A Pot Luck Meal Of Ideas


Remember pot-luck suppers, when everyone brought a dish or two? What follows is the the equivalent — although substituting ideas for food. Because the last few entries on this blog have been pretty grim, this week I want to share some good stuff that has come across my desk or into my professional life somehow. My pot-luck includes books, and school and service programs. I hope you will click on at least a couple of the links — and add your own to round out the meal.

A national program I’m keen on is the Arts Education Partnership, which describes itself as being “dedicated to securing a high-quality arts education for every young person in America.” Its 25 (and counting) partners include national groups like Americans for the Arts, state and local arts councils and two major foundations (Wallace and Ford), but the key player seems to be the Council of Chief State School Officers. I spent some time with AEP folks this spring (moderating a panel, giving a speech, and hanging out), and, if we could bottle the positive energy that arts advocates give off, we would be a long way to solving some of schooling’s problems.

I am intrigued by Global Citizen Year, which says it is “building the next generation of American leaders though a bridge year in the developing world.” I’ve met the founder, a whirlwind of energy named Abby Falik, a graduate of the Harvard Business School. GCY is narrowly focused (“It’s not freshman year. Not a study abroad program. It’s a year of deep experience in the real world before college,” the website boasts). In other words, this may not be for you but for your children or grandchildren, or your neighbor’s kids, but it’s worth a look.

Boston Globe columnist Gareth Cook wrote about Global Citizen Year on March 4: “Harvard freshman Gus Ruchman did Global Citizen Year after high school, and found himself living with a host family and doing deeply fulfilling public health work a few hours east of Dakar, Senegal. He was on his own, navigating an Islamic culture, learning that not everyone on the planet shares the American obsession with being right on time – all experiences that changed him for the better and helped prepare him for the overwhelming experience of starting college.

“I absolutely loved it,’’ says Ruchman.”

Global Citizen Year
Global Citizen Year is one of a handful of very interesting developments in the broader field of education.

The Future Project is a service program with an audacious goal: “Our mission is to put the world’s dreams into action — starting in the most historically underserved schools and neighborhoods across the nation.” It does this by connecting service-minded adults with adolescents with big dreams.

Now underway in New York, Washington, D.C., and New Haven, it was started by two recent Yale graduates, Andrew Mangino and Kanya Balakrishna. Tim Shriver, the Chairman & CEO of the Special Olympics and a TFP Board member, had this to say about TFP:

“The Future Project is all about saving the country and saving the world. It’s big ideas and big vision. It’s about saying no to apathy, and indifference, and defeatism. It’s about marshalling the energies of a new generation to believe in themselves, to believe that we can create a better world than we’ve got today, to trust in young people as the engines of that change and the engines of that vision. I can’t imagine anything more important.”

I’m a new fan of the Alliance for Catholic Education, a group I learned about when I spoke at Notre Dame on April 30th. ACE ‘exists to sustain and strengthen Catholic schools,’ surely a noble goal at a time when parochial schools are struggling. The easiest way to understand ACE is to say, “think Teach for America.” TFA and ACE began about the same time, roughly 20 years ago, and both programs recruit and train teachers and send them into classrooms. But ACE — unlike TFA — brings the rookie teachers back to Notre Dame (home base) for the summer after their first year of teaching, for R&R&R&R, which I guess means “rest, recuperation, renewal and re-education.” TFA does not do that, and the ACE retention record suggests that the second summer of training makes all the difference. About 80 percent of ACE graduates stay in teaching for at least a third year, and 75 percent are still in education within five years of graduating. By contrast, according to an independent review of TFA, more than 50 percent of Teach for America teachers leave after two years and more than 80 percent leave after three years.

I have read two of the three books I am enthusiastic about and hope to read the third this weekend. One of them, Liberating Teachers, isn’t out yet — I read the manuscript — but its subtitle, “What happens when we trust teachers with school success,” should be enough to make some of you want to get it when it appears. The authors are Kim Farris-Berg and Edward J. Kirkswager.

Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story is an engaging history of the origins of the charter school movement, written by the courageous Minnesota State Senator who pushed and pulled the original legislation through her legislature back in 1990. Ember Reichcott-Junge’s book came out earlier this month, and I hope you will pick up a copy. (Full disclosure: I blurbed it.)

By my bedtable is Dan Willingham’s new book, When Can You Trust the Experts? — subtitled “how to tell good science from bad in education.” (Jossey-Bass) This is help we all can use, from one of the most sensible guys around.

