The End of Education Reform

I. The Odds

If you grow up poor, you will likely not get a bachelor’s degree. Here’s the data:

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9% of students from the bottom quintile of income receive a Bachelor’s degree by age 24.

Even amongst our nation’s best schools for low-income students, the numbers are still tough:


Or as leaders at Match charter school put it:

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II. And Even if You Do

Even if you go to college and graduate, you might not learn a lot.

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Yes, through some mix of signaling and learning, you are much more likely to get a job if you have a degree, but it seems like there is a strong signaling component, which makes college very inefficient for everyone involved (save for the social component, which seems to work quite well, in both the best and worse senses).

One way I like to think about college is this: would you learn more if you simply worked at a decent for-profit, non-profit, or governmental organization?

I think most colleges fail this test. And even those that do pass, I still worry that they are underperforming their actual potential.

III. Two Problems to Solve

So there are two problems to solve:

(1) Given that getting a degree is good for the individual, how do we increase degree attainment rates for low-income students?

(2) Given that humans learning things is generally good for society, how do we make colleges more effective?

IV. The Innovators 

Match charter school created Match beyond to try to solve both of these problems.

Here’s how it works:

  • Match Beyond partners with Southern New Hampshire University, which has a fully online college degree called College For America.
  • College For All is competency based and designed to build skills in students that employers say they need to be successful in the workplace, such as data analysis, working in teams, communication skills.
  • Match Beyond splits a pell grant with New Hampshire, so the degree is basically free for students.
  • New Hampshire provides the platform and competency based curriculum.
  • Match provides 1-1 coaching to their students to guide them through the competencies.

In more detail:

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For what’s it with, I’ve seen it in action. I went to the Panera, had a coffee, and watched the tutoring.

Here’s the results to date:

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V. Can It Scale Across a City? 

After all the hard work in New Orleans – and the unprecedented achievement gains – many people in the city (and myself) are worried that these gains won’t translate into degrees and jobs.

Here’s some data on where New Orleans is trying to head.

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To make this a reality, a coalition of high schools, 2 year and 4 year colleges, employers, and non-profits are trying to reconstruct the high school -> post-secondary -> job pipeline.

The strategy is a mixture of alignment (building clear pathways where students aren’t lost in the transitions between schools and the job market) and innovation (rethinking high school, college, and job training).

It is unknown whether this will work.

But for New Orleans to realize the promise of its K12 improvements, some sort of breakthrough will need to occur in the post-secondary sector.

I am concerned that the leadership and entrepreneurship we’ve seen in the charter sector does not exist in the post-secondary sector.

I hope groups like Match Beyond change that.

VI. The End of Education Reform

We can think about the phrase – “the end of education reform” in three ways.

One way to think about the phrase is that education reform ends at twelfth grade, and from there students are left to struggle in a dysfunctional post-secondary system.

A second way to think about the phrase is that education reform will end because it failed to deliver on its promise of a better life for those who benefited from the reforms.

A third way to think about it is that reforming post-secondary and job training institutions is the logical end effort of education reform, and that success here will improve the lives of students in this country.

Time will tell which way of understanding the phrase will most ring true.

2 thoughts on “The End of Education Reform

  1. Cozzi, John

    Well done. It’s great that you exposed the true challenge at colleges. It applies to all students but obviously is especially detrimental for at risk students. We need some type of measurement to assess whether college students are coming out more prepared to tackle anything.

    I’m going to explore if there is a way in our KIPP-College partnerships to mandate a shift in how the schools approach our students in delivering this kind of outcome.

    Hope the new gig(s) are going well. Thanks again for agreeing to spend time with Pat McDonough.

    John F. Cozzi
    AEA Investors LP
    666 Fifth Avenue, 36th Floor
    New York, New York 10103
    (T) 212-702-0504
    (M) 908-347-1427

  2. Pingback: Learn to Work vol. 13 | Mind Over Minerals

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