Ed Reform and Theory Meeting Practice
I'm starting this blog today as a resource. My aim here is to serve as both a source of information and a platform for discussion. This blog is primarily geared toward school and district administrators who want to make the most of their technology integration. This blog will be housed with Advance Classrooms, an exciting new organization born out of years of experience with Rocket Learning, one of the national leaders in instructional delivery. Our experiences with Rocket Learning have included both traditional instruction and large scale digital learning initiatives.
My passion for education began in my later years at Morehouse College but really took form during my graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania between 2000 and 2002. Philadelphia, vis-à-vis the State and Edison Schools Takeover, was the epicenter of the most exciting, provocative and controversial education initiative of the day. In my classrooms at the education school, I studied high-achieving models of excellence in under-resourced communities while just beyond campus struggling schools were the norm.
Edison Schools supported by the state governor decided it was time to mount a takeover of the entire Philadelphia school system. In 2002, the city was overrun by street protests of parents, teachers and students, corporate posturing, city council brawls and teachers’ union fights. This became my introduction to the prickly world of education reform. If that wasn’t enough excitement, the infamous No Child Left Behind legislation was passed just a few months later. NCLB may have garnered its fair share of criticism, but it also gave rise to one significant benefit. For the first time in the history of our country, low-income families with students in low-performing schools could receive tutoring in the same way that a family with means could.
My business partner, Mathew Fields, and I saw what was happening as a window of opportunity. We had dreamed of making a real difference in struggling schools for years. Here was our chance. We could come into these forgotten institutions and provide real rigor, support, and targeted instruction. We could give these kids what we had received: the chance to attend college, graduate school, or simply just to pursue their dreams unhindered. In 2002, we launched Best Education Partners, an organization that delivered after-school targeted, small group tutoring to nearly 1000 students across Philadelphia in both reading and math.
Our program started on a grassroots level, going door to door in one of the toughest projects in West Philadelphia near 48th and Haverford. One of those doors, I'll never forget, belonged to Ms. Jackson, a mother of 2 children in the neighborhood elementary school. As I told her about the new free tutoring program, her eyes lit up in disbelief. That day she walked with us for the next 6 hours speaking to other parents to make sure they did not miss this opportunity to help their children. When our tutoring programs began students would literally run from their schools to our after-school buses. We later learned that these were some of the very same students that were tuned out during the school day. I remember Ms. Tate, one of our first teachers, saying to me, “This is the reason that I began teaching, to deliver instruction like this.” I knew immediately that we were onto something special.
It was in West Philadelphia that all my learning, my research modules, and theory joined with practice. I started to see, with my own eyes, that what worked was: personalized learning, an engaging curriculum, motivated teachers, and gathering the support of parents. These became the pillars for all the work I did after. These are the same pillars that we have a chance to further expound upon through technology. For the last 15 years, I have partnered with school districts across the country continuing this work, finding the Ms. Jackson’s and Ms .Tate’s in each community and each school, delivering engaging curriculum and ensuring that students have the shot that I had. We are just beginning and we have a lot more work to do. Welcome to the journey.