Greetings Eduwonk readers.  My first guest blogging stint here was 13 years ago.  Plus ca change: Boston needed a new superintendent, etc.  Yet progress too!  A 2005 concern, now progress.  Idea here, actuality here.

I’d founded Match, a small charter high school, and in 2005, we’d just had our first graduating class (+ lots of attrition).  These days Match is K-12 but less tutoring, provides free curriculum to teachers, runs a small grad school, has a tutoring spinoff called Saga, and a higher-ed spinoff called Duet.

More recently, I spent 4 years as CAO of Bridge International Academies.  Bridge has schools in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, India, and Liberia.  I know: Eduwonk readers usually shy away from “international,” with the possible exception of Chilean sea bass.  I invite you to reconsider!  Bridge operates (way) more schools than awesome CMOs like KIPP, IDEA, Uncommon, and Green Dot combined.  With results, questions about pedagogy, parent motivation, and politics that you’d recognize.  And there are many other fascinating international efforts, like thisthis, and this.

No matter what your policy preference, I submit that working (with appropriate humility) with folks abroad is an amazing way to learn about other cultures and expand your thinking.  Also, not everything is red/blue tribe like here.  It’s way better than reading Twitter all day and feeling jumpy.

My next adventure: China.  Or so I hope.

I’m just back from Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzen.  I’ll share thoughts all week.  Context: one-child policy is over, class size can hit 70 (paging Leonie), there’s a vast migration from the sticks to the cities, private schools are tiny in number but growing fast, and China really wants to do better in World Cup.

Here are impressions from Christi Edwards, a North Carolina math teacher who just visited Nanjing and Chengdu.  “Teenagers are teenagers wherever you go,” she said.  I agree.

– Guestblogger Mike Goldstein, cross-posted at

The Role of Identity and Race in Leadership

The post below is by guest blogger Celine Coggins.

Today is the first day of my career post-Teach Plus. I am welcoming students for “course preview” day at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. For a decade, my identity has been: founder, teacher advocate, entrepreneur, CEO. Now I’m trying “teacher” back on for size and I couldn’t be more excited and nervous.

The process and timing of leaving a founder role mirrors the start-up process in reverse.  It takes a long time to plan properly and get right. Lots of the things that matter are out of your control. There are many moments when you think: Is this really happening?! The decision involves as much the totality of your identity as the start-up process does. Leaving your professional baby is never a single-issue decision.

For me, the same reflection question that led me to take the risk and jump on the founder express led me to determine it was time to get off the train. Given who I am at this very moment, what is the best contribution I can make to the ed reform movement today? A decade ago, my teaching days were fresh in my brain and the field was disproportionately focused on teacher quality issues. My vision fit the zeitgeist. Today, our issue emphasis has shifted with a new President who has created renewed urgency around protecting our most vulnerable students and standing up for social justice in schools and beyond. I agree with this shift in emphasis, but find myself taking the stance of learner more and expert less these days.

I watched with discomfort last fall when the hot topic among talking heads in education became which White leaders should step down to make space for a new generation of leaders of color. It’s a fun topic for Twitter or cocktail parties, less so when you’re pondering it IRL. It felt like the wrong version of identity politics. And yet, being a middle-aged White woman committed to greater diversity among education leaders factored heavily into my decision to give up my role.

I think, if we’re going to get anywhere on addressing race in leadership, we can’t lead with a deficit model of who past or present leaders are not. Leaving— taking a next step in one’s career— is never who you aren’t, its about who you are at your best and what you want to become as a whole person in the future.

My most important role at Teach Plus was empowering others. As a non-(current) teacher running a teacher leadership organization, I learned how to be a servant leader and give others had the spotlight. I like to think of myself as the person who dives in front of the elevator door before it closes to bring a new person up to the top floor with me. I like that role, It always reminded me of my teacher role and eventually led me back to teaching.

And I know my leaving will empower a new generation of more diverse leaders to step up at Teach Plus and that matters to me as well.

Race matters in education leadership. We have a long way to go to reflecting the population of students we seek to serve. But race is not a variable to consider in isolation. I hope our conversations about the future leadership of our field can be strengths-based— and include diversity as a strength— rather than myopically race-based. After all, there are an awful lot of us experienced White folks who are willing to step aside to learn from and follow a new generation of my diverse leaders. I humbly offer myself as one of them.

