The City Fund team wrote a letter on racial injustice last week and shared with our city partners.
Wanted to link to it on the blog as well.
The City Fund team wrote a letter on racial injustice last week and shared with our city partners.
Wanted to link to it on the blog as well.
Reduced travel means a bit more time for blogging.
A few things I’ve been mulling over.
I’m not an expert in these areas and have low confidence in my opinions, but thought I’d share in case they are issues you think about too.
The Importance of Geoengineering
The vast majority of existential threats, save for pandemics and AI, involve harming the atmosphere.
Climate change will make the earth very warm, and a host of other threats will make the earth too cold: nuclear war, super volcanoes, and asteroids will all cause dust induced long winters.
Our ability to be able to geoengineer, will, at some point, be very important to our future.
We should of course use a bunch of other tools to fight against these threats, but geoengineering is unique in how many threats it could potentially ameliorate.
We would never want to use it unless we had to, but if we had to use it, best to be prepared with a well thought out approach.
Cuddly vs. Cutthroat Welfare States
Lane Kenworthy has a great new book arguing that we should adopt Denmark’s welfare state. He makes a compelling case.
The best argument against adopting Denmark’s welfare state is that it will reduce innovation, which will end up costing more lives than a welfare state would help. In other words, Denmark is free riding on our innovation.
Kenworthy looks at Denmark’s productivity before and after adopting its welfare state and sees little reason for concern. However, to the extent their productivity is built off our innovations, this could be a false data point.
I think I’m on Kenworthy’s side, but it’s a very complicated issue that is very hard to test empirically.
My mom is 74 years old. Next year will be her last year as a professor at Valparaiso University.
She just gave a speech to much of the freshman class at Valparaiso University. It was an honor that she was asked. And it was a great opportunity to share decades of earned wisdom.
Her speech was on cultivating empathy through the narrative arts.
I agree with her that globalization and technology require us to expand our circle of empathy beyond the family, the tribe, and the state – to people who live in far away lands, speak different languages, and see the world in completely different ways.
My favorite part of her speech was when she described studying British literature as undergraduate student in India.
At the time, studying British literature was higher status than studying Indian literature. So she read the British cannon, which is dominated by white men.
From My Mother’s Speech
“I grew up in post-colonial India. The British left India in 1947, but they continued to control the minds of many of us in formidable ways. The term for this is mental colonization. Not a good thing.
But I must admit that I have very mixed feelings about this mental colonization that I experienced, chiefly because this mental colonization helped me to cultivate my empathy through reading narratives of the other. Let me explain.
So, here I was, reading about dancing daffodils that fill the landscape in Wordsworth’s poem of that name, without having seen any daffodils. To feel the joy of Wordsworth at the dancing of daffodils in spring I had to exercise my imagination. Of course, this went beyond flowers and leaves. I had to learn to experience the reality of the characters in Shakespeare, in Dickens and Thackery, and whatever I studied in my courses … this helped me to develop empathy. “
There is so much nuance and complexity in this reflection. To have mixed feelings about your oppressor means you have the power to see them as humans; that you are not consumed by outrage.
If you feel their poetry about their native flowers, you have kept your own humanity in seeing theirs.
My mother also talked about my deceased father in her speech:
“One of my favorite courses I have taught here was one team taught with my late husband who was an Africanist. It focused on African politics and literature. We called it the African Experience, by adding literature, it qualified as an experience. Something similar remains my endeavor in all I teach. I want to push my students to walk in the shoes of Indian, Chinese, African American, and Caribbean characters.”
My father played a unique role in the mostly white town where we grew up. He was a black academic who was connected to the university elites in our city. In Valparaiso, Indiana, most African-Americans in the town were middle class or poor.
Through my father, others were able to access power. He was the connection between Valparaiso’ mostly white university and its only black church.
In 2006, my dad received Martin Luther King, Jr. Day award recipient for his work on race relations at Valparaiso University.
One of his colleagues noted: “Much of what he did early on laid the groundwork for where we are with diversity issues today.”
As I think about the next couple decades of my life, I hope I can live out both of these lessons.
It is so important to strive to see the humanity in others and to expand who has access to power.
In their own ways, both my parents were able to do this in the town where we grew up. And at the university they called home for decades.
Tulane researchers have a new paper that attempts to determine the causal mechanism for New Orleans school improvements.
A similar paper was written by Harvard researchers on the Newark reforms.
Both papers tried to answer the question: did things get better because schools opened and closed, or because existing schools improved?
Both papers come to the same conclusion: opening and closing schools is driving the gains in student learning (as measured by test scores).
