High Expectations at #NSVFSummit 2014

Today, at the New Schools Venture Fund Summit (where you can watch the livestream of the entire conference), the group of more than 1,000 attendees are taking the day to challenge themselves to explore new ways to make the major steps towards equity for our country’s students. Forty percent of the people here are attending for the first time, bringing new, fresh, provocative energy to transforming education. Participants share a deep commitment to holding high expectations for all students and work to raise the bar and advance equity.

So many students just need to be heard. We need to understand what so many young people are struggling against. If we don’t really listen and recognize their resilience, we won’t be able to change the conversation. Reba Dominski, of Target announced the release of the new report video that brings together and amplifies the diverse voices from the community- Don’t call them Dropouts, that will premiere on May 20th- at the height of graduation season.

Poverty, Race and Education Equity. For Bryan Stevenson, growing up in the segregated south, education became meaningful and transformative when Brown vs Education passed and he had the opportunity to go to the school of his choice. Stevenson’s speech was by far one of the most powerful our team has ever seen. He spoke from behind a podium with no notes, no presentation and engaged the audience by painting a picture for us of all the stories he told.

Stevenson became a lawyer in a world that is very different than the world we lived in just 50 years ago. In our world today, there is a hopelessness that has been created by the huge number of people who are now incarcerated and has created a huge caste of “untouchables” that are so far out on the margins of society that we almost don’t even know how to help them. By engaging in this very mission driven work with inmates on death row Stevenson was transformed by working with these prisoners. Stevenson works everyday to help children that are already trapped in our prison systems.

Through this powerful work, Stevenson recognizes that our society has allowed it become acceptable to think some kids are disposable- some children are not worth saving. With amazing experiences and the stories he could share, Stevenson illustrated the 4 essential points for transformative work in education and the community:

  1. Proximity is essential to understand the problem and make effective decision.

  2. Change the narrative– change the way we talk about racial history and racial injustice.

  3. We must be and stay hopeful.

  4. Commit ourselves to do things that are uncomfortable.

Stevenson recognizes that he is broken and we are all broken but we are always better than our most broken action. His beautiful stories have kicked off today’s #NSVFsummit with the perfect mindset to be brave and create this new world that we want to see- for all students.

The Urban School System of the Future

By: Andy Smarick

It was 50 years ago this spring that LBJ, in just his first year as president, announced during a college commencement address his plans for what became known as “The Great Society.” One of its major planks was America’s cities and their troubled schools.

It is jaw-dropping that half a century–and billions of dollars and endless reforms–later we still don’t have a single high-performing urban school district. Remember, JFK, in 1961, had challenged the nation to send a man to the moon and bring him home safely within a decade…and we did it just eight years later. This nation can accomplish unbelievable feats, but only if it is willing to be bold.

If we want to truly revitalize our cities, we have to dramatically improve K12 urban schooling. If we’re to dramatically improve K12 urban schooling, we have to end the traditional district’s tenure as the dominant, default delivery system of public education. It is hard to name a government structure that has so consistently failed at its core responsibility for so long and so badly.

Our attention must focus on the district apparatus–the central administrative unit that owns and operates scores of schools, controlling virtually every aspect of their daily functioning. It is this organization that has proven itself completely unable to develop open-admission high-performing high-poverty schools.

This stands in stark contrast to the charter school sector, which in city after city (according to rigorous studies form Stanford’s CREDO research center) is producing student-learning gains that far outpace the district.

The solution is a “true portfolio” approach, one that I outline in my book The Urban School System of the Future. We start by seeing the district as nothing more than one of many school operators in the city, placing it on the same playing field as the city’s charter school operators. Then we apply the systemic innovations of chartering across the entire K12 portfolio. We close persistently failing schools, we expand and replicate the cities best schools, we continuously start new schools in the charter sector, and we empower families with choice.

This “sector-agnostic” approach will enable us to continuously grow the number of high-quality schools in our cities, ensuring that low-income urban kids are able to select from among a range of high-performing school options.

The combination of the demotion of the district, the elevation of school quality above school provider, and complete fidelity to smart portfolio management has the greatest chance of developing dynamic, high-performing, self-improving systems of schools that will put underserved kids on a trajectory taking them to the moon and beyond.

This post contributes to the #SmartCities Series- for more information on the upcoming book, see here.