Celine Coggins is the founder of Teach Plus, a teacher leadership organization that operates in ten states across the US. This month she is transitioning from Teach Plus to become a Lecturer and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

Equity is Everything (and Nothing)

The post below is by guest blogger Celine Coggins.

I have a chapter in my new book called: Equity is Everything (And Nothing).  When I talk with groups of teachers who haven’t yet read the book, they are universally puzzled by the And Nothing part of the headline. Of course, they are immediately onboard with Equity is Everything. Yes, the goal of public education is to serve all kids. The Everything part is easy. Then how could it also be nothing? I’ve had more than a few teachers tell me I’m just wrong about the Nothing part. Equity is Everything in education. Kumbaya. Everyone from teachers to policy makers should agree.

When President Trump made his vile comments about the incidents in Charlottesville having “many sides” he did untold damage to race relations in this country, but he also created a powerful teachable moment. In his use of “many sides”, he was invoking his own personal definition of fairness and equal treatment.  He was co-opting equity to mean the opposite of equity.  Equity is nothing because we have no shared agreement on what it is. “Many sides” is the most stark example I’ve ever seen of my chapter title. It is possible to say (and believe) something that is the very definition of unjust, but do so in the name of fairness and pursuing equitable treatment for different groups of people.

What does that mean for those of us who may be advocates in the education space? When I coach teachers on preparing to meet with leaders who make decisions about their classrooms, I suggest three questions to ensure a productive start as an advocate:

1. Are you too biased toward finding agreement? Most educators’ natural instinct is to keep the peace. Your average local politician won’t be as impolitic as the President. They’ll say they care about equity, meaning a great education for all kids. You need to get beneath the hood on that. Do they see equity as equality of inputs or on doing what it takes to ensure that students from different starting points have equitable opportunities for success? Your goal for that meeting as an advocate should be to emerge with some understanding of how that person sees you issue. Are they an ally, adversary are somewhere in the middle? Don’t make it too easy for them to give lip service to equity.

2. What specifics can you probe? Many aspects of leaders’ beliefs about equity are codified for public viewing in budgets, laws, contracts. Use those to ask concrete questions. One of my favorite things is seeing teachers on Facebook who have been through our Policy Fellowship post the link when the first draft of their district budget becomes public, tag other teachers, and draw their attention to certain issues to raise at the next school committee meeting. That’s the way to go deeper on how those in power define equity.

3. Which are the policy problems and which are the relationship problems? The battle for greater equity for disadvantaged students is a war on two fronts. Some parts of the problem are best solved at the individual-level through relationships (i.e. influencing a leader’s thinking, getting invited to the decision-making table). Some parts of the problem are best solved at the system-level through formal policies (i.e. who has access to certain support services and programming; how funding gets allocated across schools). Separating the two types of problems, will help you get clear on the issues you can tackle next on each front.

The President opened our eyes to how far we have to go to make equity a meaningful word in our society.  There are “many sides” to how we organize and fund schools, but viewing the problem that way is a sure-fire path to preserving the achievement gaps and racial segregation of today far into the future.

Celine Coggins is the founder of Teach Plus, a teacher leadership organization that operates in ten states across the US. This month she is transitioning from Teach Plus to become a Lecturer and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

The Opposite of Sheet-caking

The post below is by guest blogger Celine Coggins.

This week I’m taking over Andy’s blog to share a few of the messages from my new book How to Be Heard: Ten Lessons Teachers Need to Advocate for Their Students and Profession. It’s a book sharing all I’ve learned about advocacy in my ten years since founding Teach Plus. Its primary audience is teachers, and each chapter profiles groups of inspirational teachers who’ve succeeded at changing the education system for their kids. However, the messages apply to anyone who’s got a cause worth fighting for (and don’t we all these days!).  As we collectively move from the shock of Charlottesville to action, I don’t have answers, but I wanted to offer some food for thought.

Today, I wanted suggest considering the difference between problems and issues as you think about your role in creating a world without future Charlottesvilles.

To illustrate: Tina Fey got a lot of attention last week when she shared her response to White Supremacist violence at her alma mater, UVA. Her satire, which drew as much criticism as praise, centered on how overwhelmed so many of us felt about what was happening in our nation. I’ll admit to feeling powerless enough that weekend to want to close the curtains and dip a grilled cheese in a sheet cake.  The problems UVA (re)surfaced are massive and have been with us since the birth of our nation. Problems (i.e. racism in America) are vast and broad; they tend feel overwhelming, which ultimately discourages action. Problems have many, related causes and lack a single lever or “silver bullet” that could lead to a tangible “win”.