The Tulane report came to a particularly strong conclusion. The authors write:
“The average school improved from the first to the second year after it opened, but school performance remained mostly flat afterwards… aside from the improvement when schools first opened, essentially all of the improvement in New Orleans’ average test scores has been due to the state regularly closing or taking over low-performing schools and opening new higher performing charters.”
The below graphic captures this finding in visual form:
The authors end their study with a strategic recommendation and warning:
“The fact that newly opened schools continue to be better than those closed and taken over also suggests that the extreme measure of replacing school operators also still has some potential to generate further gains. At some point, the benefits from this strategy are likely to run out, but it does not appear that we have reached that limit yet.”
New Orleans has had strong government regulation over the past decade. For the most part, the best schools expanded and the government closed or transformed the worst schools.
It is an open question whether this good regulation can persist in New Orleans, or if it can be consistently scaled to other cities.
Of course, strong regulation is not the only way to shift enrollment to higher-performing schools.
A city could also simply let family choose amongst all schools and wait for lower-performing schools to fold under enrollment pressures. This process will be parent driven and likely slower.
Every city will need to figure out its own path when it comes to balancing top down accountability and bottoms up family choice.
Personally, I favor a combination of both. Let government have the ability to selectively transform the lowest performing schools in a city, and let families choose from a wide array of schools.
Rand just release the initial evaluation of de Blasio’s Renewal School program.
The program cost $773 million.
The researchers found that the program did not improve student achievement.
The Renewal program has only been around for three years, so it feels a bit early to tell if it worked or not.
But I think “did it work?” is an important but secondary question to ask with a program like this.
The most important question is: “will it last?”
Even if the program had it gotten results, I’m skeptical that the program would have lasted.
The Renewal program had two major things going against it’s sustainability.
First, the program was deeply tied to de Blasio and the previous superintendent, Carmen Farina.
Second, there were no governance or legal protections for the program.
Taken together, this meant that the next mayor / superintendent would likely replace this initiative with their pet initiative.
This already had started to happen a year ago. When Farina stepped, the new superintendent, Richard Carranza, said the idea behind the Renewal program was “fuzzy.”
I viewed this as code for “it’s not my signature project.”
Admittedly, even I’m a bit surprised at how quickly the Renewal program collapsed. I thought it would at least live through the de Blasio administration.
We do live in a democracy (thankfully), so no government funded program, even if it works, is guaranteed to last forever.
But I would not have spent $773 million dollars on program that could be so easily undone.
I am such a deep believer in non-profit governance because it greatly increases the chance that something great can last.
In New Orleans, since the outset of the reforms, we’ve had three mayors and five superintendents.
And the work continues.
7 years ago, Diane Ravitch wrote a blog post called “A Challenge to KIPP.”
In the piece, Diane accuses KIPP of cherry picking students and challenges them to serve an entire district.
When I gave my lecture, I chastised KIPP for encouraging the public perception that all charter schools are better than all public schools and for failing to denounce the growing numbers of incompetent, corrupt, and inept charter schools. I talked about the oft-heard complaint that KIPP cherry picks its students and has high attrition, which KIPP denies. I challenged KIPP to take over an entire inner city school district that was willing and show what it could do when no one was excluded.
She then makes the point in a more forceful way:
KIPP should find an impoverished district that is so desperate that it is willing to put all its students into KIPP’s care. Take them all: the children with disabilities, the children who don’t speak English, the children who are homeless, the children just released from the juvenile justice system, the children who are angry and apathetic, and everyone else. No dumping. No selection. No cherry picking. Show us what you can do. Take them all.
This is part of what made New Orleans so important. KIPP didn’t grow to serve every kid in the city (which I don’t think would have been good, different kids thrive in different environments).
But charters did grow to serve every student in the city. And the last 20% of kids reached were harder to educate than the first 20% of kids reached.
But now, to use Diane’s words, charter schools in New Orleans “take them all.”
And they do it better than ever before.
Public charter schools in New Orleans have evolved to offer amazing programs for students with severe special needs. They also serve students in tough life circumstances, like teen mothers and those with extreme mental health and behavior diseases. None of these programs are perfect, but they are so much better than what New Orleans offered these students before, and some of these programs are on the path to be national exemplars.
And what about the results?
So is Diane Ravitch now saying: “New Orleans answered my challenge to KIPP. Charters enrolled all students and increased educational opportunity. I’m curious to learn more about how they did that. And I wonder if it could work in other cities?”
Of course not.
Unfortunately, with so many charter critics, the goalposts just continue to move.
But for the rest of us, we can keep the goalposts in place.
We can learn from successes like New Orleans, and we can try to figure out what’s scalable and what is not.
