This is one of the more fun blogs I’ve had the honor to write, and it’s dedicated to all of us who are or have been teachers. Teachers tend to never fully be satisfied in the moment that their students are completely learning what they’re teaching…and then there are those beautiful moments when it all comes together. Ms. Xu at KIPP Northeast College Prep, we had such a moment with your student, Kaylor Washington, this week.

Kaylor is a 10th grader with Ms. Xu at KIPP Northeast College Prep, and she and two other high school KIPPsters were with me at Harvard Business School, listening to the KIPP case study and getting a chance to weigh in as well. (Kaylor and her two teammates, Carlos Amaya and Tevin Foster, earned this trip with me because they were nominated by their school leaders as having loads of GANAS, aka hearts of lions!!). Kaylor was raised in New Orleans and came to Houston with her family following Hurricane Katrina. She first came to KIPP Voyage Academy for Girls in 5th grade and is now in her 6th year with us at our Northeast Houston high school on the same campus. After class, we sat down with Professor Kim and several of his students to dig further into the case. The HBS students asked the KIPPsters what they thought of the case, the debates in class, and the case’s ultimate question: should KIPP continue to grow?  The following is Kaylor’s answer, which I asked her to repeat later in the day so I could make sure I wrote it down in her own words:

“As the MBA students were debating the case with the question if KIPP should continue to grow, I was thinking about my AP Biology teacher, Ms. Xu, and what she taught us about exponential and logistical growth. She taught us that when a community first starts, there are no resource limits so the population grows without limits. There comes a time, however, when the population reaches its resource max, and once that happens, the population stabilizes with minor fluctuations. Some of the students today were saying KIPP couldn’t grow because we didn’t have enough space, money, teachers, and other resources. But one resource they failed to interpret was Hope. There are no limitations to Hope because whenever you have the mindset that you can do something and it’s possible, then anything can happen.  Another concept is ΔN/ΔT.  In English this means change over time. If we look at KIPP’s history, there has been a great amount of change in a relatively small amount of time. Because the change is so great, the only resource that should be a determining factor is the drive to increase the change over time. So, KIPP should be able to expand.”

And there you have it :) .  Congrats Gillian, Crystal, Tasha, and the faculty of KIPP Voyage and KIPP Northeast College Prep for being the constant, not the variable, with Kaylor over the past 5.5 years, so when she was in a room with Harvard Business School students, Kaylor stood, Kaylor delivered, and Kaylor most definitely had the final definitive word :) :) :) .  And congrats as well to all of our teachers who teach tens of thousands of Kaylor’s, and despite any doubts you have as you drive home today:  it’s working :) .

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Discovering the Share Fair Nation STEMosphere

Please enjoy this guest blog from Minaz Fazal, our Manager of Innovation in Digital Teaching and Learning. What does it look like when kids and teachers explore learning? 

As an educator, every once in a while you experience an educational “aha” moment. All the best verbs of learning collide at once—exploring, thinking, conceptualizing, growing, challenging, testing, hypothesizing…and just authentic kinesthetic experiences—into one large bang.

And as a 15-year veteran of education, this happened for me last Saturday. Thirty students, 30 teachers, and 4 school leaders from the KIPP Houston Team & Family happily stepped into an educational Disneyland.

The Share Fair Nation STEMosphere re-inspired me to make sure kids “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy” as Ms. Frizzle of the Magic School Bus taught all of us. Much of the best learning happens when your hands are dirty. Kids reimagined towers and bridges, designed ceramic tiles, practiced CPR on an ambulance, explored 3D printing, drove robotic vehicles, tested out the flight simulator, and stargazed in the Planetarium…all at Ridge Point High School in Fort Bend ISD.

And the teachers honed their craft also, exploring flipped instruction, Chromebook apps, Khan Academy, and Augmented Reality. Based on these experiences, the buzz continued as they talked about integrating more discovery-based learning in the classroom, planning a school-wide STEM Day, flipping their classrooms, and using tools like Google Apps for Education and Khan Academy progress trackers.

Even our school leaders felt like the day reset their educational mindsets. Susan Shenker, KIPP Intrepid Preparatory’s School Leader noted, “Kids need time in the instructional day for exploratory learning and to show their skills.” She said she  spent the rest of the weekend brainstorming how to add a new level of creative problem solving and exploration into the school.