By contrast, nearly 40,000 people showed up in Boston (shout out to may hometown!) Saturday to protest a planned “free speech” rally by the alt-right. In contrast to the larger “problem” of racism, opposing a planned rally created a clear, immediate “issue” for people to organize around. Issues are specific. They have a focus, a goal, and the possibility of a concrete win (or loss). In this case, the goal was to show that there are WAY more of us on the side of love, than the side of hate. And with a ratio of 50 neo-Nazis to 40,000 protesters, the win isn’t debatable. It creates momentum that will likely motivate more positive action.

So, I disagree with Tina Fey. I don’t think sheet-caking will ever become a grassroots movement. It’s too depressing. But more importantly, there are too many issues for those of us on the right side of history to fight for—electing a new generation of leaders to public office, educating our kids to be social justice warriors, making sure disadvantaged students get better teachers, just to name a few.  So the next time you find a friend with their face buried in a sheet cake, remember: friends don’t let friends get stuck in the problem-zone. Help them make the move from problem to issue and issue to action.

Celine Coggins is the founder of Teach Plus, a teacher leadership organization that operates in ten states across the US. This month she is transitioning from Teach Plus to become a Lecturer and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

Cell Phones

The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein.

By now you’ve seen “Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation?” and similar articles, based on the new research by Jean Twenge.

Dan Meyer points to Tony Riehl’s in-class cell phone policy as his favorite.  Interesting comments, too.

Becky, a friend of mine, writes on FB:

<<I’m a school psychologist who works with middle schoolers. This article articulated what I see every single day and the worries I have about it 1000%. The word “destroyed” in the headline is a little over the top, but the concerns are pervasive, real, and supported by generational data trends in addition to my everyday experience. 

I can only hope that as those of us in my generation begin and continue to raise our own young children, we will be increasingly aware of and educated about these trends, and the unintended effects of ubiquitous smartphone/social media use on the social skills and mental health of our kids.>>

I share her concern.  I wonder: is there way where middle school teachers could join with parents to create some sort of opt-in-but-teacher-supported “at home cell phone policy” – one that makes it easier for parents to limit smartphone use?  My half-thought is parents might set firmer limits if they could say “Lots of kids in your school follow this exact cell phone policy at home.”

Five Easy Theses*

The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein.

1. Richard Whitmire: “Charter School Students Graduating From College at Three to Five Times National Average.”

Wonks behold: an original data set (plus commentary).

<<We identified nine large charter networks with enough alumni to roughly calculate degree-earning success rates.” >> 

I agree with his premise.  KIPP nudged other charters to carefully calculate this stuff.  Certainly that was true for me at Match Charter.  Under Linda Brown’s direction, I remember writing “College Success” as the Match Charter School mission in 1999, but it wasn’t until KIPP’s public reporting of this data that we really pushed hard to track down ALL of the alumni (I’m told: 55% of Match grads currently hold a 4yr degree, plus 8% still in college from the “old enough” cohorts).

Read Whitmire’s whole thing, lots to contemplate.

2. Matt Ladner responds: Beware.  He writes:

<<Before this college success of charter school meme gets entirely out of hand, I want to suggest that we should get the comparisons between control group and experimental group studies on long-term success nailed down before going to town on this.>>

I agree.

a. Good news: at least one such scholarly study is quietly underway (or so I think).

b. If the denominator shifts from “Grade 12 grads” to “Grade 9 new students,” the graduation rate will obviously fall.  How much?  I’m guessing from 3x to 5x narrative will change to perhaps 1.5x to 3x.

c. A subgroup I’m curious about: kids who attend a top charter for a couple years, get large test gains, then transfer.  My guess is they enroll in college at roughly the same rates, but graduate at far lower rates.  Hopefully we’ll find out.

3. What we can all agree on: lots of kids start college, don’t finish.

One aspect: college remedial courses don’t seem to work.  See Freddie deBoer thoughts here on a new sobering study.

4. Neerav Kingland gets all Passover on us.  He asks what Four Questions the charter sector needs to answer.

Plus he (and we) can’t reblog enough the cautionary Fryer/Dobbie study.  (Where kids who attended Texas charters didn’t see much later-life wage gain).