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 10.43.06 AMAndy Smarick is a Partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. He works in Bellwether’s Thought Leadership practice. His book, The Urban School System of the Future, was released in 2012, and his work has also appeared in The Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Boston Globe, and National Affairs

Smart Cities: Chicago Develops in “Leaps” and Bounds

Symbolic of the new digital learning opportunity set, the director of New Schools For Chicago, Phyllis Lockett, spun out a new data analytics shop, LEAPinnovation, earlier this month and took the helm. For the last fifteen years, the best intervention was new school development; going forward, new tools that power new learning models is the emerging opportunity. “Tech innovation can empower teachers to pinpoint student needs, accelerate remediation, and help every student reach their fullest potential,” said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of Chicago Public Schools. This fall the LEAP Pilot Network will sponsor short cycle trials of four literacy products for grades 3-5 to pilot in six schools.

Chicago, not New York, is the second city for education innovation according to EdTech leader Christopher Nyren, “For over a generation, Chicago has served as the epicenter of for-profit, technology-enabled education entrepreneurship and investment.” Chicago has an impressive list of established companies, respected investors, and a big crop of promising startups.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan’s belief in the importance of early learning is homegrown. “Chicago is the leader in early childhood education–no contest,” said Ryan Blitstein, Change Illinois. Ounce of Prevention Fund advocates locally and supports Educare centers nationwide. First Five Years Fund is a new breed of data-driven advocates for integrated early learning services for low income children backed by Buffett, Gates, Harris, Kaiser, and Pritzker.  McCormick Foundation advocates for public policy that improves birth to three learning opportunities in Illinois.

Backstory. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) serves more than 400,000 students in 681 schools. Led by veteran school chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Chicago was an early member of the Portfolio School District Network. After a period of uncertainty, Mayor Emanuel made clear a commitment to innovation.

Arne Duncan took over from Paul Vallas as CEO of CPS in 2001. By 2003, Duncan had crafted a coherent effort to support struggling schools and to close and replace failing schools (similar to Joel Klein’s Children First in NYC). In 2004, Duncan, the mayor and the business community launched new school campaign Renaissance 2010 which resulted in 13 charter networks, 70 new schools, and laid the groundwork for the next-gen models work New Schools for Chicago is currently supporting.

Margot Rogers, then a Deputy Director at the Gates Foundation, spent four years shuttling to Chicago to support new school development and secondary school improvement.  “Few places–perhaps no city–have the deep private and philanthropic support that Chicago does,” said Rogers. “There’s lots of support for innovation, trying new things, and thinking in new ways.” She went on to serve as Secretary Duncan’s chief of staff during his first 18 months in office.

Ron Huberman followed Duncan and spent a year as CEO.  He launched extended learning time pilots utilizing 1-to-1 devices and laid the groundwork for almost 60 schools with 1-to-1 iPads. Huberman is now an operating executive at Chicago Growth Partners and Prairie Capital.

Bright Spots. Tim Knowles created the best example of a university-based school improvement engine, under the umbrella of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI), with a research arm, a talent development shop, four charter schools, and a school improvement engine (see full Getting Smart profile). UEI is working in 55 cities and 23 states.  Knowles said, “We have some very cool new tools and diagnostics in pipeline–all aim to focus schools and public on things we know matter most.” UEI has been hiring recently and was just awarded a $10 million grant from the Kersten family for college readiness.

In 2007, they discovered the importance of the ‘freshman on track’ indicator–a better predictor of high school graduation than race, income, neighborhood, and prior test scores–combined. A consistent focus on this indicator has moved the percentage of ‘freshman on track’ to graduate from 57% in 2007 to 82% in 2013, according to the new On-Track website that details the process and the research. “The fact the numbers have moved so far — despite two mayors, strike, school closures, 5 superintendents in 7 years — suggests all cities in America could move their hs graduation rates by 20 points, quickly,” concludes Knowles.

Five Early College STEM schools were opened in 2013 in partnership with IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, Motorola, and Verizon. Dual enrollment opportunities were expanded in 17 high schools. CPS will support International Baccalaureate (IB) programs in 10 existing high schools.

AUSL turns around the Chicago Public Schools’ lowest performing schools and trains teachers using an urban teacher residency model. AUSL managed 25 CPS schools serving over 14,000 students.

The Chicago Math Initiative launched by MIND Research Institute in 2009 resulted in 11 point increases in the percentage of proficient students in the 23 schools implementing the blended learning ST Math program.

A foundation executive said, “The mayor is very powerful, loves anything having to do with innovation or technology and has made education his number one priority.”  The CEO recently appointed Jack J. Elsey Jr. Chief Innovation Officer.  Elsey said, “Embracing innovation and technology–two very likely drivers of progress–will be critical for the success of our city’s schools.”

Charters. “Early on, Chicago was known to be one of the best charter authorizers, winning kudos from third party evaluators and others for the strength of their review process,” said Margot Rogers.  “As a result, a number of high quality networks have flourished.”

