January 21, 2020

Choosing a College is Both Art and Science: An Introduction to “Match and Fit”

Over the coming months, high school seniors across the country will anxiously wait to hear which colleges have accepted them. And after all the hard work of applying comes another tough step: deciding where to go to college. 

How do young people decide where to go to college? Do they pick the most selective school, or do they prioritize the place where their friends are going? Do they stay close to home or get as far away as possible? Big school or small school? Urban or suburban? Public or private? Greek life or geek life

There are countless factors to weigh, which can make the college selection process feel overwhelming, particularly for students from low-income backgrounds and those who are the first in their family to attend college. As counselors, advisers, and mentors to young people, we need to build systems and processes that enable them to make informed postsecondary choices.   

Fortunately there’s a useful framework for considering postsecondary options that’s gaining popularity among high school counselors and frontline staff in college access programs: “match and fit.”

While there is no standard definition, practitioners generally agree on the following working definitions: 

  • Match: The degree to which a student’s academic credentials align with the selectivity of the college or university in which they enroll. Match encompasses the quantitative elements of choosing a postsecondary option; it is more science than art.   
  • Fit: A more nebulous concept that refers to how well a prospective student might mesh with an institution once on campus: socially, emotionally, financially, and otherwise. Fit encompasses the qualitative elements of choosing a postsecondary option; it is more art than science. 

Together, these concepts enable students, families, and college counselors to share a common language when talking about college. A student may technically “match” to a particular institution based on their academic credentials, but then decide that school is not a great “fit” given their desires and interests. Conversely, a student might have their heart set on a college — it may seem like a perfect “fit” — but it may turn out to be a poor “match” when the student’s GPA and test scores are considered.  

Importantly, these concepts can be used to support equity in access for underserved students. Here’s how: Continue reading


January 15, 2020

Summer Camp Offers Numerous Scholarships to Low-Income Campers: A Q&A With Galileo Learning’s Glen Tripp

Oakland, California-based Galileo Learning offers engaging and high-quality Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) summer programming for students in the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, and Chicago. Their programs aim to foster lifelong innovators through project-based learning and exploration. 

Galileo has a high bar for quality: they select top-notch instructors, have low student-staff ratios, and invest in extensive curriculum development. This unwavering commitment to excellence means the programs typically cost about 25% more than city-operated summer programs.

But Galileo has a deeply held belief that all students should have the opportunity to become innovators, so in their model, families paying the full cost of camp tuition subsidize the attendance of those who cannot afford the program. With 10% of their students receiving scholarships, Galileo came to Bellwether in 2016 and asked the question: how can we increase the number of low-income students we serve? 

When my colleagues Lina Bankert, Genny Orr, and I arrived at their Oakland headquarters, we found ourselves walking into an innovation zone. Right inside the front door, staff worked on prototypes of machines students would build the next summer at camp. The open-concept office was spacious, fostering collaboration and community. Glen Tripp, Galileo’s CEO, invited us to attend their all-staff meeting, where we witnessed humor and laughter, support and care for one another, and unbounded energy. 

Over the next several months, we developed a three-pronged strategy to help Galileo achieve its impact goals: 1) increase scholarships to attend Galileo camps, 2) build strategic partnerships to extend Galileo’s approach to new educational settings, and 3) leverage the existing corps of teachers to infuse innovation thinking into more classrooms.

As of 2019, Galileo has increased the percentage of students receiving scholarships from 10% to 15% and is on track to provide scholarships to 22% of campers in 2020, equaling about 20,000 kids. I spoke with CEO Glen Tripp to understand more about Galileo’s model and how they were able to accomplish these impressive numbers.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What motivated you to set an ambitious scholarship goal?  

Galileo’s mission is to develop innovators who envision and create a better world, and we believe that impact should belong to all kids. Finding fulfilling work in the future will require innovation skills, and our educational systems are not set up to deliver them. While many are understandably trying to close the math and reading achievement gaps, a new “innovation achievement gap” has emerged, and Galileo wants to combat this.

Initially we set a goal of awarding scholarships to 10% of our students. In 2019, we made it to 15% and in 2020 we are targeting 22%. That means that 20,000 students will receive partial to full scholarships in 2020, with very little foundation or public funding involved.  Continue reading


January 14, 2020

Five Ways District Central Offices Need to Shift to Oversee Autonomous Schools

As my colleague Tresha Ward and I have been writing about for a few months, districts are increasingly experimenting with launching district autonomous schools. But central offices were typically designed to offer consistent support — and autonomous schools need customization on a wide variety of issues.

Autonomous schools may leverage existing district infrastructure for facilities, finance, and procurement, and their staff may remain on the district payroll, but they also require differentiated support from central office staff. They might run a different academic calendar, leading to different student transportation needs. They may need alternate instructional materials or other resources that require new vendors. They may want to share staff across campuses or create a new role with a different title and/or compensation level. In other words, leaders of autonomous schools may need to ask several district departments to make exceptions for them.

Image via Christian Schnettelker, manoftaste.de

Shifting central office support as a whole is daunting. However, districts can support the unique needs of autonomous schools without a full redesign of systems and processes. In the short term, a district central office can take five fairly straightforward actions to better support autonomous schools:

Empower a central office leader

Designate a senior leader at the cabinet level to help autonomous school leaders navigate the central office. This senior leader must have the authority to negotiate with functional leaders in the district (like the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction or the Chief Operating Officer) to get exceptions approved around things like staffing, school calendar, and training. Continue reading


January 10, 2020

Media: “The 2010s May Be The Best Decade Ever in Terms of College Attainment” in The 74

I have a new piece out in The 74 this week on some good news in the education world:

College attainment rates rose just 1 or 2 percentage points per decade for the first half of the 20th century and only began to pick up in the 1970s. Although the most recent data only go through 2018, the 2010s have already seen a gain of 5.1 percentage points, more than the gains in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. If the 2010s ended anything like the decade began, it will easily be the best decade we’ve ever seen in terms of college attainment.

We just went through a decade of stagnant achievement scores, and ideally we’d see improvements in both achievement and attainment. Still, I argue it’s worth celebrating the attainment gains given their link to improved life outcomes for students.

Read the full piece here.


January 9, 2020

Stop Saying “At Least We’re Not Mississippi”: A Q&A With Rachel Canter of Mississippi First

There’s a tired trope in Southern states: “At least we’re not Mississippi.” The implication is that while one’s state may be underperforming on some measure — poverty, rates of uninsured, education outcomes, etc. — Mississippi can always be counted on to look worse. 

Having grown up, taught school, and worked in education policy across the South my whole life (but not in Mississippi), I’ve heard this statement plenty. I heard it as recently as this fall at a conference, leveled by a national thought leader who ought to know better. 

Last spring, Bellwether released “Education in the American South,” a data-filled report which highlighted, among other things, how the national education reform conversation has largely bypassed the South — a conclusion bolstered by the persistence of this Mississippi myth.

Here’s the thing: While many of us look down our noses, Mississippi has been working hard — and it’s been paying off. In the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores, Mississippi was the only state to see improvements in reading and had the biggest gains in fourth-grade reading and math. Mississippi’s gains have been nearly continuous over the last 16 years and mostly unmatched in the region.

To dig more deeply into what’s gone right in Mississippi, I talked to Rachel Canter, longtime Mississippian and co-founder and Executive Director of Mississippi First, an education policy, research, and advocacy nonprofit working to ensure that every Mississippi student has access to excellent schools.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The most recent NAEP results highlight the progress schools and students in MIssissippi have made, but 2019 isn’t the beginning of this story. When did the tide start to turn and why? Continue reading