5. The godmother of all edubloggers, Joanne Jacobs, always tells it like it is: <<Homework assignments in the early grades often are a waste of time. I like the idea of telling kids to read instead.>>

*Stolen from my friend Jim Stone, a wonk-worthy book.

Headline: Letter From Liberia

The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein.

Disclosure first: from 2013 to 2016 I served as chief academic officer at Bridge International Academies, which operates elementary schools in Africa and India.  I still volunteer there, as an advisor and “host parent” for some Bridge alumni who’ve won full scholarships to American boarding schools.  So please take my views with a grain of salt.

That said, I thought Nicholas Kristof said it well last month in the NY Times:

<<I understand critics’ fears (and share some about for-profit schools in the U.S.). They see handing schools over to Bridge as dismantling the public education system — one of the best ideas in human history — for private profit.

But I’ve followed Bridge for years, my wife and I wrote about it in our last book, and the concerns are misplaced. Bridge has always lost money, so no one is monetizing children. In fact, it’s a start-up that tackles a social problem in ways similar to a nonprofit, but with for-profit status that makes it more sustainable and scalable.

More broadly, the world has failed children in poor countries. There have been global campaigns to get more children in school, but that isn’t enough. The crucial metric isn’t children attending school, but children learning in school.

Here in Liberia in the village of Boegeezay in Rivercess County, I dropped in on a regular public school that officially had 16 teachers assigned to it. Initially, I saw four; a couple more trickled in hours later.

…In contrast, the Bridge schools I visited were functional. The teachers can themselves read. School begins on time, at 7:30 a.m., and continues until 3:30 instead of letting out around noon, as at many government-run schools. And students have books.>>


In the USA, there’s a healthy debate about traditional schools versus choice/charters/vouchers/reform.  One aspect: to the consternation of some reformers, many American parents are satisfied with THEIR nearby public school, even with low academic results.

In my experience, though, that is not typically true with Liberian parents.  The typical family craves a different option.

Some years ago, after RCTs showed that KIPP kids indeed had large achievement gains, when controlling for who attended, the AFT Shanker Institute blog conceded that KIPP was perhaps a good thing, and wondered what might be learned from those schools.

My hope is that if similar RCTs show large gains for Bridge kids, that the debate similarly shifts.  We shall see.

More backstory on the politics here.

Old-School Personalization

The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein.

1. Old School

A few years back, my friend Alan Safran spun off a part of Match Education into a new nonprofit.  It’s called Saga.  They do Old School personalized learning.  Not Old School as in Andy R after a long day with the fish.  Old School as in tutoring by actual human beings, not computers.  Back story here.

Saga serves kids in large districts (like Chicago and NYC).  Alan, along with 2 Match High School alumni (Antonio, Ashlie), have been obsessing over quality until they felt “ready to grow.”  It’s that time now: a month ago, CZ made a large investment.

So Saga is likely to take on another other large high-poverty district as a client.  If you’re a big city supe and looking for a program that has gotten large, measurable results in Houston, NYC, and Chicago district schools, give Alan a shout.  Moreover, the politics on this one are pretty good: “ed reform skeptics” often like this particular program.  See here, for example.

Saga is still innovating, experimenting with “half-dosage” tutoring, plus a tiny pilot of great interest to me: tutoring incarcerated youth in Queens, NY.  [A friend recently observed one of the kids there struggling with a quadratic equation.  The tutor ably just sat tight, allowing the struggle.  After some energetic erasing, the kid looks up and nods, says “I got this,” boom, solves it.]

2. What’s In a Name?

We call it “high-dosage”* tutoring, to try to separate it from regular ol’ useless badly managed tutoring.  Roland Fryer popularized the term when we worked with him on the Apollo project in Houston.

But “High-dosage” captures just one of two essential components of Match-now-Saga tutoring.  That’s the “how much.”  Hours are very countable, as are tutor:kid ratios.  Scholars like “countable.”

What’s missing is the “who.”  It’s like describing the Patriots’ “bend don’t break” defense or Spurs ball movement — and expecting those strategies to work without Devin McCourty and Bill Bellichick, without Kawhi Leonard and Gregg Popovich.

The Saga team carefully vets tutor candidates, rejecting for more candidates than they accept.  Sometimes just 1 in 20 gets taken.  Then they obsessively coach and measure the tutors.  So it’s really “High Dosage plus Unusually High Quality Tutoring” that seems to work in the RCTs we’ve done.

