Here is an excerpt from an article that appeared in The Atlantic(January/February 2010) in which Amanda Ripley shares what she learned about recent efforts to improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning in public schools. She also discusses Teach for America (TFA), a non-profit organization founded by Wendy Kopp in 1990 after she graduated from Princeton. TFA’s purpose then and now is to recruit, train, and then deploy recent college graduates and other carefully selected applicants teach for two years in impoverished inner-city and rural communities where the quality of public school education tends to be poor and morale is often worse.
I highly recommend Kopp’s two books, One Day, All Children…The Unlikely Triumph of Teach For America and What I Learned Along the Way (Public Affairs, 2003) and A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All (Public Affairs 2011).
To read the complete Atlantic article, please click here.
* * *
For years, the secrets to great teaching have seemed more like alchemy than science, a mix of motivational mumbo jumbo and misty-eyed tales of inspiration and dedication. But for more than a decade, one organization has been tracking hundreds of thousands of kids, and looking at why some teachers can move them three grade levels ahead in a year and others can’t. Now, as the Obama administration offers states more than $4 billion to identify and cultivate effective teachers, Teach for America is ready to release its data.
On August 25, 2008, two little boys walked into public elementary schools in Southeast Washington, D.C. Both boys were African American fifth-graders. The previous spring, both had tested below grade level in math.
One walked into Kimball Elementary School and climbed the stairs to Mr. William Taylor’s math classroom, a tidy, powder-blue space in which neither the clocks nor most of the electrical outlets worked.
The other walked into a very similar classroom a mile away at Plummer Elementary School. In both schools, more than 80 percent of the children received free or reduced-price lunches. At night, all the children went home to the same urban ecosystem, a ZIP code in which almost a quarter of the families lived below the poverty line and a police district in which somebody was murdered every week or so.
[Be sure to check out the video of four teachers in four different classrooms who demonstrate methods that work, courtesy of Teach for America’s video archive, available at http://www.teachingasleadership.org/.]
At the end of the school year, both little boys took the same standardized test given at all D.C. public schools—not a perfect test of their learning, to be sure, but a relatively objective one (and, it’s worth noting, not a very hard one).
After a year in Mr. Taylor’s class, the first little boy’s scores went up—way up. He had started below grade level and finished above. On average, his classmates’ scores rose about 13 points—which is almost 10 points more than fifth-graders with similar incoming test scores achieved in other low-income D.C. schools that year. On that first day of school, only 40 percent of Mr. Taylor’s students were doing math at grade level. By the end of the year, 90 percent were at or above grade level.
As for the other boy? Well, he ended the year the same way he’d started it—below grade level. In fact, only a quarter of the fifth-graders at Plummer finished the year at grade level in math—despite having started off at about the same level as Mr. Taylor’s class down the road.
This tale of two boys, and of the millions of kids just like them, embodies the most stunning finding to come out of education research in the past decade: more than any other variable in education—more than schools or curriculum—teachers matter. Put concretely, if Mr. Taylor’s student continued to learn at the same level for a few more years, his test scores would be no different from those of his more affluent peers in Northwest D.C. And if these two boys were to keep their respective teachers for three years, their lives would likely diverge forever. By high school, the compounded effects of the strong teacher—or the weak one—would become too great.
Parents have always worried about where to send their children to school; but the school, statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which adult stands in front of their children. Teacher quality tends to vary more within schools—even supposedly good schools—than among schools.
But we have never identified excellent teachers in any reliable, objective way. Instead, we tend to ascribe their gifts to some mystical quality that we can recognize and revere—but not replicate. The great teacher serves as a hero but never, ironically, as a lesson.
At last, though, the research about teachers’ impact has become too overwhelming to ignore. Over the past year, President Barack Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, have started talking quite a lot about great teaching. They have shifted the conversation from school accountability— the rather worn theme of No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s landmark educational reform—to teacher accountability. And they have done it using one very effective conversational gambit: billions of dollars.
Thanks to the stimulus bonanza, Duncan has lucked into a budget that is more than double what a normal education secretary gets to spend. As a result, he has been able to dedicate $4.3 billion to a program he calls Race to the Top. To be fair, that’s still just a tiny fraction of the roughly $100 billion in his budget (much of which the government direct-deposits into the bank accounts of schools, whether they deserve the money or not). But especially in a year when states are projecting $16 billion in school-budget shortfalls, $4.3 billion is real money. “This is the big bang of teacher-effectiveness reform,” says Timothy Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that helps schools recruit good teachers. “It’s huge.”