When I asked one of the students what she would tell her teammates who didn’t get to join us, she quickly quipped, “You really missed out.”

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The Importance of Character in Schools

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the value and role of character education in schools on LinkedIn. Read more here and below. If my thoughts resonate with your experiences, feel free to share it through LinkedIn.

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, writer Anna North asked if character, or what she calls “personality,” should be taught in schools. She sets up character and academics as an either-or proposition, but I know from 20 years of working in K-12 education that it’s not. At KIPP, the public charter school network that I co-founded with Dave Levin in 1994, character-building and academics go hand-in-hand. We believe our students need both rigorous academics and a strong character foundation to excel in college and in life.

Character has been woven into the fabric of the KIPP model from the very beginning – we observed and learned from master teachers that character is part of any successful classroom. KIPP educators integrate character strengths like grit, self-control, and social intelligence into the classroom and the entire school culture as tools to empower students to succeed. These strengths have been identified by leading psychologists Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania as key indicators of student success and happiness.

We’ve seen that parents want their students to learn more than just academic knowledge in school. The typical parent of a KIPP student spends a great deal of time outside of the classroom working for the betterment of his/her children, helping them grow the character strengths they need to succeed in life. As educators, we believe that this character development work should be woven seamlessly into the classroom and parents and teachers are partners in this effort. While KIPP’s character development is grounded in psychology, this work is not a psychology experiment. It’s geared toward real life. We firmly believe that empowering students not to give up and to work with a team will prepare them for college, life, and a choice-driven future; a future that includes college and preparation for a working world that values strong character and judgment.

We’ve heard the argument that KIPP’s approach to teaching character is devoid of any morality. To that, I say: our motto is “Work Hard. Be Nice,” not “Work Hard. Work Harder.” Each day I see teachers and students working together, displaying and developing these character strengths as they work to better understand them both in and out of the classroom. Ms. North’s column quotes KIPP NYC teacher Leyla Bravo-Willey, who recently wrote in a New Republic op-ed, “When I talk to my students about character, it’s not abstract. It’s personal…I’m always conscious that I’m leading by example, showing them what grit and optimism look like in real life.” Leyla, like many teachers across the KIPP network, is modeling strong character for students and leading by example. As James Baldwin so poignantly said, “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they never fail to imitate them.”

Preparing our students to climb the mountain to and through college to have options in life is our main goal, but it’s not our only goal. Many of our students are not only climbing the mountain to and through college, but they’re reaching back down as well to help future generations of students. We’re seeing that most vividly in KIPP classrooms, where our alumni are coming back to teach the next generation. At KIPP in Houston, where our work all started and we have students old enough to have completed college nearly a decade ago, 5 percent of our teachers are former KIPP students.

When I think of how we hope KIPP’s character development plays out in the future, I think of KIPP Houston first grade teacher Diana Castillo. Diana and her family emigrated from Mexico when she was just three years-old and struggled to make ends meet for years. Flash forward to 1997. I was in Houston, recruiting students and parents to grow the first KIPP school in the country. Diana’s door was one of the ones on which I knocked. I promised Diana and her family that she could make it to and through college by working hard and being nice. Diana took me up on that promise, joining us as a student at KIPP, and then working her way to Cornell University before joining Teach for America. Today, she teaches first grade at KIPP Dream Prep in Houston.

Last year, she was awarded a Kinder Foundation Excellence in Teaching Award in recognition of her outstanding work as a teacher. She not only models the KIPP character strengths of grit, zest, optimism, and gratitude, but she is working to help a new generation of KIPPsters develop those same strengths so that they can follow in her footsteps to college and the world beyond.

Character development is not a novelty or a trend—it’s a real-world need that has always been in high demand. Students demand it, parents demand it, and the workplace demands it. Asking whether character should be taught in school or at home sets up a false choice. We need to think about how schools and families can work together to ensure young people have resiliency to reach their potential in their chosen careers with a generosity of spirit to help build a better tomorrow.

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Responding to the global need for educational equity

As co-founders of The One World Network of Schools, Aaron Brenner and I recently had the opportunity to share our thoughts with the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation on how our work in the US helps children around the globe.

Read below or click here to read our thoughts on Responding to the Global Need for Educational Equity directly on the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation blog.