There are 44 approved charters operating on 130 campuses in Chicago and serving 55,000 students–about 13% of the student population.

Noble Network had 9 of 10 top performing non-selective high schools in the city–nothing innovative, just top talent and great execution. Chicago International is a mini-portfolio of 16 neighborhood schools including game-based ChicagoQuest. Perspectives operates five high performing 6-12 schools.

Chicago Virtual Charter School was named one of Chicago’s best high schools by Chicago Magazine in their September issue. K12 Passport, another K12 supported school, is designed to assist students who have dropped out of high school recapture credit and earn their diplomas. K12 also supports the High School Diploma Program which provides computer-based high school classes for credit to inmates.

The three KIPP schools in Chicago have converted to blended learning. The 975 students from low income families are served by three blended learning models on four campuses (see feature). Executive Director April Goble found that actionable data, professional development, and strong classroom management is key to ensuring success of instructional technology. KIPP Create, a middle school opened in 2012, employs a large, flexible lab model. KIPP plans six K-8 schools serving 5,000 students by the end of the decade.

Foundations College Prep, a new 6­–12 school opening 2014, combines a rotational blended model with a teacher residency program.  Intrinsic Schools is also a new 6-12 blended model combining adaptive learning and expert teaching. CEO Melissa Zaikos is a star with deep CPS experience as a Broad resident. Both Foundations and Intrinsic are NGLC grantees (see profiles).

Charters in Illinois are support by an association headed by a talented attorney, Andrew Broy, recruited away from the Georgia superintendent’s office.  To my list of great charters, Andrew added LEARN Charter School Network, UNO schools, and some great single campus charters: Rowe Elementary; Locke Elementary; Polaris Charter Academy; Institution Career Academy; and Chicago Math and Science.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers is based in Chicago. NACSA launched an aggressive quality improvement effort urging authorizers to non-renew low performing charter schools.

Growth in charter enrollment means lots of empty or below-capacity district schools–more than 150 according to some facilities experts. Chicago illustrates the need to separate school operations from provisioning facilities.

Foundations. The Chicago Public Education Fund, run by former TFA exec Heather Anichini, is investing in talented principals and enabling effective educator teams to reinvent classroom learning. Last year their Summer Design Program enabled a cohort 16 principal-led district and charter teams to work with experts to confront specific instructional and engagement challenges (see video). The goal is to create up to 75 citywide proof points. The Fund supported the blended math program Teach to One in two CPS schools (see feature).

Chicago is home to a number of foundations with education focused missions:

Impact Partners.  Pat Ryan launched the Inner-City Teaching Corps in 1991 and the Alain Locke Charter School in 1998.  He launched a leadership development program in 2011 and rolled them all together this year. Rob Birdsell joined The Alain Locke Initiative as its first Chief Executive Officer in December 2012 after leading the urban Catholic high school network Cristo Rey.

Chicago is also a huge after-school market. After School Matters is a non-profit organization that offers Chicago high school teens innovative out-of-school activities. Orion’s Mind is the active after-school tutoring program. One of the largest Girl Scout Troops in the US has a cool digital learning space.  Innovative young youth development orgs include Free Spirit Media and the Chicago Youth Voices Network.

Josh Anderson leads TFA Chicago which has 500 active corps, 1786 alumni including 109 school administrators. New Leaders has trained 200 leaders over the last decade.

Education Pioneers’ Chicago and Midwest site developed over 40 Graduate School Fellowship projects with most of the regions top impact players. This year EP will expand into local and state policy partnerships.

Social emotional learning “teaches the skills we all need to handle ourselves, our relationships, and our work, effectively and ethically,” says Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (See feature.)

Other youth resources include:

“We are having a big conversation in the city about how we do diffusion between school and not-school. The arts folks already did this. STEM folks trying to figure it out,” said Kemi Jona, a prof at Northwestern and fellow iNACOL board member.  Jona said the active conversation is, “What is the role of out-of-school? To be an incubator for innovation or to babysit kids?”

Jona adds, “Don’t forget our world class universities: Northwestern, University of Chicago, UIC, NU, Depaul, Rush, IIT, and Loyola.”

The Illinois drag. Some cities benefit from productive state policy, not Chicago. Illinois perpetuates inequitable funding–kids in affluent district get about $1000 more than kids in poverty. Digital Learning Now gave Illinois an F grade for education policy given the lack of student access to online and blended learning including a moratorium on virtual schools (see page 13 of Keeping Pace for a visual image of how bad online opportunity is in Illinois). A national policy insider said that Illinois has a “real lack of leadership on EdReform generally much less digital learning.”  Illinois does get some credit for leadership on early learning.