Check out this 74 Million interview with me and two other City Fund partners to get some updates on our work.
Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo and Kevin Shafer, who both joined our team over the summer, provide some great context on their past work in Indianapolis (Kameelah) and Camden (Kevin).
I really value how much earned wisdom our partners have. Kameelah and Kevin were incredible local leaders in their own communities, and it’s great that they can now support other leaders trying to make change.
In the interview, we also give updates on how much money we have raised and which cities we’ve made initial grants to.
We will continue to be fully transparent about where our money comes from and where it goes. We are a charitable institution with significant resources and we want our work to be understood and scrutinized.
We also want to be transparent because we’re big believers in this effort. We think that a few cities have made significant and sustained gains for children. And we’re excited to work on a philanthropic effort that helps see if these strategies can work in select group of other cities across the country.
If it works, a dozen or so cities will have shown that there might be a better way to do public education in cities. That will be amazing for children.
If it doesn’t work, we’ll understand that what worked in a few cities is simply not scalable.
The only way to find out is to do the work.
Managing people didn’t come naturally to me. I struggled early on. I eventually became competent at it. But it’s not something I’m exceptional at.
I now work in a partnership. We don’t use a traditional hierarchical management structure, but I still have management duties. And I try to do them well.
The Best Managers of People I Know
I’m close friends with two exceptional managers of people. If the United States somehow created an accurate national ranking of managers, I’d be shocked if they were not in the top .1%.
So I listen to them when they talk about managing people. And when I’m struggling with something, I often reach out to them. Both have a knack of telling me truth I wasn’t willing to tell myself because it would cause pain.
These two people strongly disagree on the role of praise. I don’t know who I agree with.
Praise as a Signal
One of my friends strongly believes that praise is one of the most effective ways to incentivize mission aligned behavior.
According to this friend, if a manager knows what behaviors will lead to team success (and they should), then the manager should praise those behaviors whenever she sees it. And she should attempt to build a culture where others do this to.
The psychology behind this is fairly simple: people want to be praised, so if you praise people for something, they will do more of it.
My friend believes praise is one of the best reenforcement mechanisms a manager can use – and that it should be used frequently, at least weekly.
Praise as Sugar
Another friend says praise is like sugar: it gives you a quick dopamine hit, then you want more of it, and the more you get the you need to get high again.
According to this friend, a manager should try to create a culture where people are constantly trying to figure out what it will take for the organization to succeed, and then they do these things because they deeply care about the organization and have an internal desire to be the best version of themselves.
This friend also believes that praise gets the incentives all wrong. Because a manager can easily be fooled, if team members are just seeking out praise, they may act in ways that gets praise from the manager but is not actually in the best interest of the organization.
The psychology here is simple: people should have a deep ownership of the organization’s mission and their own personal self-actualization, and external praise short circuits this ownership.
When Brilliant People Disagree
My two friends are both brilliant managers of people and they disagree on this issue. Whenever two brilliant people disagree, and they are experts on the issue, and they have every incentive to be right on the issue because their mission depends on it…. then my first thought is that it’s a really really hard problem, and my second thought is that the answer might be situation specific and they might both be right.
Operational Clarity vs. Operational Uncertainty
I sometimes wonder if praise is most useful in organization’s with a lot of operational certainty and least useful in organization’s with a lot of operational uncertainty.
In other words, the less the manager actually knows what should be done, the less useful praise is.
If, for example, you’re managing a team to create a strategy for a complicated product launch, you probably don’t know what the right answer is for everyone on your team. If you give a lot praise, you could very well praise bad ineffective actions.
If, on the other hand, you’re managing 1,000 people to do the exact same job, and this is the third year in a row these people have executed on this task, you probably know exactly what you want to see. So it’s probably pretty easy to praise a good performance.
I’m not sure that this distinction matters for using praise, but I think it might.
Should Leaders Give Praise?
I don’t really know where I land on this.
My guess is that I significantly praise each person I work with 3-5 times a year.
I think my model for this is:
(1) I do want people to know when I think they did something pretty amazing, both because I care deeply about them and I want to signal that those types of accomplishments will help us succeed for children; and
(2) I do kind of think praise is like sugar, so I don’t do it too much.
Perhaps I’m trying to have my cake and it eat it too. I’m not sure.
One last thought: I sometimes think people confuse praise with care. I think it’s very important for leaders and colleagues to care for one each other. Care is the foundation for trust and trust is the foundation for good conflict. Also, life is short, and it’s better lived by surrounding yourself with people who care about you and who you care about.
But praise isn’t the only way to show care. It’s probably not in the top five. I would rather work for someone who cares deeply but praises sparingly rather than someone who praises effusively but cares shallowly.
