Author Archives: Jason Weeby

What DeVos Could Be Saying About Education Innovation (But Isn’t)

Last week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addressed the attendees of the ASU-GSV Summit, an education technology conference attended by many system leaders, funders, and entrepreneurs. By most accounts, the pre-written remarks were tightly controlled, and the session didn’t allow for real questions about her vision for education innovation. (Here’s the video of her session and a rundown of the scene via EdSurge.)

This week, education leaders from across the country convene at the NewSchools Venture Fund Summit. DeVos isn’t slated to speak. And as Matt Barnum notes, “Notably, there’s not much about Trump, DeVos, or private school vouchers on the NSVF agenda, suggesting that the conference may steer clear of the topic — at least officially.”

These two major events could have been DeVos’ best opportunity to chart a course for the federal government’s role in education innovation in front of forward-thinking education professionals.

Not only does it seem that her ship has sailed, DeVos has confirmed that her view of K-12 innovation consists mainly of charters, vouchers, ed-tech, and deregulation. Reasonable people can debate whether these policies have merit, but they certainly don’t qualify as a serious education innovation agenda.

As I’ve written before, a serious education innovation agenda would invest federal funds in rigorous research and development (R&D), incentivize states to spur activities that accelerate innovation, and use the federal bully pulpit to spotlight achievement gaps and chronically failing systems. Without innovation-specific conditions and activities that drive continuous creation, the sector won’t be able to improve at a rate of change commensurate to the challenges it faces.

Here are some things DeVos can implement at the federal level to make the U.S. Department of Education an innovation machine: Continue reading

Veterans in Education Organizations May be Overlooked, Isolated

Photo by Ian Koski.

Photo by Ian Koski.

Today is Veterans Day and an opportunity to express our gratitude for those who have served in a military conflict. More importantly, it’s a time to consider if education leaders and their organizations are doing enough to hire and support veterans.

So we decided to dig into data generated by Bellwether’s Talent Ready Diagnostic (TRD), a proprietary framework that we use collaboratively with organizations to assess their “talent readiness” along 16 key talent dimensions including core values, leadership, culture, diversity, equity and inclusion, competencies, talent acquisition, on-boarding, performance development, career development, total rewards, decision making, communications, and work/life mix. The results provide us with a window into how “talent ready” an organization is — that is that degree to which they are innovative, effectively managed, great places to work that generate sustainable results and have durable, authentic relationships with the communities they serve. Importantly, it provides us and our clients with valuable data on the diversity of their employees and whether their employees feel that the work culture is inclusive. Thousands of employees from 36 education organizations across the sector, including 14 nonprofits, 13 CMOs, and 9 districts, have submitted responses.

We wanted to see if we could get a picture of the sentiments expressed by education organization employees who identify as military veterans. Our data set is small, so all the requisite interpretation caveats apply, but clear themes emerged.

What we found is discouraging.

Overall, there are incredibly few areas where the veteran group reports more positive perceptions of talent dimensions than the non-veteran group, suggesting that the identities and experiences of veterans may be isolated or overlooked.

Here are some concrete findings: Continue reading

Reactions to the U.S. Education Innovation Index

One of the main goals of creating and publishing the U.S. Education Innovation Index Prototype and Report was to stimulate evidence-based conversations about innovation in the education sector and push the field to consider more sophisticated tools, methods, and practices. Since its release three weeks ago at the Digital Promise Innovation Clusters convening in Providence, the index has been met with an overwhelmingly positive reception.

I’m grateful for the many fruitful one-on-one conversations that have pushed my thinking, raised interesting questions, and provoked new ideas.

Here are a few takeaways on the report itself:

People love radar charts. And I’m one of those people. In the case of the innovation index, radar charts were a logical choice for visualizing nine dimensions and a total score. Here they are again in all their glory.

City Comparisons

Readers weren’t always clear on the intended audience or purpose. This concern came up often and hit close to home as someone who strives to produce work that is trusted, relevant, timely, and useful. One of the benefits of the prototype is that we can test the tool’s utility before expanding the scope of the project to more cities or an even more complicated theoretical framework. So far the primary audience for the index funders, policy makers, superintendents, education leaders, and city leaders have demonstrated interest in learning more about the thinking behind the index and how it can be applied to their work. Ultimately I hope it will influence high-stakes funding, policy, and strategic decisions.

The multidimensionality of innovation challenges assumptions. When I explain that we measured the innovativeness of education sectors in four cities New Orleans, San Francisco, Indianapolis, and Kansas City, MO inevitably, the next question I get is “how do they rank?” Instead of answering, I ask my conversant for his/her rankings. I’ve had this exchange dozens of times, and in almost every case, New Orleans topped the list because of the unique charter school environment. When I then explain that the index was sector agnostic it doesn’t give preference to charter, district, or private schools people immediately reconsider and put San Francisco in the number one slot. What this tells me is that many people associate innovation with one approach rather than treating it as the multidimensional concept that it is. This misperception has real policy and practice implications, and I hope the index provides nuance to the thinking of decision makers.