Illinois Pathways, funded through Race to the Top, is a state-led STEM education initiative designed to support college and career readiness. Illinois Pathways hosts Learning Exchanges in ten industry clusters and the Illinois Shared Learning Exchange (ISLE) is a promising planned build out on top of Shared Learning Collaborative.  All of these big collaborations sound promising but complicated.

With the shift to personal digital learning, Chicago kids would benefit from coherent state policies aimed at equity, options, and innovation.

Education Industry.  Chicago has a long history of learning innovation. DeVry launched career schools more than 75 years ago and was one of the first to serve returning vets under the GI bill. Chicago is also home to Career Education Corporation which serves 90,000 students from 90 worldwide campuses and online.  The University of Illinois developed PLATO system, the first computer assisted instruction system about 50 years ago.

“Chicago is a leader in the ‘profitable-but-boring’ category in the education sector,” as one local observer said. Those boring companies have been fetching 5x revenue in 2012 transactions. Chicago is the home of the School as a Service business model with nearly all of the leading players in this segment (excluding 2U). Two Chicago-based big higher education services firms were acquired in October.  Wiley bought Deltak, a higher ed services firm, for $220 million. Pearson purchased EmbanetCompass for $650 million. A more targeted partnership model,  All Campus, spun out from its former parent in October 2012 and has since added a dozen new university partners. Everspring, providing full-service, customized online educational solutions, is yet another example.

In the ‘speaking softly’ category, when you hear Follett you may think library, but the $3 billion private company provides universities, schools and libraries a wide range of tools and services from content to e-commerce. Last June Follett launched a $50 million venture fund, managed by Atrium Capital.

In the ‘wow, are they still around?’ category, Encyclopaedia Britannica and World Book are both headquartered in Chicago and both of are experiencing strong traction selling curriculum and research products to school districts and libraries.

Start-Ups.  Chicago is home to a diverse range of companies leading the shift to digital:

  • PrepMe (now a part of Ascend Learning) provides adaptive learning across K-12, while its founder Karan Goel is now launching his new venture GetSet
  • BenchPrep provides mobile B2C test prep solutions that are moving toward BTB
  • VLinks provides the corporate learning solution LearnCore
  • MentorMob supports development of learning playlists
  • MediaChaperone is a parent engagement platform
  • Youtopia a student engagement platform that provides gamification tools
  • Better.at supports interest networks
  • DigEdu enables teachers to design and delivered personalized learning on any device
  • eSpark Learning makes sense out of elementary iPad learning
  • Wowzers is a game-based elementary math solution from the Brain Hurricane team
  • Collaborative Learning helps teachers align instruction and curriculum standards
  • SchoolTown is a social learning platform
  • ThinkCerca supports Common Core aligned literacy instruction
  • SkateKids produces elementary reading and thinking games
  • Starter League will teach you how to code and market web apps
  • WyzAnt will help you find a tutor and, with a whopping $21 million in funding from Accel, is going global and mobile.

Investors and Bankers.  “Chicago-based funds have completed over 15 venture investments,” according to Christopher Nyren, “in the education market and represent over $2 billion in combined assets under management.”

Leading venture investors and some of their current education investments include:

Additionally, Chicago is home to one of the leading education super angel investors, Deborah Quazzo, who has separately invested in more than 25 EdTech startups including Clever, Degreed, DreamBox, ImagineK12, Lightside, MasteryConnect, NoRedInk, NovoEd, Parchment, and Presence Learning.

“Chicago private equity funds have also completed over 30 separate platform investments in the education market and those funds still focused on this sector represent over $6 billion in assets under management.” said Nyren, “No city features more such experienced investors as right here with Sterling, Chicago Growth, HCP, Concentric, Maxim, Prairie, Prospect, and more.”

Chicago is home to talented advisors and merchant bankers including GSV Advisors and Christopher Nyren of Educated Ventures (who, in addition to his advisory work, has also invested in local Chicago education start-ups All Campus, MentorMob, Get Set, and Wellspring Higher Education).

“Overall tech space is getting hotter with the creation of TechStars Chicago and 1871, and the impact investing/angel investing is scene is growing centered around The Impact Engine,” said Ryan Blitstein.

Chicago has great universities and generous foundations supporting innovation in early learning and afterschool. UC’s Urban Education Initiative is driving improvement locally and nationally. There are great charter networks and a few bright spots at Chicago Public Schools. Phyllis Lockett’s move from schools to tools is symbolic of the EdTech explosion in Chicago which rivals New York and may be second to the Bay Area in EdTech startups and funders. Lockett will help connect teachers to the tech sector while advancing short cycle trials and iterative development. Keep an eye on Chicagoland.