What do parents around the globe want for their children? More and more, we’re learning that they’re united in their desire for their kids to receive a quality education.  While we knew that families in the U.S. wanted great teachers, strong leaders, and a clear pathway to and through college, we were surprised that parents in other countries also yearned for that kind of education. We learned that there was a need for educational equity not only here in the U.S., but also abroad.

With this new understanding, we used the knowledge we had gained from our work with KIPP in the U.S., and we began thinking about how it could apply to places such as Israel, Japan, India, South Africa, and Chile. In all these countries, children in at-risk communities were bored in school, and cut off from knowledge, skill, and character development opportunities. Students dropped out of school at similar rates, and found similarly few opportunities for employment. And their parents were similarly desperate for great education options to help their children shape their own destiny.

Responding to the global need

And so we cofounded The One World Network of Schools, with our colleague Sunita Arora, to bring our learnings from our KIPP work to others around the globe. Today, One World supports highly motivated leaders in six countries around the world—Mexico, Israel, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Chile—to create excellent schools in high-need communities. From the bustling fish markets of Mumbai to the immigrant hub of Haifa to the outskirts of Santiago, One World’s leaders share families’ visions for their children and are working to build schools that meet students’ needs.

Although we’re still in the early stages of our international work, we’ve identified three elements from our work in the U.S. to developing lasting educational models:

  1. Transformational Schools – Getting schools on the ground and delivering on the promises made to parents at those schools.
  2. Leadership Development – Developing leadership at all levels so talented and visionary leaders are prepared to scale excellence far beyond the walls of a single school.
  3. Cross-Pollination – Encouraging collaboration and cross-pollination so the successes of schools and school systems can be shared throughout the country and the world.

An example of our global work

What does this look like in one of our countries of practice? In Mexico, for example, we sought out and developed a handful of courageous leaders willing to do whatever it takes for their students and communities. We supported these leaders in opening their own schools, and then launched a Latin American Leadership Institute to help spread their best practices and prepare the next generation of school leaders. To establish the work of cross-pollination, we recruited and trained a local executive director to lead an emerging Mexican network of One World schools, to help facilitate collaboration among leaders throughout our communities. In all of our partner countries, the path to these three elements has looked similar.

What’s next?

This is just the beginning of what we know will be a long road of hard work in schools around the world. By taking our learnings from our work in the U.S. and applying it to schools in other countries, we are hoping to close the education gap that appears to be a problem shared by other countries outside the U.S.

We are encouraged by the driving force behind our efforts: the families in our communities, united by a common desire for great education. When we see students provided with opportunities through education—those their parents hoped they’d be afforded – we’ll know we’re a “success.”

Parents around the globe are hungry for transformational schools. We’re hard at work planting the seeds that will have to grow and flourish for those parents to see their children’s dreams fulfilled.

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Why College?

Great guest blog today from Richard Barth. Why is it that people who argue college isn’t for all kids have college degrees themselves…..and make sure THEIR children go to college? One Day……

It’s a question I’ve been hearing more and more lately. Over the last few years, Americans have been inundated with news coverage of the high cost of college, and front-page stories of young people graduating with crushing debt in an uncertain job market, living at home and working part-time.

As CEO of KIPP, I travel a lot. Almost everywhere I go these days, people have read these stories. And then they ask me: Why is KIPP so focused on preparing kids for college? What if college isn’t for everyone?

Here’s what I say to them: College may not be for everyone, but every child should be able to go to a school that will prepare them with the knowledge and skills needed for college. A college degree is the most proven engine of freedom that we have, and right now too few students have access to it.

At KIPP, we have 141 public charter schools in 20 states and DC, serving over 50,000 students, with an additional 4,500 alumni in college. Over 85 percent of KIPP students come from low-income backgrounds. Currently, only 10 percent of American students from low-income families are graduating from college by their mid-20s, as compared with over 70 percent of students from high-income families. At KIPP, our alumni are graduating at four times the rate of their peers, and we are working to get that even higher—because we know that a college education can transform our students’ lives.

The opportunity to earn a college degree is crucial for all young Americans, especially those growing up in poverty. Research is clear that college grads have weathered both the recent recession and the subsequent rebound far better than non-college grads. According to a new Pew Center report, US workers with a high school diploma earn just over 60 percent of what college graduates earn.

