Celebrities and Education Reform

“We are going to be that groundbreaking school that will be a nationally recognized model for urban and public school excellence,” I Promise principal and Akron native Brandi Davis told USA Today. “We are letting people know it is about true wrap-around support, true family integration and true compassion.”

Students were selected for the inaugural class based on their academic history.

“Looking at reading data, we identified students who were a year, two years behind in reading,” Keith Liechty, the Akron Public Schools’ liaison to James’ foundation, told the newspaper. “From that, we had more than 120 kids. We had to put a cap on it so we could fit under one roof. We did a random selection of all students who met that criteria and got to make these awesome phone calls to parents and say, ‘How would you like to be part of something different, the I Promise School.’”

Most of the teachers believed that a broad curriculum is essential for a good education. Most believed the state tests in math and language arts were driving the narrowing of the curriculum and that the testing regimen had caused deep changes in day-to-day teaching and in school culture. According to teachers, the focus on math and language arts at the expense of other disciplines has had other effects. Nine out of ten teachers said that when a discipline is included in the state’s testing system, it’s taken much more seriously in schools. Two out of three said it was easier to get money for technology and materials for disciplines that are tested.

Many educators and advocates of more balanced approaches to education are campaigning to expand STEM to include A for the arts: STEAM. I’m delighted that they are. Schools should also make room for the humanities: so,SHTEAM? And what about physical education? You see the problem. The real answer is to have a properly conceived, acronym-free approach to children’s education, and that’s what we should all be pressing for.

I Promise will feature longer school days, a non-traditional school year, and greater access to the school, its facilities, and its teachers during down time for students. That’s a formula aimed at replicating some of the at-home support children may be missing when it comes to schoolwork. The school has also anchored its curriculum in math and science-based teaching, dipping into the STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — curriculum that prepares students for the jobs of the future.

Bill Gates meets with Camille Jones, the 2017 Washington State Teacher of the Year. Camille teaches STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math at Pioneer Elementary in Quincy, Washington.

So what do we know about how people learn? You could turn to foundational texts like Clark and Mayer’s e-Learning and the Science of Instruction, Dan Schwartz’s The ABCs of How We Learn, and Hattie and Yates’s Visible Learning for detail. Or you could look to the excellent summaries compiled by Deans for Impact, LearningScientists.org, and Digital Promise Global.

An app he created in 2015 — called Byju’s — is moving in that direction. The application, affordable and accessible in all parts of India, has enabled 900,000 subscription-paying students to expand their education regardless of their personal circumstances. That’s exactly what Raveendran, now 38 years old, had in mind when he came up with the idea. “We believe that a level playing field for all students will enable them to learn better,” he says.

The app is now part of Think and Learn Private, Ltd., the largest for-profit provider of digital education content in India. It had generated $85 million in revenues as of the end of its last fiscal year and has a renewal rate of 85 percent. Since over 92 percent of surveyed parents report an improvement in their child’s grades, investors are also confident that Byju’s can help narrow the national education gap.

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Ismail Ali Manik

Ismail Ali Manik

Uni. of Adelaide & Columbia Uni NY alum; World Bank, PFM, Global Development, Public Policy, Education, Economics, book-reviews, MindMaps, @iamaniku