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The Changing Boston Charter Cap Scene

The political dynamic in the city is about to change, however, as long-serving Mayor Thomas Menino moves toward retirement at the end of 2013. Menino opposes charter school growth. Boston is a Mayoral control city, where the Mayor gets to appoint the school committee, which in turn appoints and oversees the schools superintendent. Boston’s superintendent Carol Johnson stepped down this summer, so the new Mayor will be instrumental in appointing a new superintendent at the outset of his or her first term. A strongly pro-charter Mayor could also wield significant influence over the state legislature in lifting the charter cap, at least in Boston. Read more

Book Smarts vs Street Smarts: aka Edtech Founders as Action Researchers

Last week I was in Boston visiting two of our portfolio companies, BetterLesson and Socrative. Spending time with entrepreneurs is, by far, the best part of my job. I’m always moved by the passion of our entrepreneurs. As always, Ben Berte (Socrative) and Alex Grodd (BetterLesson) left me inspired by their commitment to supporting teachers. However, in this visit, I took away a new appreciation for how technology products are moving beyond just teacher productivity and into deeper issues of instruction and teacher learning. Read more

Charter Restarts: Enforcing Charter School Accountability

In its nine years, Harlem Day Charter School had seen nine principals at the helm. Despite these principals’ efforts, only a quarter of the students scored proficient on the state math exam, and even fewer on the reading. In a honorable and necessary move, Harlem Day’s Board Chair, Ben Lambert, called the state authorizer with a plan to heed his commitment and obligation of providing a quality school choice to Harlem Day’s students. His plan: replace the entire board (himself included) and turn the school over to a high performing charter operator, Democracy Prep. Harlem Day’s authorizer, The State University of New York (SUNY), agreed, and Harlem Day soon became Harlem Prep. Read more

Announcing Readworks.org: The Best Kept Secret in Reading Comprehension

We are thrilled to welcome Readworks.org to the Seed Fund portfolio. It’s a humble and hardworking nonprofit, with a maniacal focus on quality. They’ve mostly flown under the radar since their founding in 2010, spending zero dollars on marketing. Even so, they’ve grown organically through teacher word of mouth resulting in 3 million reading lessons downloaded and 270 websites linked to their materials. Read more

Mowing Down the Mistakes of Confused Common Core Opponents

On Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle’s online portal SFGate.com ran an anti-Common Core op-ed authored by George Ball, the “past president of the American Horticultural Society.” While reasonable minds may disagree about the merits of the Common Core, this particular editorial was so riddled with factual errors I couldn’t stop myself from going through this piece line-by-line to rebut the most egregious misstatements. It’s one thing for the far-right fringe to indulge in Common Corespiracy theories, but surely the Chronicle can do better than this? Read more

Why are the Common Core standards worth fighting for?

Before answering that question, let’s first do a little homework. Please turn to page 22 of this booklet, released only this morning, which contains sample assessment items from the New York state Common Core-aligned math assessment for third graders. Although you might be afraid of math even at this grade level, page 22 contains a relatively easy question about finding the areas for two equivalent rectangles. This question aligns with the Common Core standard 3.MD.C.7a, which in plain English means 3rd grade math, measurement and data, covering the concept of geometric measurement of area and related to multiplication and addition. Read more

Curriculum, the Trojan Horse of School Reform

As a country, we’ve vastly under-appreciated the importance of high-quality content as a key lever to improve teaching and learning. One of my mentors Dr. Denise Pope, lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Education, calls curriculum the “Trojan horse of school reform.” I believe this to be true, now more than ever. The conditions are ripe for a curriculum revolution that has the potential to both improve student achievement and support great teaching.* Read more

Refuting Peter Buffett’s ‘New Code’

So, what should we make of Peter Buffett’s op-ed against “The Charitable-Industrial Complex”? I’ll confess I’m confused by his argument. Buffett begins by railing against something he calls “Philanthropic Colonialism,” which he describes as the hobby of philanthropists who want to improve the world by meddling with farming methods, education practices, or job training. There’s a legitimate argument to be made about how misguided philanthropic endeavors in local communities can go awry (and Buffet is hardly the first to make it). Read more

Alive in the Swamp

Sir Michael Barber, Michael Fullan and Katelyn Donnelly discus education reform and the impact of learning technologies. They also discuss “Alive in the Swamp: assessing digital innovations in education”, which offers practical advice on how to navigate through digital innovations in education, and suggests where more innovation effort is needed. Read more