Reading the Pew Center report, I was struck by the responses from young adults aged 25-32—the Millennials whose post-college struggles we’ve heard so much about. When asked whether they viewed their jobs as a stepping stone to a career, nearly 90 percent of college graduates in this group said yes; meanwhile, among those with a high school diploma or less, nearly half said their work was “just a job to get [them] by.”

And it’s not just about the money, either. Going to and through college opens up experiences and relationships for students, in ways they might not otherwise have access to. At KIPP, we’ve seen that going to college, and graduating from college, can have a transformational impact on a student’s academic pursuits and vision for what they want to do in the world.

In the Pew Center report, almost 9 out of every 10 college grads said that—even with all the money and time invested—their college education was worth it. So, for all the individual stories of struggle that we’ve heard, the very people who are living through the tough times are very clear on whether college matters for them. Yes, they say. It matters a lot.

Demographics should not dictate a child`s destiny. That’s why we believe that every student should have access to a public education that prepares them for college, whether or not they ultimately choose to go. Children growing up in Los Angeles and Chicago and New Orleans and St. Louis and Houston and the Arkansas Delta need equal preparation for success in college and life.

Instead of giving up on college as a goal for underserved students, we should address the challenges that keep them from earning college degrees. We know that the quality of PreK-12 education a child receives plays the biggest role in whether they are prepared to succeed in higher education. But we also need to think beyond PreK-12, and make sure our students are supported once they get to college.

At KIPP, we have learned the hard way that where a student goes to college affects not only their chances of graduating, but also their financial burden. We’ve seen that KIPP alumni are much more likely to finish college if they attend schools with high graduation rates for underserved students. We’ve seen that seemingly expensive schools may actually offer more financial aid, and thus be less costly, than institutions with lower price tags. We’ve seen that kids from low-income communities do better when there are enough other kids on their college campus who come from a similar economic background. And so we have focused on making sure our students and their families really understand that it’s not just about going to college—it’s about going to the right college for them.

At KIPP, we’ve distilled this down into two words: “Match Matters.” We are encouraging our high school juniors to make college wish lists based on data, so that they’re assessing everything that these colleges have to offer. We are working to get fairly scientific in our approach, and we are optimistic that approach will pay off for our students. And we are committed to sharing our best practices with the broader education community, so that we can help move that conversation forward.

We don’t need to add to the loud chorus telling low-income children that they are not college material. Instead, let’s reframe it: if college is the right choice for children of affluence in this country, it’s probably the right goal for children growing up in poverty as well. And then let’s get to work helping our collective children get to and through college.

Post originally appeared on KIPP Blog, June 17, 2014.

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If I Were 22: Discover Your Purpose by Finding Your Mardi Gras

In Fall 1990, I turned 22 and started my senior year at Penn. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, except for a vague aspiration to replace Vince Neil as lead singer for Mötley Crüe. But I didn’t have the chops — or the hair — to be a rock star, so I figured I’d better choose a more viable career option. Law school seemed like a good path.

I signed up to take the LSAT, figuring I’d apply to law school later on. As I looked at the calendar, I realized that the LSAT fell on the same weekend as Mardi Gras. Everyone has their priorities, and this suddenly became one of mine. Trying to make the best of the situation, I decided to switch my test location to Tulane University in New Orleans.

I flew down to New Orleans on a Friday. When we arrived in the Crescent City, the party was in full swing, and the atmosphere was raucous and joyful. But I was on a mission. I went straight to my room and studied logic problems until it was time to sleep.

The next day, I went into an enormous lecture hall at Tulane with just three or four other students to take the LSAT. Halfway through the test, I had an epiphany: If I’d gone to all this trouble to schedule the LSAT around Mardi Gras, I must not have really wanted to be a lawyer after all. So I finished the test as best as I could, and went out to join the celebration and enjoy the first day of the mysterious rest of my life.

Needless to say, I never ended up applying to law school (though, given the circumstances, I’m pretty proud of how I scored on the LSAT). Instead, I took some time to explore, trying lots of different things to figure out what I liked. I took a one-semester leave from school, becoming a bartender and bouncer. Over the summer, I traveled to Israel and worked at an absorption center for Ethiopian refugees. I was deeply moved by interacting with the refugees, and I realized that I very much enjoyed working with children. By the end of the summer, I knew I wanted to work in social justice, and ideally do something that would allow me to continue to work with children. Teaching seemed like a natural fit, and much more appealing than law school.