Despite the perky name, Race to the Top is a marathon—and a potentially grueling one; to win, states must take a series of steps that are considered radical in the see-no-evil world of education, where teachers unions have long fought efforts to measure teacher performance based on student test scores and link the data to teacher pay. States must try to identify great teachers, figure out how they got that way, and then create more of them. “This is the wave of the future. This is where we have to go—to look at what’s working and what’s not,” Duncan told me. “It sounds like common sense, but it’s revolutionary.”
Based on his students’ test scores, Mr. Taylor ranks among the top 5 percent of all D.C. math teachers. He’s entertaining, but he’s not a born performer. He’s well prepared, but he’s been a teacher for only three years. He cares about his kids, but so do a lot of his underperforming peers. What’s he doing differently?
One outfit in America has been systematically pursuing this mystery for more than a decade—tracking hundreds of thousands of kids, and analyzing why some teachers can move those kids three grade levels ahead in one year and others can’t. That organization, interestingly, is not a school district.
Teach for America, a nonprofit that recruits college graduates to spend two years teaching in low-income schools, began outside the educational establishment and has largely remained there. For years, it has been whittling away at its own assumptions, testing its hypotheses, and refining its hiring and training. Over time, it has built an unusual laboratory: almost half a million American children are being taught by Teach for America
teachers this year, and the organization tracks test-score data, linked to each teacher, for 85 percent to 90 percent of those kids. Almost all of those students are poor and African American or Latino. And Teach for America keeps an unusual amount of data about its 7,300 teachers—a pool almost twice the size of the D.C. system’s teacher corps.
Until now, Teach for America has kept its investigation largely to itself. But for this story, the organization allowed me access to 20 years of experimentation, studded by trial and error. The results are specific and surprising. Things that you might think would help a new teacher achieve success in a poor school—like prior experience working in a low-income neighborhood—don’t seem to matter. Other things that may sound trifling—like a teacher’s extracurricular accomplishments in college—tend to predict greatness.
* * *
To read the complete article, please click here.
Amanda Ripley is the author of The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—and Why.
Here’s an article written by Martha E. Mangelsdorf and featured online by MIT Sloan Management Review. To check out all the resources, sign up for free email alerts, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
* * *
Al Roth, expert in game theory, experimental economics, and market design, is all about getting economists more closely involved in resource allocation — especially the complicated cases where you can’t depend on pricing to help in matchmaking.
Roth is the George Gund Professor of Economics and Business Administration in the Department of Economics at Harvard University and in the Harvard Business School and one of the big names in the field of matching markets — building efficient systems that match, for instance, new doctors to their first hospital jobs out of medical school.
MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson is a fan. Brynjolfsson writes at his blog: “In these markets, small changes in the ‘rules of the game’ can lead to big efficiency gains, and it’s not always obvious how to best make those changes. That’s where the kind of deep theory that Al does can have practical value.”
The Boston Globe profiled Roth and his work earlier this month, in a piece called “The Matchmaker.” The story looked at the way Roth is bringing economics into new corners of the real world:
“Roth has emerged as a rare figure in the academic world: a theorist willing to dive into real-world problems and fix them. After helping the med students, he designed a better way to assign children to public schools — the system now used by both Boston and New York. He also helped invent a system for matching kidney donors with patients, dramatically increasing the number of donations that take place each year. More recently, he and one of his students have been talking with Teach for America about improving the system it uses to deploy volunteers around the country.
“Academically speaking, Roth is a pioneer of so-called market design: finding situations where a market is failing — often, a place that most people wouldn’t even recognize as a market — and making it work better. Roth has influenced a cadre of young, energetic market designers, many of whom have taken up prominent positions at top universities. Inspired by Roth’s work, these rising economists are also setting their sights on real-world problems. Some are looking at dating websites; others are interested in how universities could do better at scheduling their students’ classes. Like Roth, all of them envision a world in which economists, as unlikely as it may seem, are recognized as society’s mechanics.”
* * *
Martha E. Mangelsdorf is a senior editor at MIT Sloan Management Review. An experienced business and careers journalist, she loves to edit, write and learn about management, innovation and entrepreneurship — something she has been doing since she worked at Inc. magazine, where she was a senior editor, a senior writer, and a senior producer at Inc.com. She has been editing for MIT Sloan Management Review since 2005. Another area of fascination for Mangelsdorf is career transition and career change. For four years, she wrote a monthly series about career change for The Boston Globe. Her book about that subject, Strategies for Successful Career Change: Finding Your Very Best Next Work Life, was published by Ten Speed Press/Random House in 2009. Strategies for Successful Career Change was named one of ten “best new books for job hunting” by More.com and one of “five books that will help your career” by CareerBuilder.com.