ReadWorks serves a need. We have a reading crisis in this country, and some of that stems from the harsh truth that many elementary school teachers aren’t well equipped to teach reading. Rather than curse that darkness, ReadWorks offers help — tons of it. I urge you to share this website with every teacher you know. It’s free.

Harmony is a program I love. It provides musical instruments (free) and music lessons (also free) to underprivileged kids, and we had the privilege of spending some quality time with Harmony kids in two New York City public schools, then later with Placido Domingo. Watch our NewsHour piece here, and I wager you will be a fan too:

Core Knowledge is the living legacy of one of education’s greats, E.D. “Don” Hirsch, Jr. If you saw our piece about reading and the Common Core this week, then you saw the Core Knowledge reading program in action. But Core Knowledge is more than a reading program. It’s a comprehensive approach to elementary school, based on the firm belief held by Don Hirsch, a ‘small d’ democrat, our culture has a core of knowledge that should be available to all, regardless of family income, et cetera. I’ve been in a fair number of Core Knowledge schools over the years and have consistently been impressed by the intellectual electricity of the place.

The more I learn about Blended Learning and Deep Learning, the more impressed I am. Both of these approaches to schooling are swimming upstream against the tide of bubble testing and superficial learning, and that’s enough reason right there to encourage them. For “Blended Learning,” think Sal Khan and the Khan Academy and take off from there.

What about “Deep Learning”? The astrophysicist Neal DeGrasse Tyson spoke at Teachers College graduation this week and, without mentioning Deep Learning, used a wonderful example of what I think of as Deep Teaching. Imagine a spelling bee, he said, and the word is CAT. The kid who spells it C.A.T. gets an A. The two others spell it incorrectly, K.A.T. and Q.Z.P. Both get an F, which makes no sense at all because, Dr. Tyson said, one student came very close while the other kid had no clue. But in a system — ours — that rewards only the precisely correct answer, much is lost. It’s time, he said, for teachers to dig deep into how kids’ minds work — and, it follows from that, encourage them to dig deeply into subjects that interest them.

There’s a network of “Deeper Learning Schools” that includes EdVisions Schools, Big Picture Learning, ConnectEd, High Tech High, New Visions for Public Schools, Expeditionary Learning, New Tech Network and the Asia Society. I know some of those organizations and the people behind them, and, I promise you, that’s a lot of positive energy and brain power. We will be doing some reporting on this, with the help of the Hewlett Foundation.

If I had my way, every week a school devotes to test-prep and testing would have to be matched by a week of project-based work, allowing students to delve deeply into what matters to them.

Early College High School is an approach, when done well, that changes the game. I’ve just come from spending some time in an Early College program in Texas. Would you believe that the school district that adopted this approach has cut its dropout rate from about 40% to below 5%? Or that nearly 100 students are getting both their HS diploma AND the AA degree from the local community college this spring? We’re editing a piece for PBS NewsHour now, and it’s going to change the way you think about high school.

Please feel free to share your own favorites.

13 thoughts on “A Pot Luck Meal Of Ideas

  1. Love this list! And I love the tone. Not that the last two pieces weren’t necessary, but this is powerful stuff you have shared here. Hope folks will turn off the reality BS on TV and check into some very uplifting and amazing stuff you shared here. So much to do and so little time to waste. Thanks John and keep up the great effort!


  2. John:
    How about adding the TLLP Program in Toronto to your pot luck. The initials stand for Teacher Learning and Leadership Program. This is a collaboration between the Ministry of Education and the Ontario Teachers Federation. They met for two years and designed the program together. Teachers write a short proposal to do professional development in their school or beyond. They are encouraged to do it with another person or team. They are now on the 5th cohort of teachers. Over 300 teachers have designed professional development connected to provincial goals. The program is very popular. Both Ministry and OTF share the responsibilities of running the program. Many teachers have extended their work to other schools and Boards (districts).
    We just got a small grant to study this program. You will hear from me again!
    Ann Lieberman, Senior Scholar at Stanford.


  3. I also loved the list. I also think that this list of suggestions of various sizes should be read within the context our our failure to come up with responses to your previous challenge to think of a single big idea to unite various schools of reform.

    The lesson I take from the contrast is that education would have been better served by a politics of addition and multiplication, as opposed to substraction and division.

    Perhaps that could provide the ultimate big idea for your fantasy of a common manifesto. What if everyone committed to promoting their favored reforms, and not defeating their opponents? Of course, some policies are mutually inherently contradictory, but in those cases what all stakeholders agreed to fight their opponents policies but not their opponents?


    • What a wonderful idea….
      Let’s figure out what we agree on and work on ‘getting to YES’ on the other stuff.