After returning to the U.S. and finishing my degree, I earned an internship in D.C. with Senator Paul Simon while I applied to Teach For America’s 1992 corps. Fortunately, I got in, and taught fifth grade in inner-city Houston. I ended up becoming friends with a fellow corps member, Dave Levin, and he introduced me to his teacher mentor, an absolute force of nature named Harriett Ball. We studied Harriett’s teaching closely, absorbing every bit of wisdom she had to offer. She showed us what was possible in the classroom, and we wanted to emulate her. At the end of our second year of teaching, Dave and I decided to try and create an entire school program, with the goal of getting underserved kids on the path to and through college.

So we started KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, with 47 fifth-grade students in a Houston district classroom. The following year, Dave moved back to New York, and we started hiring teachers for two separate middle schools. It took a lot of hard work, and a lot of learning from our mistakes and successes. But with the support of many people, KIPP was able to expand in size and scope. Today, KIPP is a national network of 141 public charter schools serving over 50,000 students in 20 states and D.C. In New Orleans, where this story starts, there are now nine KIPP schools across the city, serving kids in elementary through high school.

If you’d told me when I was 22 that this is where I’d have ended up, I’m not sure I’d have believed you. When you’re just starting out, it may seem tempting to settle quickly into a career path, just because it seems reasonable or stable. But I encourage all 22-year-olds to do the opposite. Go out and explore. Start figuring out what you’re really passionate about, what really makes you tick. Hone your talents and pick up useful skills. And if you find yourself in a place you don’t really want to be, go out and look for something different.

Nowhere is it written that when you’re 22, you have to decide what your career will be for the next 60 years.

So find your Mardi Gras, and go explore. It might be the start of the strangest and most exciting life you’ve ever known. :)

Post originally appeared on LinkedIn, May 27, 2014.

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Uplift CEO: High Performing Charters Take Responsibilities Seriously

Welcome Yasmin Bhatia, Uplift Charter CEO, as a guest blogger with a great piece on charter school accountability:

Uplift CEO Yasmin Bhatia: In the past week, there has been discussion in The Dallas Morning News and in other Texas media about the level of accountability for charter schools. As the CEO of North Texas’ largest charter school network, Uplift Education, I think it’s vital to understand how we are held accountable and the disadvantage we face based on how the state funds our schools.

It is also important to know what’s at stake. In Dallas County, 475,000 children attend public charter and local ISDs. Almost 350,000 of them come from low-income families. Less than half begin school ready for kindergarten. Only 14% of seniors are ready for college. Nationally, only 8% of students living in poverty will graduate from college by their mid-20s. Those who do graduate college will earn $1 million more in lifetime earnings.

In most cases, high performing charter schools are having a significant impact on college readiness, so much so that President Obama and Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn are aligned in supporting the replication and expansion of high-performing non-profit charter management organizations through the Charter Schools Program.  To date, 18 Senators from across the political spectrum have co-sponsored legislation to support the growth of high-quality charter schools.

At Uplift, we have had success showing first-generation college students can achieve at high levels. Despite what the statistics predict about their future, our students are outperforming state averages by as much as 24% on annual STAAR exams.

Texas sets a high bar for public charter schools, which operate with more local autonomy from the state. A new state law requires Texas to shut down a charter school after three consecutive years of failing performance on any combination of financial and academic ratings. Local ISD schools with failing ratings can stay open for as many as seven years before the Commissioner is forced to close them. We support this law because the right to educate kids should come with strict standards.

Some have suggested that public charter schools spend tax dollars with no accountability to the public, but the opposite is true.  We abide by transparency and accountability requirements that are almost identical to local ISD schools, including annual financial audits from the state.  Like all public schools, we post our CEO salary on our website and make current financial statements available online for each of the five districts in the Uplift network.

Currently, Uplift has more than 10,000 children on our waitlists.  We believe in Texas parents’ ability to make the best choice for their children. We believe that volunteer boards of directors, held to stringent quality standards, can respond to the needs of those parents, who are seeking us out in large numbers.