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Julie Greenwald, chairwoman and chief operating officer of the Atlantic Records Group. She says she encourages employees to participate in small meetings. “I’m not afraid to call a meeting and shove 17 people into a tiny office,”
To read the complete interview and Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
* * *
Bryant: When was the first time you were in a leadership role?
Greenwald: After I graduated from Tulane University, I joined Teach for America. I asked to be stationed in New Orleans. I was assigned to a third-grade class at a school inside Calliope Projects. The school separated students by test scores that year, and I had the kids who were at the bottom. Most of my third-graders couldn’t read, and so it was very challenging.
That was the first time I realized how you need to be so resourceful, because I saw that I was not going to be able to do the job by myself. So I went to the Tulane law school and I went to the African-American student association of lawyers and I told them my story. I said, “I need help because the only way we’re going to be able to teach them how to read is if we can get one-on-one time with them, and the way it’s set up is there’s really no one-on-one time because there are 26 kids.”
Also, I said: “I need some role models. These kids should see you making a difference becoming lawyers, going to college, going to grad school.” I used all my Jewish guilt and I signed up about 30 volunteers. For the whole year, I was never alone. I had all these bright, wonderful law students coming into my classroom, so we could divide and conquer. And by the end of the year, a lot of my kids were reading, doing great in math, but it was a really stressful, hard year.
Bryant: So how did you get into the music business?
Greenwald: That summer I came to New York City to get a break. That’s when I met Lyor Cohen and started at Rush Management, which is crazy because I didn’t know anything about hip-hop music or rap music. But I had just spent that year inside Calliope Projects, being surrounded by these fantastic third-graders who loved listening to hip-hop music. It was really interesting how it all kind of worked out.
Bryant: And what did you do at Rush Management?
Greenwald: I was Lyor’s assistant. I didn’t even have a desk and a table. I had to literally sit on the arm of a couch. He would be on the phone talking, yelling, barking, and I would be doing itineraries, tracking down artists. Whatever he asked me to do, I did it.
He would just send me on missions and say, “It’s your job to make sure Flavor Flav gets on the plane.” And Flavor Flav was a really nice guy, and he was super-wonderful, but he thought it was funny to lose me inside an airport, and so you had to quickly learn how to get along with artists and figure out exactly how to work them. Lyor used to give me crazy, impossible tasks to do.
Bryant: And so what was the first job where people were clearly reporting to you?
Greenwald: Lyor sent me from Rush Management to Def Jam records. I went to the promotions department and I saw that it was very disorganized and chaotic, so I pulled everybody together and I got things organized. Very quickly, they promoted me to be general manager of the department.
Bryant: Was that an easy transition for you?
Greenwald: No, because I was 22 or 23, and I was so young and new. So I just had to kill everybody with kindness, and I tried to make their jobs more efficient. I also outworked everybody. I was in that office at 8:30 in the morning. I didn’t leave that office till 11:30 at night. I outhustled everyone.
Then Lyor said to me, “I need you to start a marketing department.” And I said, “I don’t know anything about marketing.” And he said, “Go learn.”
And then he handed me the video department, and I said, “I don’t know anything about making videos,” and he said, “Go learn.”
And then he handed me the finance and budgets and the art department, and before I knew it, he handed me every department in Def Jam.
Bryant: What were some leadership lessons you learned along that trajectory?
Greenwald: It really taught me that the best thing I could do for my company and my people is to move them around and have them learn what everybody else is doing, so they really understand the nuance of each person’s job and how tough it is. That way, people respect each other on a whole new level. Everybody has to kind of know everybody else’s job. They don’t actually have to do it, but they have to have a real understanding, so there’s a whole layer of respect to keep everybody working hard together.
Bryant: Talk more about your leadership style now.
Greenwald: I spend a lot of time in small meetings. I make sure, as we’re working on projects, that we constantly talk about culture and what we need and why something is not just one person’s responsibility. I’ll talk through an issue, and really make sure everybody understands that we all have to have ownership over the artist and over the project and over this company. We’re all in it together. We’re all going to win together and we’re all going to lose together. So what do we need to learn about each other’s departments? How do we make sure everybody’s working together better?
Bryant: Can you talk more about the culture you’re trying to foster?
Geenwald: In meetings, I constantly talk about how we have to be vulnerable, and that it’s not fair for some people in meetings to just sit or stand along the wall and not participate. If you’re not going to participate, then that means you’re just sponging off the rest of us.