What’s missing from the Old School High Quality Tutoring RCT evidence base is all the FAILED tutoring efforts that have happened around the country, in charters and traditional schools alike.  Sometimes low dosage, sometimes low quality, sometimes both.  I can name several off the top of my head.

Strategy matters, but execution matters more.  Sound familiar?  This seems like a common problem in our sector.

Without elite/unusual execution, it’s hard to help kids make large gains through school-based strategies.


Giving Up Control

The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein

Hi wonks.  A few thoughts this week from Red Sox country.

On Being An Acton Academy Parent is a blog I’ve come to treasure.  It’s by Laura Sandefer, who combines her voice as Acton’s co-founder with her role as a mom.  A recent entry:

<<(Coach Carpenter) came to P.E. when he should have called in sick. He had a sore throat and a headache, but it was the last class of the session and he wanted to be there. No way was he up to running up and down the field, though, much less doing the “Acton Insanity!” warm-up.

So he called over a couple of the older Eagles (students).

“I’m sick,” he said. “You mind running the show today?”

Was it perfect?  No.  Was there anarchy?  A little.

Did they love it?  YES!

Coach Carpenter had the long summer break to think about what he saw that day and about where the school was heading. Was he ready to change? Was he okay with giving up control?>>

Read the whole thing here.

When a school maxes on “self-directed” and/or “personalized” learning, there are tradeoffs.  At Acton, student agency is baked into the org DNA.  But when the same concept is foisted on traditional schools, Zombie Reform is often the result, says the estimable Larry Cuban.

He cites four 20th century iterations of this heavyweight fight: age-graded schools in one corner, personalized learning in the other corner.  So far “age-graded school” is 4-0, all knockouts.


Implementation Versus Idea

Guest blogger Mike Goldstein writes:

1. Rick Hess once wrote “Life is an implementation problem.”

Yes, it’s true some strategies/ideas are better than others.  But what’s universally (okay, mostly) true is all advocates — whether for curricula like Core Knowledge or Success For All, pedagogy like project-based learning or Doug Lemov’s taxonomy, expenditures/time whether universal pre-K or longer school days, governance efforts like choice or socioeconomic integration, teacher residencies or peer evaluation — would say “Yes, bad execution would kill X instance of this idea I cherish.”

I’m not sure I agree anymore.  I now wonder if anything less than excellent execution “works.

What if….even pretty good implementation of a good idea is not enough to help many kids?

2. My favorite intervention

I like high-dosage tutoring, as described here in Ed Next.

Because the team at Saga Innovations has had such incredible results in the Chicago Public Schools (and elsewhere), Brookings released a thoughtful paper calling for a massive expansion of the work (also see Matt Kraft here).

“Specifically, we propose that all school districts receiving schoolwide Title I funds provide individualized daily tutorials to all third through tenth grade students who are at least two grades behind grade level in math.”

Some years ago, I would have kvelled!  Scaling an idea I love.

Now, I wonder.

Saga’s Alan, Antonio, Ashley….they execute magnificently.  But Alan and I tracked a counterexample as well.  It turned out, at the same time he launched the Chicago work with the district, an unrelated, similar effort was launched by a Chicago charter network.  It lasted a year before dying.  They just didn’t get the details right.  We know of other similar stories.  You assuredly do as well.

It reminds me of Bill Belichick.  His ideas work!  When he does them.  In an organization that embraces them whole-heartedly.

But when his assistant coaches try those ideas elsewhere, with an inherited base of players, scouts, owners, and other staff that do not fully buy-in, it hasn’t worked so well.

High-dosage tutoring remains my favorite intervention (trying a version now with older kids helping younger kids), but I increasingly believe it’s like….all the other interventions, where even “decent” implementation doesn’t help kids.

3. Where does that leave us?

It’s obvious that almost any strategy is a waste of time if buy-in is, say, 3 out of 10.

But, more provocatively, is that true if buy-in is, say, 6 out of 10?

If so, two thoughts.

a. Upfront is the best way to secure buy-in.  If you’re going to do a particular pedagogy, best to surface during application process, freeing teachers to choose to apply (or not).

b. Qualitative feedback loops become more important.  You need to expect process failure (instead of hoping for the best), then invest heavily in daily tinkering.  You can win over many practical educators by attending to little details, and steadily pushing the implementation rock up the mountain.  But, perhaps, only if your starting point is that you need to Fail Fast, even with a favorite, “research-proven” idea.