Our biggest roadblock in meeting that demand is a lack of access to school buildings.  Charters spend as much as 20% of our annual operational budgets on the growing cost of facilities because the state provides no facilities funding. When a mother decides that an Uplift school is the right program for her son, about $950 in public funding disappears. For our 11,500 Uplift scholars, that represents a nearly $11 million gap in annual state funding. We would like to see those dollars directed to our classrooms, to our teacher performance pay program, and to enriched learning opportunities like STEM education, athletics, and fine arts programs.

Public charter schools have played a pivotal role in our educational system for nearly 20 years, and parent demand for high-quality charter seats is growing. We hope the Dallas community will join us in asking Texas lawmakers to erase the funding gaps between public charter and neighborhood schools to provide opportunity for all Texas children.

Yasmin Bhatia
CEO, Uplift Education

Post originally appeared on the blog, Uplift Voices, May 15, 2014.

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What the Charter Movement Wants

The debate over public education in Texas has been loud and heated. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we debate productively. But we’ve been bogged down in trivial fights that have prevented us from finding real solutions. If we want to set children up for success in the future, we need to think bigger.

The need for excellent college-prep education in Texas is growing. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, the earnings gulf between high school graduates and college graduates is larger than ever. But consider this statistic: Only 8.5 percent of Texas students from low-income backgrounds who started eighth grade in 2001 finished college within six years of graduating from high school, as The Texas Tribune reported earlier this year.

In light of budget cuts to public education in recent years, it’s a tough time for educators in Texas to tackle this challenge. But I have hope. Schools and teachers across the state are finding new ways to solve this challenge. Parents, with growing numbers of school options, are voting with their feet by flocking to charters and other schools of choice with strong results. We need more of these schools, and we need them soon.

When I co-founded KIPP 20 years ago in a Houston ISD classroom, that college-prep focus drove our work. Thanks to support from both district and policy leaders, KIPP has grown to 141 public charter schools nationwide, including 37 here in Texas. KIPP students in Houston are graduating from college at five times the rate of their socioeconomic peers in Texas. We’re proud of this growth, but we know we need to do even better — not just for our KIPP students, but for all public school students.

We know that KIPP — and public charter schools in general — are only part of the answer. No single public school solution, district or charter, is going to move the needle on college completion in Texas. We need many solutions, and the only way to find them is to empower our educators on the ground. Instead of thinking top-down, we should be thinking bottom-up.

What might that look like in Texas? I have three suggestions:

Give all public schools the same freedoms as charter schools. The premise of charter schools has always been more freedom in exchange for more accountability. We know that great school leaders and teachers are the key to any effective school. We need to foster an environment in which all public school leaders — district and charter — have the freedom to hire teachers and organize their schools as they see fit. And if these schools fail to deliver a high-quality education, we should hold them accountable by closing or restructuring them. We already have terrific examples to follow in Texas, like Spring Branch ISD’s partnership with KIPP and YES Prep, which not only facilitates the creation of more flexible schools but allows charters and district schools to share school facilities and collaborate on teacher training.

Change how we train education leaders. Schools and school systems are only as good as their leaders. If we’re going to give principals the freedom to create new models, we need to make sure they’re qualified and prepared to do so. Likewise, we need to prepare school system leaders and superintendents to oversee these newer, freer schools and to hold them accountable for their results. Programs like Rice University’s Education Entrepreneurship Program are leading the way, and we need more programs like this to help increase the number and quality of excellent leaders throughout the state.

Ensure fair funding for all public school students. Texas now has a two-tiered funding system, in which different kinds of public schools get different amounts of funding. Analyses of Texas Education Agency data show that public charter schools in Texas receive an average of $1,000 less in public per pupil funding than district schools. To ensure that all public schools have the resources to develop and implement solutions and be responsive to their families and communities, we need to level the playing field by providing charter schools the same per-pupil funding as all public schools.

These are not the only steps we’ll need to take to turn our system from top-down to bottom-up, but they may be the most crucial. If we want Texas students to be prepared for college and the world beyond, we will need to chart a much different path for our public schools. :)

Post originally appeared on The Texas Tribune, May 12 2014.

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Three Things That Help Schools Around the World to Thrive

As a parent, my deepest wish is that my children will have it better than I had. In the US, we call this the American Dream. But, as I’ve learned, there’s nothing uniquely American about it.