This post contributes to the #SmartCities Series- for more information on the upcoming book, see here.

Thanks to Tim Knowles and Cornelia Gruman, Phyllis Lockett, Christopher Nyren, Ryan Blitstein and other contributors.

DreamBox, MIND Research Institute, and PresenceLearning are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.  MasteryConnect, NoRedInk, NovoEd and Udemy are Learn Capital portfolio companies.

Infographic, Mobile Learning: Avoiding Common Pitfalls

To address the shifting trends and technology in mobile learning, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) launched refreshed materials for its Leadership for Mobile Learning (LML) initiative. Designed for district leaders who are considering adopting mobile learning programs, the LML initiative now offers an updated “Administrator’s Guide for Mobile Learning,” which provides guidance, a graphic on how to avoid the most common pitfalls, and first-hand insights from school district technology leaders.

Mobile Learning Graphic 2014_0

How Teachers Use Paper Blogging to Promote Student Voice

With how much connected educators (myself included) refer to blogging with students as if it were a common practice in every classroom, it is easy to feel like yours is the only one without 1:1 devices or access to blogging websites. Though this is certainly not the case, a lack of infrastructure needn’t keep your students from engaging in the social learning and higher order thinking opportunities provided by posting and commenting on blogs. Paper blogging, as an offline alternative, is popular with teachers and students whether they have the means for digital publication or not. And to get started, you need little more than, well, paper.

Paper blogs are exactly that, blog entries written on paper. Ranging from a simple composition akin to a personal essay all the way to an analog replica of a blog platform’s user interface (with tag clouds, “plug-ins”, and more), paper blogging serves as an entry point to reflective writing, offline discussions about digital citizenship, and best of all, continuing conversations through commenting.

Unlike the comments thread of an online platform, paper blogging has students submit their comments by writing them on a Post-It Note and adhering them to blog entries. As the blogger responds to individual comments, he or she also utilizes a Post-It Note and adheres it to the bottom of note being responded to. Not only does this organize students’ conversations, it also focuses their thoughts.

Pernille Ripp, an elementary teacher and active classroom blogger uses paper blogs to get her students to share what they are most passionate about. “Using paper blogs to get my 5th graders to think about how to comment . . . and how to start a conversation with their comments is one of the essential things I do every year” says Ripp. “It has developed into something I love doing and find essential as we prepare to blog and converse with the world.”

The activity of paper blogging is just that, preparation for real world interactions. In 5 Reasons Your Students Should Blog, George Couros says, “Giving students a place to share their voice is extremely important. . .In a blog, you may learn a lot about not only what students are learning in school, but what they are passionate about and hopefully how we could serve them better as educators.” Couros goes on to ask, “In a world where everyone can have a voice, isn’t it essential that we teach students how to use this powerful medium to share theirs in a meaningful way?”

Blogging, both online and on paper, can do just that. And Leonord Lowe, an E-Learning Designer at the University of Canberra’s Teaching and Learning Centre, has a lesson plan to help teachers get started with their own paper blogging activities.

According to Lowe, “[Paper blogging] demonstrates what blogs are, how they work, and why they can be a powerful strategy for empowering and engaging learners.”

Rather than confining paper blogs to the classroom alone , Lowe actually uses paper blogging activities with teachers in professional development workshops. In his design, educators take 10 minutes to individually respond to a video clip that Lowe shows to start his session. As they do, they add keywords to reflect the theme of their responses. Once everyone has a blog post written, each of them meets with two other people to exchange their responses. While reading others’ blog posts, participants use Post-It Notes to add a comment for their colleague, eventually moving on to another classmate and another blog post.

However, during this activity, Lowe gets teachers thinking about the actual experience of publishing online content as well as digital citizenship by introducing spam. Using fluorescent pink Post-It Notes, Lowe has a designated spammer leave short unwelcomed comments in everyone’s comment thread. “Spam leaves you sitting there wondering what is going on and leaves you wondering what you can do about it.”

As teachers in Lowe’s paper blogging sessions retrieve their original blog posts and get back together as a class, they reflect on their posts and the new comments thread. Each is encouraged to ask themselves, Do you want to add anything? Delete anything? Has your thinking changed at all? And through identifying others with similar keywords as their own, Lowe’s paper bloggers get together and discuss these questions and their overall experience blogging.

Whether with teachers or students, paper blogging can be a very powerful, eye-opening experience. As Couros says, “Not every student will take to blogging the way that we envision as teachers . . . If we make them do it the way we think it should be done, they might have trouble adopting this past the school setting.” But as students and teachers are allowed and empowered to write about what they are interested in and what stokes their passions, paper blogs might eventually leap off the page. As students and teachers are encouraged and supported in writing their own blogs, they might even see the value in sharing their own voices whether digitally or on good old fashioned paper.