Dynamism” and “district deviance” are intriguing but need more research. Two of the measures that I’m most excited about are also ones that have invited scrutiny and criticism: dynamism and district deviance. Dynamism is the entry and exit of schools, nonprofits, and businesses from a city’s education landscape. Too much dynamism can destabilize communities and economies. Too little can keep underperforming organizations operating at the expense of new and potentially better ones. In the private sector, healthy turnover rates are between five and 20 percent, depending on the industry. We don’t know what that number is for education yet, but it’s likely on the low end of the range. More research is needed. Our district deviance measure assumes that districts that spend their money differently compared to their peers and are trying new things, which is good. It’s a novel approach, but its accuracy is vulnerable if the assumptions don’t pan out. Again more research is needed.

Measure more cities! Everyone wants to see more cities measured with the index for one of two reasons. The first is that they want to know how their city is doing on our nine dimensions. The second is that they want to compare cities to each other. Both make my heart sing. Knowing how a specific city measures up is the first step to improving it. Knowing how it compares to others is the first step to facilitate knowledge transfer and innovation diffusion.
Continue reading

What a Cluster! Dispatch from #EdClusters16

WaterFire - Providence, RI

via http://waterfire.org/

Last week, Digital Promise, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating innovation in education, hosted its fourth convening of Education Innovation Clusters in Providence, Rhode Island (#EdClusters16).

According to Digital Promise, “Education Innovation Clusters are local communities of practice that bring together educators, entrepreneurs, funders, researchers, and other community stakeholders (families, local government, non-profits) to support innovative teaching and learning in their region. By working together, these partners form a network that is uniquely positioned to design, launch, iterate on, and disseminate breakthrough learning practices and tools.”

The goal of the convening was to share best practices and address common challenges among clusters. One of those challenges is research and measurement of innovation efforts so I was there to share our recently released U.S. Education Innovation Index Prototype and Report (USEII).

I gave the whole presentation with my eyes closed (false) & there was more than one person listening (true!). Photo credit: @johnbaldo.

I was thrilled to be invited because there are only a handful of people in the education sector who are diligently working to push the envelope of schools. This group of entrepreneurs, funders, school leaders, and accelerator leaders were refreshingly aware of the current everyday realities of students, teachers, and principals, but thinking five to ten years into the future.

There was another reason that I was excited about joining this convening. Clusters are prototypical innovation-supporting institutions, structures that specifically aim to increase and improve innovation activities. The clusters facilitate social connections, help practitioners solve problems, and serve as hubs for the diffusion of new ideas. Because of this research-backed lesson, cities that are part of one of Digital Promise’s innovation clusters score higher on the USEII than those that don’t. Convenings of cluster leaders like this one create a superstructure for the diffusion of knowledge within and between clusters. It’s one thing to research networks like this, it’s quite another to be swept up in the debate, discussion, and energy for education innovation.

Here are a few observations on the convening and what it signals for education innovation: Continue reading

Red Herring in the Evergreen State: Adult Special Interests Try Blocking Progress (Again)

Red Herring

via havokjournal.com

What if I told you that there was a method for improving urban schools that, when done well, can close the achievement gap between low-income students of color and their white, wealthier peers? That, when instituted citywide, it can result in the most improved urban district in history? That there are reams of academic research to learn from, dozens of successes to replicate, and clear pitfalls to avoid?

If you’re a small group of parents backed by the Washington Education Association, you file a lawsuit to keep it from happening.

I’m talking about charter schools, of course, and the latest attempt to prevent Washington’s families from having the choice to send their children to a free public school other than their traditional district school.

If you aren’t following along, Washington’s legislature passed a charter school law by voter referendum in 2012 only for it to be ruled unconstitutional last year due to an arcane definition of what’s considered a public school. A new law with a different funding source passed in April.

Kim Mead, the president of the Washington Education Association, frames the effort to block charter schools this way: “Instead of passing unconstitutional charter school laws, we believe the Legislature should focus on its paramount duty — fully funding K-12 basic education for all of our state’s 1.1 million students, no matter where they live.”

This is a red herring. There’s no doubt that all public schools, charters included, should be funded fully and equitably. But it deflects from the fact that the legislature has already passed the law. Mead’s red herring is also a clever way to avoid saying that eight schools in five cities should close their doors to hundreds of families who sought alternatives to their traditional public schools.

The move to block Washington’s charter law is a prime example of special (adult) interests throttling a promising model for improving the educational outcomes for students who need the most help. Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and Washington State resident, said it best:

The arguments against public charter schools in our state are based on fear-mongering, not facts, and are out of step with the rest of the country. Public charter schools are no panacea, nor are they a replacement for the many amazing public schools we have today, including those that my kids attend. But shame on all of us if we let misinformation and interest-group politics shut the door on new hope and opportunity for the kids who need it most.

Washington is a latecomer to the charter school movement— 42 other states and DC have charter laws on the books — but because of this, the state’s leaders also have 25 years of lessons at their disposal to build a top notch system. It could be a magnificent opportunity to give options to students stuck in failing schools, if only a small group of adults would get out of the way.

[Corrected 8/11/16: The original post indicated that the new law had more stringent regulations instead of a different funding source. It also indicated that the new law is fully constitutional. While it hasn’t been ruled UNconstitutional, no court has yet ruled either way. Both have been corrected.]