Over the past several years, I’ve been talking to parents in India, Mexico, South Africa, Chile and Israel – and I’ve learned two important things. One, all of these parents have the same hopes and dreams for their children that we in the US do. And two, these parents believe, correctly, that education will help their kids get where they want them to be.

Now more than ever, a quality education – especially a college degree – can help determine a child’s lot in life. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), people with bachelor’s degrees can expect to earn 50% more than those with high-school diplomas. And while a college degree might not be right for all children, the skills that can get you into college certainly are.

Wanting to give underserved students the sort of education that leads to better opportunities in life, Dave Levin and I founded the Knowledge Is Power Programme (KIPP) 20 years ago. We started in Houston, with a single class of fifth-graders, but the programme has since grown into a national network of 141 public schools serving more than 50,000 kids. Our alumni are graduating from college at four to five times the rate of their socio-economic peers. Recently Aaron Brenner and I founded The One World Network of Schools, to support educators around the world who are starting KIPP-inspired schools.

Our challenge is to figure out what sort of educational system will help students everywhere get into college. No one has cracked this nut yet. But through my work I’ve seen how we might be able to.

Take the 3-2-1 School in Mumbai’s Crawford Fish Market slums, for example. It’s a One World Network School founded by Gaurav Singh, an alumnus of Teach for India. Gaurav is passionate and dedicated, with a clear vision of where he wants his students to go. The school is bursting with great teachers who offer rigorous research-based instruction and create a culture of high expectations, with a strong focus on student independence and joy. As a result, the school is in great demand. Despite enrolling more than four times the number of students of other primary schools in the area, it still has students on its waiting list.

When I look at successful institutions like the 3-2-1 School, I see they have three factors in common. First, there is generous investment in talented teachers. Great teaching is the single most influential factor in a child’s education, and the best school programmes recognize that. They go out and win the marketing war to get the best teaching candidates into their classrooms, and then they develop the teachers’ skills and keep them in the classroom for the long term.

Secondly, the best school systems have a framework of bottom-up change. By this I mean letting solutions bubble up from within the educational community, instead of having one-size-fits-all policies imposed from above. This might mean nurturing charter schools or public-private partnerships, as in the case of Mumbai’s 3-2-1 School, and giving all public schools – traditional and charter – the freedom to innovate.

Finally, rather than treating college as separate from primary and secondary education, successful systems see them as different stops on the same journey. At the 3-2-1 School, students know from the day they walk through the door that they will be attending university, and their entire educational experience is structured to help them get there.

These three things are clear and proven to have an impact in communities around the world. They aren’t the whole solution, of course, but can help bring us closer to the day when all children, everywhere, will succeed in school and in life. :)

This is part of a series for the launch of the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 Awardees.

Post originally appeared on the World Economic Forum’s blog, March 26 2014.

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Setting the Record Straight

At KIPP, we believe in having a free and open debate about public charter schools. But when the facts are misrepresented, it’s important to set the record straight.

This week, the San Antonio Express-News ran an op-ed by UT Austin professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, which included some misleading claims about KIPP charter schools. These claims are entirely based on an outdated and discredited report. As one of the co-founders of KIPP, and a 22-year veteran of public education in Texas, I want to clarify the facts.

First, the attrition data Dr. Heilig cites is inaccurate and heavily biased. According to the New York Times, the Western Michigan University researchers “use[d] questionable data sources and analytic techniques to push a position that is antagonistic to KIPP.” A 2013 report by Mathematica Policy Research found that KIPP’s overall student attrition is not higher or lower than that of neighboring district schools, and that KIPP’s results could not be explained by attrition. In fact, Mathematica found that KIPP middle school students made significant learning gains in all grades and subjects, even when factors like attrition and parental motivation were taken into account.

Second, the claim that KIPP spends $5,600 more per student is simply untrue. The WMU researchers arrived at this number by cherry-picking financial data from only a handful of KIPP schools. They also didn’t account for the money KIPP spends on securing and renovating school buildings, since—like all charter schools—KIPP schools receive little or no public funding for facilities. When fully grown, KIPP schools have about the same per-pupil spending as neighboring district schools.

For more information on the WMU report, you can read KIPP’s full statement here. For more on the 2013 Mathematica report—the largest and most rigorous report on KIPP to date—click here.

Plow on,

Mike Feinberg :)

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