Step #1 in District-wide Blended Learning Implementation: Assess Stakeholder Readiness

Step #1 in District-wide Blended Learning Implementation: Assess Stakeholder Readiness first appeared on The Learning Accelerator on April 23, 2014.
By: John Branam
There are many steps on the path to implementing blended learning in school districts. In their enthusiasm to hit the ground running, district leaders may overlook a critical first step, one that can fundamentally impact the success of the entire initiative: issuing stakeholder readiness assessments. TLA Partner John Branam makes the case to district leaders and provides sample assessments.
Pushing readiness assessments while your blended learning implementation plans are emergent is smart. Measuring initial attitudes will allow you to lean into your strengths and shore up your vulnerabilities. Knowing how different stakeholder groups feel (teachers vs. principals vs. parents vs. students, for example) will help you identify your natural allies and the issues you must address to bring others along. By asking questions to your respective communities, you’ll create critical apples-to-apples comparisons (revealing, say, a 40% difference of opinion between how teachers and principals think about principals’ willingness to support teachers through this instructional pivot).
Surveying early will help the district spend its resources (time, money, human and political capital) efficiently. Most districts don’t have extras of these laying around so efficiency is key, but this is particularly important when you’re talking about a system-wide transformation. Implementing blended learning successfully will require stakeholders to take a leap of faith and – at least for district employees – to stretch beyond traditional job descriptions. In response, central offices should be sharply focused in their asks. Clarity within these asks requires data and in this case, scaled and specific data can only come from stakeholder readiness assessments.
Assessing early also establishes the all-important data baseline. Depending on your district’s size, implementation may take between 3-8 years and in many cases, may require additional funding from the community. Regardless, telling the story of your district’s journey of innovation requires a beginning, just as it does a middle and an end. Without initial assessment data, however, how you talk about the journey’s beginning will be blurry at best.
Finally, stakeholder opinions will challenge district administrators’ assumptions. Lots of districts think they know how teachers feel about technology or how parents feel about schools dramatically increasing student-directed learning, but few actually do. Big rewards – including dramatically improving student achievement – require big risks. Asking questions to which you do not know the answer requires authentic courage. So be courageous, take the leap, survey your stakeholders. And by all means, do it sooner than later. Make this your first step.
Download District Stakeholder Blended Learning Readiness Assessments
John Branam is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. Follow John @pdxbranam and @LearningAccel.

