Linda Darling Hammond on Equity and Deeper Learning

This video (the first 17 minutes) is fantastic. More people need to watch it to understand the links between deeper learning models and equity. In short, we have to make sure all kids have access to a thinking, deeper learning curriculum ... not just the wealthy kids. She does a great job of positioning this debate historically. Superb stuff. 

PBL & Graduating Immigrants

Donna Neary.jpeg

Superb story from Donna Neary, a UK student, Next Gen Alum, and teacher in Jefferson County Public Schools. Donna is using the power of deeper learning, project-based instruction, and performance assessment to transform the lives of immigrant children that move to Louisville. 

Donna tells her own story well, so I will not elaborate: 

Like Muan and Innocent, most of the students in the program have experienced interruptions in their formal education. Some may have missed several consecutive years of formal education, all due to circumstances beyond their control. With this program, we seek to put students back in control of their learning by providing a differentiated, rigorous program to prepare them for graduation.

This first year of A2G has shown that it is possible for students who may never have envisioned themselves as high school graduates to move quickly toward that goal.

Full story: 


investigating Acton Academy ... a good fit for Kentucky?

acton logo.png

In my quest to understand the best models nationally for potential use here in Kentucky in our public schools, I've come across Acton Academy. Acton is a network of schools (around 80 listed on their site) based out of Austin, TX. It is the ideological child of Jeff Sandefer, a former business teacher at the University of Texas and founder of the Acton School of Business. Before that, he was a multi-millionaire off-shore oilman and venture capitalist. He is also a fan of for-profit education and has influenced education in Texas to this end. 

Acton's primary model, what they are most known for, is that learners are completely independent with only rare interventions from adults. Students set their own goals, manage their own projects, and hold themselves and other students accountable. Their "quests" are their projects and the students are encouraged to take on quests in which they try to change the world in their own ways. Here is their 15 min. short documentary: 

To get this independence, they rely heavily on online learning platforms like Khan, Dreambox, and MOOC platforms like EdX. From my review, this heavily online platform reliance probably concerns me the most. However, learners also read a lot of books. At the high school level, the expectation is 4 life-changing books per year. 

The big difference between Acton and other networks like Summit or Big Picture is that Acton is focused on micro-schools and seems primarily designed only for smaller private or charter schools. It is more of an "unschool" and thus scaling will be harder. 

A book was written about the story of Acton by one of the founders if you want to get the really deep story. 

To start an Acton school, there is a $10,000 entry fee which gets you access to the tools, the name, and the network. Thereafter, you have to share 1% of the revenue with the network (not entirely sure what that means, but that is likely a big number). Like other networks, there are requirements to be a member such as satisfaction surveys. There is a new Acton Academy starting in Nashville TN this fall (2018) if those in Kentucky want to see a close one. 

The Getting Smart Podcast Interview is here: 

Overall, this particular network is not a good fit for Kentucky's public schools. What they are doing with learner independence is something very unique and laudatory. I can easily see how it would work well with many learners on a daily basis and would lead many of those students to find deep rooted passions which they could hopefully translate into careers. 

However, the network fees, the small school nature, and their mission (including the for-profit part) are poor fits for our public schools. The push for growth coupled with that for-profit nature are particularly a reason for pause. 

Thus, let's learn from them. Let's embrace more independence in our learners and more entrepreneurism in our leaders. Our own public school kids should be enjoying quests driven by their own world-changing passions. These are all things we can do within our existing systems. 

new school networks: first hints at the upgrade

When Summit Learning came to Kentucky for the first time at Next Gen a couple years ago, I was completely awe-struck. I told the audience members I felt like we were all driving different versions of Toyota and a Ferrari just drove by. 

In the couple years since, I have not really changed my opinion. There is something particularly special and powerful about this type of network combined with that type of platform that feels very much to me like the future. 

So, since then, I've been even more curious about new networks of schooling. There are a growing number of these networks (although at the price of $0 Summit seems the most popular) and they are expanding into Kentucky. 

None of this, of course, feels particularly different than what Ted Sizer was trying to do with the Coalition of Essential Schools, it just feels like a modern iteration. 

So, this is a bit of a deep dive into my thinking about these networks and how they are hinting at the upgrade of public education we all want so badly. 

This video explains how networks of schools and the related platforms are beginning to reshape schools in Kentucky and beyond.

pathways to hope

Quick story then a link for something you should read from Kentucky. 

A couple years back a veteran school leader was analyzing Next Gen and after speaking for a bit and experiencing it himself ... he said to me something akin to "you are dealing in hope at Next Gen." 

He said it in a way that felt like we were "selling hope"  so at first I cringed. I want to sell learning or growth or better experiences for kids. He sensed that and clarified that giving people hope is not a bad thing, indeed it is one of the best things. In systems that might feel hopeless or situations that cause a teacher to lose faith, pathways to hopefulness are crucial. In public education these days, especially when talking large scale change, it is easy to find hopelessness and difficult to discern hope. 

I've pondered this a lot since that moment and I've come to the place where providing pathways to hope is just part of the leaders job. In fact, it is critical to culture and growth of a school. 

So, that struck me again as I read the story of Knight Middle in Louisville, a school that is part of Next Gen this year but has been on a growth journey for a few years. Their principal, Cathy Gibbs, said: 

We hired teachers based on our collective belief that the overwhelming majority of our students want to engage, belong and be successful, and if WE built that school together, then Knight would see success. We were HOPE dealers, setting out on a journey to rewrite a school’s story and looking for people who had the fire in their belly to make it a reality.
— Louisville Courier Journal

Cathy strikes me as just such a hopeful leader. When you take the reigns of Knight Middle clearly a person has internal hope (or they probably would not take the job). But, the more difficult leadership question is whether they can provide external hope. Can you provide a vision, backed with execution, that goes from hopeless to hopeful? Being a "hope dealer," as Cathy says, is not something to cringe at it is something to celebrate. In today's world, it is too rare. 

Please give the whole article a read and if you want to chat with Cathy about it her twitter handle is @cathygibbs1 (she is awesome and would welcome the interaction).

This is how it works. Leaders, hope, culture, student voice, execution, persistence ... over time, everyone adjusts and raises their game. You don't get all of what you hope for, but what you do get changes kids' lives. Remember, leaders don't really make change happen. Teachers, kids, and families are the change agents within school systems. But, stories like the one at Knight Middle start with a leader and a pathway to hope. 

Kentucky's high school transcripts are terrible, lets do better

I love documents like transcripts. They tell a story of what is really important in a learning system. To us in Kentucky, it is GPA and ACT and that's pretty much it. That's the story we are telling about a kid at the end as their ticket to the next step. 

It doesn't need to be this way. Transcripts can tell a richer story. In this 8 minute video, I tell you how. 

A quick look at how Kentucky could make high school transcripts more robust.



money and learning

Money ... matters.

Do ... let my friend Bruce Baker tell you more about the research.  

Don't ... let political leaders argue that money does not matter. 

The research that led to the myth that money (or schools in general) don't matter that much for learning has been debunked. Schools do matter and the quality of the school does matter. 

Read More