Category Archives: Education schools

Formation: Why We’re Far Away from Peak Teacher Performance

I just read Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

One of the book’s main arguments is this:

  1. Performance is improvement is driven by: maintaining intense focus, staying on the edge of one’s comfort zone, getting immediate feedback, identifying weak points and developing practice techniques designed specifically to address these weaknesses.
  2. This cycle is best done in fields where there is a long history of teaching that clearly articulates specific phases of mastery (musical instruments, chess, etc. all have fairly linear performance paths).
  3. Because deliberate practice is hard work, those individuals who are successful over the long run have generally found ways to keep themselves motivated and have crafted supportive environments for themselves.


Jal Mehta’s book The Allure of Order  thoughtfully narrated how teaching failed to develop a professional body of knowledge.

Rather than refining practice by building a long-history of evolutionary cataloguing of what works or conducting rigorous research on teaching techniques, the teaching profession formed through continuous bruising battles around contract rights.

In many cases, these battles led to real improvements in teaching workforce conditions; however, they also came at the expense of a professionalization of the practice.


So, for most of the 20th century, teaching suffered from a lack of a body of knowledge around performance progression *and* a lack of a culture of feedback.

The lessons put forth in Peak have in most ways been ignored.

Children have likely suffered.


Enter Harriet Ball.

Enter Doug Lemov.

Enter Dave Levin.

Enter Mike Goldstein.

And so forth.

Basically, you have a group of educators saying: what the f**k?

Why, in one of the world’s oldest professions, do we not have a cannon of performance progression?


I am highly skeptical of most human capital education reform efforts.

I think state mandated teacher evaluations will yield little over time.

I think most education schools care more about spreading ideology than building a knowledge base around effective teaching.

I think most districts are hopeless when it comes to giving timely and precise feedback to teachers.


My guess is that the way forward is supporting the Lemov / Relay effort to capture the practices of best teachers, and then to compliment this evolutionary approach with RCTs when feasible.

And move from district operation of schools to non-profit operation of schools (so as to better implement cycles of feedback + creating intensive and insular cultures of performance perfection, as with music academies).

But given our starting point, we’re probably decades away from hitting peak teacher performance at scale.

Which University Departments will Evolve to Incorporate Entrepreneurship?

Over the weekend, I spent some time thinking about this tweet:

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 7.53.23 AM

Last week, I wrote about limiting factors to charter start-ups.

In the comments, Isaac argued that we’ll never get to scale unless universities play a bigger role in education entrepreneurship.

I responded with some skepticism, saying that most university departments aren’t good at fostering this kind of work, and that education departments were probably near the bottom.


Danielle Fong seems to believe that the university model may be changing to include more investing and entrepreneurship.

In certain fields, such as computers and biomedical, this is already partly the case, though I’ve heard that IP issues and cultural norms often get in the way.

But, presumably, there is enough money and prestige at stake to incentivize these universities (and their respective departments) to figure it out.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this is the case with education departments.


That being said, Rick Hess recently had a piece arguing that education departments could be reformed via four strategies: (1) launching campus organizations where junior faculty and grad students can partner to alter the future direction of the school (2) endow faculty chairs and programs in innovative substantive areas (3) create new centers outside of existing graduate programs (4) create new graduate programs.


In the spirit of hope, here’s some potential ideas:

1. Create a center for charter school development that is a co-creation of an education school and a business school. I’d locate it somewhere in the midwest, which has a large amount of charter schools but has struggled with quality. The center’s funding would be contingent on launching three successful charter schools a year. After five years, if the schools weren’t performing, the center would close.

2. Endow a “new school development” chair at a prestigious education school. The requirements for the chair would be: you have to serve a three year appointment; you’ve had to previously been on the management team or board of directors at high-performing CMO; you have to teach one class on the mechanics of launching and scaling charter networks; the funding for the chair is contingent university graduates launching one CMO every year.

3. Create a center for charter school research and design. The center would have a twofold mission: first, if would seek to study existing charter schools to determine which models were most effective; second, it would have an innovation arm that worked on new school design.

4. Go to a university without an education school and create one that is solely focused on educational entrepreneurship: researching it, participating in it, etc. Ideally, narrowing its mission to this core area would keep the department away from much of the low impact research that education schools currently spent time on.


In a world of limited philanthropy, I’m not sure this is where I’d spend my money. But, if I were going to invest in education schools, I might play around with these ideas.

That being said, I have no ideas if these ideas would work. I don’t have a lot of expertise in how to create great university based programs.

Unfortunately, at many education schools, the current bar is so low that it would be difficult to do any worse.