10 Talking Points From the ASU + GSV Education Innovation Summit

By: Tom Glover
In the same week that we were given the details of my four-year old daughter’s first school, I headed to Scottsdale in Arizona for a peak into her schooling future. And while it might be hard to reconcile life in a rural village school in England with the high-octane VC and start up scene at the ASU + GSV Education Innovation Summit, there have undoubtedly been some globally relevant edtech lessons and challenges to ponder. Here are some talking points that caught the eye of the Pearson Labs team:
1) Challenging the use of data in education. As reported by Education Week, the big news on the first day of the conference was the announcement that InBloom will be winding down over the coming months and the organization’s CEO, on a student privacy panel, had the opportunity to respond to the news. He defended its privacy and security standards and argued that the losers would ultimately be the parents and students. Fellow panelist Richard Culatta, argued that private companies need to do a better job of explaining their privacy policies in plain English. Without good data we won’t be able to realize the recognized benefits of personalized learning and technology in education so the education community, including parents, needs to find an acceptable solution together.
2) The teaching of code is important, but let’s not forget the bigger picture. Hadi Partovi from Code.org gave a lunchtime talk about the importance of teaching kids computer science. They have been able to reach real scale in a very short period of time. In fact more girls participated in “Hour of Code” in one week than tried computer science in the last 70 years. He concluded that “not everyone needs to learn a coding language, but everyone needs to understand how technology works.” And we often forget that before we get to coding there are some more basic digital literacy needs that still need to be addressed.
3) The need for greater diversity in the VC community. In a lunchtime panel on the role of the VC community and opportunities in the sector, Mitch Kapor argued that great solutions will come from different and more diverse groups than the ones being funded right now and that we need to be able to identify talent wherever it comes from. Paul Maeder from Highland Capital said that it was a simple truth that VCs fund people that look like them and that although it is one of the most diversity challenged industries, the good news is that patterns are changing with the emergence of the next generation of talent in the industry.
4) The jury is still out on whether technology can improve learning outcomes on a national and global scale. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, there was an ‘onus on vendors and start-ups to show they can produce not only profits, but also improved outcomes.’ Brandon Busteed from Gallup Education claimed that ‘at a national level, there is no evidence that educational technology has reduced the cost of education yet or improved the efficacy of education.’ Fighting the corner of the optimists Daniel Greenstein, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said that digital learning has already proved its potential through small-scale pilots and experiments, but now needs to scale. There was of course discussion around what those learning outcomes should be – with ideas as broad as engagement and hope.
5) Student’s use of personal technology in the classroom is changing quickly and we all need to keep up. Michael Horn from the Clayton Christensen Institute hosted a lively discussion and feedback session for educators at the event. Discussion covered the most useful data, new assessment methods, the hacks that teachers use to make technology work for them in the classroom, the dramatic shift to BYOD in the last 18 months, the fact that kids don’t need keyboards and are now far more comfortable working with their cell phones or mobiles. Integration of different vendor technologies was considered to be the Holy Grail.
6) Both students and teachers are clearly bought into the value technology in the classroom. The Gates Foundation released their new survey, Teachers Know Best, which asked over 3,000 educators about what digital instructional tools are essential to helping their students be prepared for college and careers in the 21st century. Good news for the ASU+GSV audience: both teachers and the 1200+ students surveyed “see technology as useful in instruction.” Alignment with college- and career-ready standards and/or teachers’ lessons plans was the most-cited benefit the teachers looked for.
7) Technology is an enabler – not the silver bullet. Google’s Education Evangelist Jaime Casap spoke to a packed room about the need to create digital leaders who are not just consumers, but people who take ownership of their digital footprint and develop the skills to solve the biggest issues rather than to do specific jobs. He sees technology as an important enabler for doing that, but also something that can make bad education faster and more efficient if other problems are not fixed first and new models of learning adopted.
8) The entire education ecosystem has a responsibility to help close the gap. Mitch Kapor led a session that explored the work of the Kapor Center for Social Impact and efforts to encourage technology entrepreneurship in diverse and low-income groups in the US. He argued that all of the players in the education ecosystem have a responsibility to narrow, rather than widen the equality gap. This includes government, foundations (where staff should better reflect the demographics of the nation to mitigate bias), investors focusing on social impact as well as economic, and educators and their role in helping steer and develop edtech products that close the gap by focusing on student outcomes.
9) Don’t forget about the global opportunity and challenges. This was a North American summit, but there was still very little discussion about the global education challenges and the opportunities presented by a growing middle class who prioritize spending on education. Pearson sponsored sessions on Latin America, international development and global higher education did highlight these themes and Chris Hoehn-Saric from Sterling Partners argued that global market trends will fuel growth in the sector and that it was a growth relatively untapped by the audience present at the summit.
10) Are we in an EdTech bubble? A group of EdTech ‘legends’ including Jonathan Harber, Jonathan Grayer and Chris Hoehn-Saric confirmed that we were, but that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. They argued that a bubble brings talent into the sector; that we are in the midst of positive cycle, underpinned by the critical position of education in the economy. They concluded that a recognition of the issues that need to be fixed, the innovation to tackle those issues and untapped global markets meant there were reasons to be optimistic. The bubble is just bad news if you are caught at the end of it…
Were you at the ASU+GSV Education Innovation Summit? What caught your eye this year?
Tom Glover is the Senior Vice President, Strategic Communications at Pearson and part of the team behind the Pearson Labs Blog.

