"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, August 21, 2009

From Duncan's Mouth

For all intensive purposes, the NewSchools Venture Fund and other education entrepreneurs (read: nonprofits supported by billionaire philanthrocapitalists) have taken over the Department of Education under President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Highlights (err...lowlights) from Duncan's speech about the Investing in Innovation fund (i3), which is available online (registration required):

...our children will be competing with kids from around the world for the jobs of the future. And it is no secret that our only path to long-term economic security and higher productivity is to dramatically improve both the depth and breadth of education in this country.


To meet the President's goals--to reach the finish line--we need transformational change. The islands of excellence that now exist in school districts have to become the norm. The promising solutions that you have all created need to be brought to scale. And our existing market-based and political barriers to far-reaching reform have to recede.


While the Race to the Top program targets states and districts, i3 grants will be awarded to districts and non-profits, including colleges and universities, turnaround specialists, charter schools, companies, and other stakeholders.

Our basic operating premise is that grants for proven programs should be larger than those for promising but largely untested programs. Grants will fall into three categories:

  • First, Pure Innovation grants of up to about $5 million dollars for promising ideas that should be tried.
  • Second, Strategic Investment grants of up to roughly $30 million for programs that need to build a research base or organizational capacity to succeed at a larger scale.
  • And finally, Grow What Works grants that will go as high as $50 million for proven programs that are ready to grow and expand.


For education entrepreneurs, the common standards movement is a huge leap forward because it opens up opportunities to innovate that were effectively closed off before. It is almost impossible to implement imaginative curriculum and assessments at scale when you have 50 different goalposts to march toward, all at once.


Here, too, we have examples to draw on, from Mastery Charters, Green Dot, to the Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago. Green Dot and AUSL are engineering successful turnarounds of failing schools with union teachers. [Note: all three are heavily funded by NewSchools Venture Fund - one of Jim Shelton's former employers]


Yet let me remind you that for a quarter century after the 1966 Coleman report, school leaders and superintendents often heard that what happened in schools really didn't matter that much in determining student achievement—what really counted was a student's socioeconomic background.

Today, we know the truth is more complicated—and thankfully, much more hopeful. We know that an effective teacher is the single biggest factor in determining student progress—not race, not class, not socioeconomic status.

The video also includes a presentation by Jim Shelton, former Gates Foundation/Knowledge Universe/NewSchools Venture Fund/McKinsey & Co./LearnNow employee. At one point in the question and answer session after the presentations, Shelton is asked about the DREAM Act, a piece of immigration/education reform legislation. Shelton had no idea about the act, but you can find out more about it in this Counterpunch article I wrote a few months back.

1 comment:

  1. "not race, not class, not socioeconomic status". Yeah, but what about level of parental support, drug use in the home, abuse, neglect...

    So Arne, if you took an entire teaching staff from a wealthy suburb and moved them into a poverty stricken all-comers school in an urban core, the scores will skyrocket? And if you took those inner-city teachers at said low-performing school and moved them into that wealthy suburbs, those rich kids scores will plummet?
    C'mon Arne. Stop being such a weenie.