schools in the early 2000s.   So let’s say that in 2022, China will have 1,600 such schools.

In the USA, each of 50 states decided its own approach for charter schools, so political risk is spread out.  Arizona allowed many charters, Vermont forbid charters, Massachusetts chose a “medium” course.  In China, however, education policy tends to be national.  So the uneasy legal status of all these private schools could change at a moment’s notice.

On Wednesday I described the shortage of British and American teachers there.  It will only increase.

Today I’m thinking about parents. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, paired with Little Soldiers, are 2 great books from an American-Chinese perspective.

I asked a couple of very sharp Chinese school leaders: How are you planning for increased competition?  What will Chinese parents care about in 5 years that they don’t care about now?

They had sharply different responses.

Chinese Edu CEO #1 predicted:

Mike, 5 years is a short time horizon.  Parents won’t change much, in China or anywhere else in the world.  Understand: China is a low trust society.  So parents care about brand.  Beautiful buildings.  Affiliation with a famous school in USA or UK, with lots of Western sounding classes, like design thinking.  Plus hopefully a few graduates who went to Harvard.  That’s what brand means here.   

Teacher quality matters mostly “on paper.”  Credentials, certifications, years of experience.  But beyond that, parents don’t really sit in the classroom.  So they’re not good judges of teacher quality.   Is that so different in American private schools?  Can Andover parents describe the stylistic difference between their son’s math teacher and history teacher?  I doubt it.  They have no clue. 

Your idea, to help start an English medium school built on quality teaching, is nice-sounding but naïve.  Very naive.  Parents won’t respond well because you’ll be putting money into teaching (which they can’t see) and not in buildings (which they can see). 

Chinese Edu CEO #2 had a different take:

As more private schools open, Chinese parents will become more sophisticated customers.  They will care more about the actual day-to-day experience of their children.  That will be determined largely by teacher quality and teamwork.  

WeChat (China’s combo of Facebook, WhatsApp, PayPal) has parents constantly talking to each other.  Over time, word-of-mouth will re-rank schools.  Those with great teaching and “good brand” may overtake those with “great brand” but merely okay teaching.  

So, if you manage to bring a great team of American teachers over here, who do all this teamwork and parent engagement stuff you talk about, that should work with Chinese  parents.  Your teachers could even be a model that other schools study; Chinese are better than Americans at copying “what works.”  

Your problem is not the idea.  Your problem will be finding a trusted Chinese partner who is aligned with your vision.  Plenty of Americans have had school related partnerships here blow up, most unpleasantly.

Who to believe?

Basic psychology: I want CEO #2 to be right!

But I heard CEO #1’s narrative far more often while in China.  Most American teachers there were resigned to that reality (and it’s why they planned to leave soon).  And if that’s true, I’ll be wasting this next year of my life trying to start a school in China, because I’ll fail.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the Harvard Innovation Lab, and a key idea there is “Lean Startup.”   Test your ideas small.  Fail fast.

So a first step to opening a new high school in China maybe something real small: recruit perhaps 5 American teachers to move to China, launch an after-school English program, test hypotheses, and see “what works.”

If Andy will have me back on Eduwonk, I’ll check in with you, dear readers, in August 2019 — to let you know what happened.

In the meantime, get in touch to share any ideas/feedback/people-I-should-meet.

– Guest-blogger Mike Goldstein; cross-posted at

Non-China Midweek Bonus Post

A few wonky tidbits until you return to regularly scheduled USA programming:

Stacy Childress and James Atwood on what they’re learning at NSVF.  Can you guess: what are they learning about growth mindset, and how does it relate to this?  
Matt Kraft and David Blazar on teacher coaching.  Can you guess: what did they find?  (Hint: pertains to scale)
David James taking a shot at professor coaching.  Much needed!  
Jon Baron is all over that scale/evidence question.  Can you guess: what does Jon call the 800 pound gorilla?  
Tom Vander Ark looks at Bridge (disclosure: worked there, love ‘em) for his book, Better Together.  What does he find about scale?  
Patrick Wolf et al with Do Test Scores Really Matter   Must-read.  Pro tip in the tables: ELA gains and high school grad rates modestly predict college grad rates, but math gains didn’t.  CMO problem: much better at math gains than ELA gains.  Hmm.  
What’s an under-used outcome measure?  Net Promoter Score!  Gets at what “customers” really think.  Two great organizations just today shared their NPS: Matt Kramer at Wildflower Montessori micro schools, and Jessica Kiessel at Omidyar Network (grantmaking).  More please!
Guestblogger Mike Goldstein 

American Teachers in China

I’m guest-blogging this week about education in China.  Yesterday I described the fast growth of Chinese private schools.

That surge has only worsened the shortage in American and British teachers over there, for which there is high demand.

One headmaster told me he’d attended a particular international recruiting conference in 2017, where 2 Chinese schools were in the mix.  There he made 8 offers and hired 3 teachers.  In 2018, at the same conference, 20 Chinese schools were there.  There he made 0 offers.  Increased demand, lower quality of supply.

Add in teacher visa issues.