  4. I will chime in with another blogger’s list of 11 Tech Tools which, while selected for implementing the Common Core, are fabulous tools no matter if you’re a CCSS-minded person or not.


    She lists several free tools, including Khan.

    A fantastic edtech start-up is LessonCast (www.lessoncast.org). It’s a free professional development site where teachers can see broadcasts of sample lessons in 30 second to 3 minute bites. Easy to use and showcasing best practices.

    Of course, I’ll also toot AcademicMerit’s horn as we are game changers among ed-tech companies. We are not unique in that we are a company founded and operated by educators (80% of our staff) and we offer a technology tool for assessment and instruction. What DOES make us unique is our content, our emphasis on writing (especially in light of the identified issues in Florida–), and our first-of-its-kind professional development tool. We are agents of change as far as how for-profit education companies behave and want to lead by example in this shift to the Common Core. There is much “noise” out there and our mantra, as you can see from our website (www.AcademicMerit.com) is “Breathe.”

    AcademicMerit leverages technology to build the much-needed bridge from information to implementation of the Common Core State Standards…. If you’re reading Education Week, you know this is an identified need and one that traditional publishers are falling short of delivering.

    · FineTune™ is an online professional-development tool for supporting teachers’ calibration of their evaluation of student writing

    · Assessments21®, an award-winning online tool for administering classroom-based assessments of increasing rigor in Reading, Writing, and Language

    · Literary Companion®, an award-winning online tool that is the only one of its kind to use text-dependent content and formative assessments to foster learning and differentiated instruction in close reading and writing

    I encourage you to watch our video on our website:


  5. Core knowledge is indeed a wonderful program.
    I have used their books.
    But here’s the problem: most school systems lack consistency.Administrators adopt new programs and then a few years later a new administrator comes in, throws it all out, and starts something different. Or teachers decide they don’t want to follow the program, no one checks on them, and the link is broken.
    Programs are only as good as the people who run them!


  6. Wonderful assortment of food for thought. I can’t wait to see the dessert menu!

    There is too much truth in Susan Landmann’s response of a lack of consistency. And that applies to principals, superintendents, state and federal initiatives. Veteran teachers have learned to keep doing what they do and can easily outwait the latest initiative. I was at a public meeting where the local union president stated they would for the new “regs” to shake out before meeting them. She was right, new regime, new regs.

    Programs have become subsitutes for skilled teachers. We need to find more (good teachers).

    I like the idea of promoting what works. Hey, why doesn’t LearningMatters host a symposium, maybe bring together some of the leaders of the programs you mentioned, maybe using some of the latest technology, a teleconference ! Each could high their own dish. The enthusiasm could be catching.


  7. Thanks, John for drawing attention to a number of interesting programs that should play a bigger role in education reform. Unfortunately, for too many policiy makers education reform means determining what percentage of a teacher’s evaluation should be based on “Value-added” data from bubble tests.

    I would be interested to read your reaction to Richard Rothstein’s commencement speech to the graduates of Loyola University Chicago’s school of education. Why are the data points he references left out of the reporting on education issues? Why not complicate the standard “failing”/”crisis” narrative that seems to be the universally accepted premise for most education reporting? I’d be interested to learn more about whether his assertion that most of the growth took place before the NCLB mandates prompted more schools to emphasize “test-prep”.

    Hope to read from you soon and thanks for your thoughtful reporting on issues that are too often ignored in the world of education.


    • I just read it. It’s a profound message, and one that I hope will be widely heard and understood. The era of NCLB (not over) has done serious damage to public education. We are deeply divided as a nation. Some call on young people to enter education, calling it “The Civil Rights Issue of our Time” and more, but those who become teachers find they are routinely criticized, et cetera.
      And we do not have strong leaders who connect the dots between schools and the myriad ills of unemployment, poor nutrition, et cetera, as Richard does so brilliantly in this speech.
      Thank you for calling it to my attention


  8. Hi John, speaking of deep learning, I wonder if you could add Critical Explorers to your list. It is an organization that works closely with teachers to make deep learning happen in public school classrooms. The essence of their work is engaging the learners with subject matter and materials (for example, primary historical materials) that interest them, researching the thinking of students, and responding to the thinking with more rich materials that deepen and extend the students’ thinking, rather than directing them to one correct answer.

    The curriculum is developed in classrooms, with classroom teachers doing the teaching, and is useful to the teachers in teaching what they need to teach. It’s not something the organization develops for its own interests. The work respects the teachers as thinkers; in the same way, the teacher and the teaching researcher center their work around students’ thinking and learning. It is building strength from within the classroom.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s