The Truth About Inside Sales

By: Marissa Lowman
There’s a myth that inside salespeople aren’t as talented as field reps. However, the reality is that inside salespeople are integral to the growth of most edtech startups, especially those focused on K-12.
According to Phil Charland, VP of Sales at Ellevation, inside sales is cost effective, allows for more agile market coverage, and better consistency in terms of the sales process. This week, Phil taught the third class in a four-class series LearnLaunch created on Sales for Edtech Startups.
Highlights from the class are below:
1. The internet has changed the way sales are done. Generally prospects are 60% into the buying process before they even engage with a salesperson, says Phil, because they have the ability to do a lot of research about your product or service prior to a call or meeting. Therefore, you need to deeply understand the buying process for your product or service and align your sales process to it. Phil said that you don’t really sell to people – you help them buy.
Technology has enabled immediacy in the sales process: a salesperson can now demo their product or service live, ask the right questions, and then tailor what is shown to a prospect based on his or her answers.
Follow-up has also never been faster. There is no longer the need for your prospect to wait to receive your materials in the mail. Salespeople can often simply attach a file or immediately send over a trial code.
2. The most effective inside sales teams specialize. It may be tempting to hire salespeople who can do it all. However, it’s important for startups to specialize or hire different people to manage each part of the sales cycle. This gives you more control and allows you to expand your business more rapidly because you can perfect your sales model on a smaller scale first.
Phil’s team includes partner development associates that focus on lead generation and setting up product demos. Their sales strategy involves a combination of emails and phone calls which, on average, requires at least six touches per prospect. Once a meeting has been set up, the prospect is handed off to a partner development manager, whose sole focus is on closing the deal.
After the deal has been signed, the customer is handed off to the partner support team, which creates happiness by making sure the customer is using the product and satisfied with the results. Recently, Ellevation hired an account manager to focus on the renewal and expansion of current customers, a position Phil wished they had added sooner. The account manager monetizes a customer’s happiness by renewing their contract and trying to upsell them additional products or services.
The challenge of a team-based sales approach is that it requires careful coordination between the different members of the sales team to ensure a smooth handoff at each stage, as well as clear communication with the customer to make sure he or she knows who to call if a problem arises.
3. Prioritize lead generation. According to Phil, lead generation is the first and most important step of the sales process. It will either accelerate or stall your startup’s growth. Figure out how will you get enough qualified leads to reach your objective. Although it’s tempting to focus on perfecting your investor pitch deck, lead generation is more important to your business when you’re first starting out.
In order to identify qualified leads, you need to have a segmentation strategy based on your sales goals. For example, you might want to focus on a handful of key states, schools with the highest amount of enrollment funding, or the largest school districts. Ellevation initially targets ELL district coordinators.
4. A combination approach to sales is best. Phil is a firm believer in an inbound or content-driven approach to marketing, driving leads, and building thought leadership. However, he doesn’t think that outbound sales engagement is dead since phone and email outreach are still the key drivers of sales activity. He recommends a combination of producing great content and a strong outbound sales model, which can be a battle of resources for a lean startup.
5. The length of the sales cycle matters. According to Phil, the length of the sales cycle is the most impactful metric for your bottom line. Ellevation is always looking for ways to shorten the buying process. Phil said they used to get a verbal agreement with a school district and then sit back and wait for a purchase order to come in. They have learned to be much more proactive in terms of moving along the process so that deals get signed faster.
Next week’s blog post will cover the last class in the series, which is on partnership development.
LearnLaunch, Boston’s edtech community, campus, and accelerator, brings together over 240 edtech startups to partcipate in events, peer learning groups, and conferences. Eileen Rudden and Marissa Lowman are co-founders.

Infographic: Competency-Based Teacher Prep & PD

Schools and districts across the country are redefining the goals of K-12 education and reimagining the very nature of teaching and learning. This activity is spurred by the implementation of college- and career-ready standards and the promise of a new generation of online assessments. As calls for improving achievement and increasing personalization of student learning echo across the nation, new professional development learning models are creating the potential for personalized preparation pathways for teachers. Teacher preparation and professional learning should evolve similarly in order to offer teacher control over time, place, path and/or pace; balanced goals; meaningful integration and competency-based progression.

The “Competency-Based Teacher Preparation & Professional Development” infographic outlines how the role of teachers is changing amid broader shifts to personalized, blended and Deeper Learning. This infographic complements the white paper “Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning: Competency-Based Teacher Preparation and Development” written in partnership between Digital Promise and Getting Smart.


Startup Weekend Edu Phoenix

Startup Weekend Edu came to Phoenix this weekend (#sweduphx). Hosted on the giant University of Phoenix campus, teams worked on preschool reading, classroom guests, real-time feedback for teachers, better PD, autism supports, and small business onboarding.

Startup Weekends “are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers, and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products, and launch startups!”

After a weekend of work with super capable coaches, teams present to judges Shark Tank style. An all star panel considers customer validation, product execution, user experience design, and potential educational impact.

The top three startups included:

  1. Read Together: combining an ebook with skype, the early learning platform encourages reading to young children at least 15 minutes every day even when mom or dad are on the road.  The proposed B2C app will include helpful teaching tips

  2. GuestEd.co: connecting teachers to guest speakers.  Guest speakers create a profile, teachers search, they coordinate a visit. GuestEd could not only leverage local but national guest speakers. Proposed as a nonprofit, the judges (including me) thought that (like EverFi) this would more likely go to scale as a for-profit.

  3. Onvard:  learning management platform for small business makes it easy to create and share onboarding playlists with new employees.

Paugme is another interesting idea–a game-based platform for teaching young people on the autism spectrum not only how to recognize emotions but how to respond to them.

Chris Nyren (@cnyren ) did a great job organized the weekend gathering. As recently noted, Startup Weekend Edu is more evidence of Phoenix on the rise.