Add in competitive alternative employment: that American and British teachers can stay home on their sofas and teach online if they wish.  VIP Kid is just one of the unicorns rapidly adding teachers.

Add in the short stay at these schools.  Often expat teachers stay just 2 years.  Eduwonk readers: what does that remind you of?

You may have said: urban charter and district schools.   After Match’s first year back in 2000, we lost 3 of 6 teachers.  I did a lot wrong.

Rapid turnover makes it hard to build a positive professional culture.  Which in turn drives even faster turnover.

One substitute in China is more Filipino teachers.  Down the road, Chinese parents will probably become more comfortable with Chinese-born English teachers, as another substitute for expat teachers.

What about the core issue?  How could these Chinese schools keep these expat teachers for an average stay of 4 years, instead of 2?  This would halve their hiring, and improve culture.

I asked that in my travels.  Most common answer?

“More training.”  And by that they mean traditional “sit in the room, hear a presentation” type training.  Hey Dan: I suggest TNTP translates The Mirage into Mandarin.

I suggested that America’s top charter schools focus more on improving professional culture.  Alex Hernandez describes this as rowing in the same direction in his excellent June article on The74.

Indeed, in China, I saw bilingual schools where the Chinese teachers were in fact doing that, but the expat teachers were all individuals…”let me close my classroom door and do what I wish.”

To my suggestion, recruiters in China pushed back: “Sounds nice but idealistic. The reality is I’m already coming up short.  If I add another box to check, I’ll be even further behind.”  Again, reminds me of urban district recruiters.

I had to concede that point.  Short term.  My argument was that the “winning” happens in the medium term.  That’s why outlier, high performing schools follow Jim Collins, and absorb 2 types of pain.

  1. Define in plainspoken language what it means to truly row in the same direction – what teachers all need to do, emphasizing not the “cool stuff” (perks) but the hard, more controversial stuff that candidates might like the least (therefore giving them a really easy path to opt out).  Writing that out can be painful.
  2. Get the right people on the bus.  “Right” means aligned with your school’s specific details, not inherently “better.”  If it’s a close call, say “no” – even more pain that can only be overcome with sheer recruiting hustle.

If you get that right, I said, recruiting within a couple years will be WAY easier.

If I manage to help start a school in China, I’ll try that approach, and report back to you on whether it worked.

– Guestblogger Mike Goldstein, cross-posted at

Gaokao or SAT?

This week I’m guest-blogging about schools in China.

  1. What is the Gaokao?

From a CNBC story in June:

Nearly 10 million Chinese students have been preparing for this Thursday and Friday since kindergarten.

Gaokao, China’s university entrance exam, directly determines which universities students can go to. To some extent, it determines whether they will become blue-collar or white-collar workers later in their lives. 

Many countries have a similar approach for college admissions.  No GPA.  No essay or recs or interview.  No list of extra curricular activities.

Just the test.

In the USA, we use the expression high-stakes tests, but compared to other places, our “stakes” are perhaps in the 3 out of 10 range, versus 10 out of 10.

So most Chinese parents spend a ton on after-school tutoring centers, way more than Americans spend on the likes of Kumon.

More recently: coding at some of these centers, per the excellent Sixth Tome.

  1. Chinese to America

A growing number of Chinese families hope to bypass Chinese universities altogether, and send their kids to American universities.

It’s estimated to be about 330,000 students now.  So a large number in absolute terms, though low compared to Gaokao takers.

Four thoughts/trends:

a. First, partly because of this aspiration to American colleges, brand new private K-12 schools are cropping up all over China.

School is taught either partially or totally in English.  Overview here.  AP courses, SAT prep, etc.  Lots of Harkness tables.

For Eduwonk readers, of interest is perhaps that BASIS is operating schools in China, as well as Chris Whittle.

I was impressed with the excellent HD schools; their campus in Ningbo just had its first graduating class.  School is taught half in Mandarin, half in English.

Many parents I met in China want Western style teaching.  I’m not sure whether the cause of that is “Western teaching helps you prepare for Western universities” or simply “We’d rather our kids in classrooms with more discussions and less cramming/lecture.”

No charter schools, though.  No Catholic or other lower-cost private schools, either, that I saw (though it’s a big country…so I’m probably wrong about that).

I’ll write more tomorrow about teachers in these new private schools.

b. Second, bumpy Trump/Xi relations will affect things.

Propaganda/spy concerns here and here.  New visa limits for science grad students, with implications here.  The trade war.

c. Third, anxiety/depression/isolation.See NY Times here.

And for Chinese kids attending American private boarding schools, that issue is even worse…according to my decidedly unscientific survey of conversations with prep school teachers and headmasters back here in USA.

In some ways, this reminds me of minority Americans who are first in their families to go to college, where the likes of KIPP and Posse Foundation do great things to support them.

– Everyone wants to celebrate upon admission to the prep school or university, but the sizable risk of failure is swept under the rug.

– The “Do I belong here?” question never quite goes away.

– If you fail, it’s not just a personal setback: you feel like you let your whole family down.

d. Finally, in part because of the bamboo ceiling, more sea turtles are returning to China after graduation from American colleges.

– Guestblogger Mike Goldstein, cross-posted at