While there are amazing public schools across the country, few cities have been able to increase educational opportunity for all children.
Over the past fifteen years, this has begun to change. Denver, Washington D.C., and New Orleans have made their entire public education systems better. Other cities, like Indianapolis and Camden, have taken these breakthroughs, tailored them to their local contexts, and seen promising early results. Because of this work, hundreds of thousands of children have benefited from a better public education. These students are more prepared than ever to further their education, get good jobs, and lead lives filled with opportunity. We are now creating a new non-profit organization, The City Fund, to expand on this work.
Previously, several of us operated within a dual structure supporting the education giving for both the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Hastings Fund. We are in the process of changing this structure and have added new team members to create The City Fund. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Hastings Fund will continue their support of the work as anchor funders.
The new organization includes leaders from Education Cities, as well as expert practitioners from the state, district, charter and non-profit sectors. This new team will help us provide better support to local leaders. We are just getting started and will have a website up in short order, but now that our team is hired, we wanted to share the news.
All of us are united by a common perspective. First, right now, too many students do not have access to a great public school. Second, we believe this can change.
We share this belief because we have seen better schools improve the lives of families in all of our respective work. We’ve seen awesome teachers inspire children to build the knowledge, skills, and values needed to make the world a better place. We’ve seen world class public schools provide rich educational experiences to all their students, regardless of race or economic circumstances.
Our nation’s education system is a complicated patchwork of thousands of local school districts. Improvements will not happen overnight, nor should they.
Rather, cities across the country are constantly innovating, and when a few cities do something that seems to be working, philanthropy can help shine a light on these local successes. If other cities are interested, philanthropy can help test these breakthroughs at a little larger scale.
The cities we have supported have made things better in their own way, but several commonalities stand out: each city increased the number of public schools that are governed by non-profit organizations; each city created an easy to use enrollment system that helps families find a great public school for their children; and each city provides families with transparent information about public school quality. We believe these strategies hold promise.
While we are optimistic that the work we’re supporting will succeed at the next level of scale, much more work, innovation, and research is needed. Over the coming years, we’ll continue to support a small set of local education leaders. We’ll also work with university researchers to study these local efforts. If cities show progress, we hope other cities will follow. If they don’t, we hope other promising innovations are able to scale, so that all students can have access to amazing public schools.
Chip and Dan Heath are brothers and co-authors. Chip teaches at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Dan teaches at Duke.
The most recent book is called The Power of Moments.
The book opens with a story. The story begins with Chris Barbic (a friend and a colleague) and Donald Kamentz sitting in a bar after another long day in the founding of YES Prep, a charter school network serving low income students in Houston. They were watching ESPN’s coverage of “senior signing day” – the event where star high school athletes announce where they’ll be attending college.
Chris and Donald believed what their students were accomplishing was every bit as impressive as what these star college athletes had accomplished.
So a few months later (charter schools founder work quickly), Yes Prep held it’s first senior signing day. Each senior took the stage and announced where he or she would attend college in the fall, dropping a t-shirt or pennant with their chosen school’s mascot. Leading up to the day, students kept their final school decision a secret from friends. After each announcement, the room erupted with applause. Everyone cried, and a tradition was born.
You can watch a YES Prep senior signing day highlight reel here:
Soon other schools charter school began to hear about YES Prep’s amazing event. If YES Prep could create an amazing moment to celebrate their students, why couldn’t other schools do the same?
So steal they did.
Here’s Achievement First’s signing day (grab a tissue).
Here’s IDEA’s signing day video (grab some more tissues):
Then, in New Orleans, Josh McCarty, a friend and colleague of mine at New Schools for New Orleans, stole the idea for the whole city, and, I believe, we had the country’s first citywide signing day.
But we were soon out scooped, with senior signing day going to another (national) level: Michelle Obama made college signing day a signature part of her Reach Higher campaign. My guess is that Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education under Obama, spread the idea, as he had spoken at YES’ signing day in 2010. In the video below, Michele Obama asks high school seniors to take selfies with their new college gear and tweet it with the hashtag #reachhigher.
Here’s a picture of her and her husband celebrating signing day together:
Charter schools have been an incredible source of innovation for public schools. From Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion to Summit’s personalized learning platform to Achievement First’s open curriculum to Valor’s social learning program – great public charter schools are making all public schools better.
The senior signing day story, which begins in a bar in Houston and goes all the way to the White House, is an amazing example of what happens when you let great educators open new public schools.
Every once in a while, a school opening is the origin of a new national tradition.
So please: go to a senior signing day. And while you’re celebrating incredible students, give a silent thanks to Chris and Donald.