I’ll throw out ideas. Some of them will be horrible, and I’ll let people to the left of me or the right of me gong me and tell me that was the wackiest idea on the planet, and we’ll get through it. They won’t get fired. And then I’ll say to others, “O.K., you, what’s your idea?” It’s important for everyone to understand we’re a company where risk-taking is necessary.
I know it’s not easy sometimes. I hate public speaking. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. The only way I conquered it was being put on the spot all the time. In order to lead, you have to be a public speaker, and in order to be a department head, you need to be able to really drive the meeting and make sure everyone understands that the reason you’re the department head is because you’re a driver. You’re not just someone who’s taking a back seat.
Bryant: How else do you run meetings?
Greenwald: I’m not afraid to call a meeting and shove 17 people into a tiny office. We look like a clown car. But you know what? It’s O.K. because that’s when you feel like, “All right, we’re this tightknit unit.” So I started to assemble a whole other set of meetings in my office, and they’re like SWAT-team meetings, and somehow they’ve gotten bigger and bigger.
Sometimes I look around and I think, “Am I an idiot that I’ve got 50 people crammed into my office?” But it’s so tight and we’re so on top of each other that you feel the “It’s us against the world, man.” We’re not in the conference room. And everybody’s on top of each other, so there’s no seating chart. All of a sudden it sets a whole new playing field where there’s no hierarchy. Everybody’s now on equal footing. It’s like a free-for-all.
Bryant: Things you don’t tolerate?
Greenwald: No politics. No stabbing each other. Anybody who tried that with me found out right away that I wasn’t going for it. If you disagreed with someone and you were afraid to tell her, but you told me, I’d bring both of you into my office and make you talk about it. I did enough of that in the beginning that people understood that if they didn’t confront another person to their face, I will blow up. If you’ve got an issue, you should be able to work it out. And when you can’t find resolution, I’m here to break the tie, no question. But don’t come to me to talk about someone else. That’s not going down tonight.
* * *
Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the Sunday Business section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. To contact him, please click here.
Not-for-profits know a lot about managing with zilch. That’s right. A bit counter-intuitive, eh?
Cherished, valuable brands like Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity and Make a Wish could teach a lot to start-ups, government, even ginormous businesses about how to build brand equity… without taking a Superbowl ad or spending gazillions of dollars on a fancy Madison Avenue firm, focus groups, and pretty PowerPoints.
Here are five simple lessons from terrific not-for-profits that will help you build a brand, without breaking the bank:
1. Open source your tagline. Ask your customer to describe your product or service in a sentence.
2. Rub up against your vendors/partners. Do some of these collaborators have shiny brands that appeal to your target market? Ask them to Tweet about you, publicly post you on their website, or have your CEO’s co-author an Op-Ed (or HuffPo piece). When DoSomething.org partners with Pepsi, we’re saying we’re a fighter brand. Another great example is the American Heart Association’s stamp of approval on Cheerios.
3. Write it down. Does everyone in your company know your key words? Your banned words? Even the tech guys and finance team at Nothing But Nets have a one-page version of their brand overview brief. It’s not just an email that was sent out by the head of marketing, it’s something everyone lives and breathes.
4. Be your target market. You should be your focus group. Your office should be full of people who actually use your product or service. Instead of constantly hiring focus groups and agencies, live it! Dress for Success often hires former clients and the CEO of Livestrong is a cancer survivor himself. Does your CEO — but also your receptionist, your legal counsel, and your mailroom clerk — love your product or service?
5. Look in the mirror. Do you only evaluate your brand position when there is a crisis? That’s like waiting to wash your face until you have a pimple. Great brand management requires daily use of Clean and Clear.
Nancy Lublin is the CEO of DoSomething.org, the founder of Dress for Success, a columnist for Fast Company, and the author of Zilch: The Power of Zero In Business.
Peter Drucker liked to challenge his consulting clients: “Don’t tell me you had a wonderful meeting with me. “Tell me what you’re going to do on Monday that’s different.”
The Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, which I run, hosted a CEO Forum last October with about 30 participants from the business world, social sector, and academic community. And from the beginning, we were determined to make sure that the event reflected Drucker’s steadfast desire to turn ideas into action….Did any of the participants actually make good on Lafley’s repeated reminders to follow Drucker’s do-something-on-Monday dictum?
The short answer: Absolutely. While we didn’t attempt to conduct a scientific survey, my colleagues and I were thrilled to discover that all four of those we contacted — Costco CEO Jim Sinegal, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren, Teach for America CEO Wendy Kopp, and P&G’s CEO Jim Lafley had, in fact, gone out and done something different because of what they’d heard at the forum.
Lafley, for instance, was inspired by the discussion in Claremont to review P&G’s capital spending and product commercialization plans to ensure that the company was investing appropriately in its mid- and long-term growth. In addition, he committed to monthly talent reviews to make certain that P&G is developing the leaders it needs for the future.
Meanwhile, Sinegal drew on the forum’s exploration of corporate values to think through a pay raise for the bulk of his company’s frontline workers. “Because of the downturn, our employees are having a tough time,” he says. “They deserve a pay increase. Even though it would be painful as a retail business at this moment to approve one, the unfair thing would be not to give them an increase.”
As Sinegal explains it, most of the conversation he had on the matter with Costco’s executive committee revolved around the size of the boost. “At one point, a person in the meeting stopped and said, ‘That says something about our culture right there. All our attention is not on the question of whether to approve an increase, but on how big it should be.'”
Kopp, for her part, also zeroed in on culture. Inspired by a McKinsey & Co. program described at the forum by the firm’s former managing director, Rajat Gupta, Teach for America has now embarked on a formal effort to convert its core values into practice among a new generation of managers. Says Kopp: “We are engaging our whole organization in reflecting on what about our current values is most crucial to succeeding in our long-term plan; what the unintended consequences of our values might be; and what other core principles might be missing that might be important.”
As for Lundgren, he came out of the forum focused more than ever on Macy’s customers. “I need to shift my time and attention to really put a significant amount of my energy and words and visibility behind becoming the ‘chief customer officer’ of the company,” he says. “Whatever we’ve done in providing customer service has been adequate, but not differentiating. We need customer service to be our differentiator.” In recent weeks, Lundgren has visited Macy’s stores in more than two dozen cities to spread this new customer-is-king gospel.
So, how about you? What’s the best idea that you ever took away from a conference or symposium that you actually acted upon? What’s your Monday moment?
* * *
To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit email@example.com.
* * *
Rick Wartzman (Rick.Wartzman@cgu.edu) is the executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University. He writes “The Drucker Difference” column for BusinessWeek online.
What makes a Great Teacher (or business leader)? – this: you don’t get better, at much of anything, by accident
The Atlantic has an article entitled What Makes a Great Teacher? by Amanda Ripley. Based on a lengthy, multi-year study of a whole lot of data by Teach For America, some clear conclusions emerge. Here’s my summary of the conclusions:
“You don’t get better (at teaching, or much of anything else) without intentionally trying to get better – all the time.”
I read about the article on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and he included this excerpt:
Great teachers tended to set big goals for their students. They were also perpetually looking for ways to improve their effectiveness. For example, when Farr called up teachers who were making remarkable gains and asked to visit their classrooms, he noticed he’d get a similar response from all of them: “They’d say, ‘You’re welcome to come, but I have to warn you—I am in the middle of just blowing up my classroom structure and changing my reading workshop because I think it’s not working as well as it could.’ When you hear that over and over, and you don’t hear that from other teachers, you start to form a hypothesis.” Great teachers, he concluded, constantly reevaluate what they are doing.
Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.
The parallels to business success are rather obvious. Perpetually evaluating what to do, always looking for ways to improve effectiveness; an intense focus; a very serious approach to the task of planning, working backward from the desired outcome; not letting outside circumstances dictate success or failure. Pretty good lessons here from the best teachers among us.
That is a question to which Wendy Kopp responds during an interview by Adam Bryant that appeared in the SundayBusiness section (“Corner Office”) in The New York Times (July 5, 2009). At age 21 before graduating from Princeton, Kopp raised $1.5-million in start-up funds and launched Teach for America in 1990, a corps of teachers who agree to serve in urban and rural public schools for two years. She continues to serve as its CEO.
“Maybe [creating a sense of mission] is easier in our endeavor than some, in the sense that we’re looking for people who are magnetized to this notion, this vision, that one day all children in our nation should have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
“At this point, I also had this revelation that we were no longer going to go through all this central development of strategic plans. I don’t know how many years we did that until I said: ‘Forget it. We don’t need to do this anymore. Let’s figure out our priorities and how we’re going to measure our success. And then we’re going to let people run after those goals.’ And that’s just freed up all the energy.
“Then lots other people came into the picture to figure out how you create a kind of data-driven organization where, at every level, we’ve got the right goals.”
You may wish to check out Kopp’s book, One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach for America and What I Learned Along the Way (2003), in which she explains how she planned, launched, and then built Teach for Americas during its first few years.
To read the complete “Corner Office” interview and several others of CEOs, here’s a link:
To learn more about Teach for America, here’s a link to its Web site: