Colossal Academy’s Shiren Rattigan on Microschools and School Choice

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The Learning Curve transcript, August 16, 2023

Shiren Rattigan, Colossal Academy

[00:00:00] Charlie: Well, hello, everybody, and welcome to another edition of The Learning Curve podcast. My name is Charlie Chieppo. I’m guest hosting today, and I’m pleased to be guest hosting along with Kendra Espinoza. Some of you may know that name. Kendra was the lead plaintiff in a Supreme Court decision, which I believe came down in 2020, that was really a very, very important breakthrough for choice and allowed her two daughters, who I was lucky enough to meet when Kendra was in Boston, to attend a school that was really the best option for them.

[00:00:57] Charlie: And it’s a case that will, I think have a strong impact on some of these what are called Blaine Amendments that stop any money being directly or indirectly used for private education, any public money being used for private education. So welcome, Kendra. We’re glad to have you.

[00:01:12] Kendra: Thank you, Charlie. I’m honored to have the privilege of co-hosting with you today.

[00:01:17] Charlie: So, I think we’re going to start with our stories that we have from some of the things that are going on in the education world. So, gather around kids, because Charlie’s going to tell you a story about education politics in New York City today. Success Academy is a network of New York City charter schools, has 53 schools in the city. Some of them are co-located with New York City district schools. Now, the United Federation of Teachers the local teachers’ union, sued to stop two Success Academy schools from opening. Just this week, actually, they were, they opened. One was in Brooklyn, one was in Queens. And these are among the schools that share space with district schools.

[00:02:00] Charlie: Last Friday, the judge threw out the UFT challenge and I’m glad to say that the Success Academy schools opened yesterday, but a few things — or I should say Monday, given that by the time you all are hearing this — a few things jumped out at me about the situation that I just wanted to mention. One, it was very interesting to me that the UFT’s case was based on city class size regulations that allow not more than 23 students in a middle school class or 25 students in a high school class. And I think that is so symbolic of an education bureaucracy that is so much more hung up on inputs than on actual performance. And, of course, as in most urban areas the Success Academy students dramatically outperform their New York City district schools, particularly among students of color, and it would seem to me that is the most important thing.

[00:02:53] Charlie: Now, the good news in this was the second piece, in addition to the fact that the schools have opened, but the good news was that the city law department actually intervened on behalf of Success Academy, which hopefully indicates a move away from kind of the anti-charter stance of Mayor de Blasio and back to a more charter friendly stance that Mayor Bloomberg had for his terms in New York City.

[00:03:16] Charlie: And I guess the last thing I would say was I was taken by the fact that there have now been nearly 20 attempts to block or delay Success Academy schools from opening, and none of them have been successful, which leads me to wonder whether Rudy Giuliani is the UFT’s lawyer, but I think that more likely the fact that they keep bringing these challenges may have something to do with the fact that there is an ongoing decline in the New York City public schools’ enrollment, which speaks to me to the reason that they seem to be so up in arms about this and you know, it’s one of these situations yet again where I look at it and I’m not sure that their position is all about the children. So anyway, that’s my story. Kendra, what do you have for us?

[00:04:05] Kendra: I just want to tag onto that for just a moment. I read that article as well, too, about Success Academy there in New York, and I liked the quote that the founder and CEO of that Success Academy said, and she said, it is unconscionable that a union representing educators would try to block schoolhouse doors and bar hundreds of children from starting school. And you’re absolutely right. I think that a lot of times that they’re worried about losing enrollments and, of course, their funding. But really, I think they like having that monopoly that ability to influence students their way.

[00:04:37] Charlie: Oh, I think I think there’s no doubt about that! I think, you know, it’s funny, I noticed that very same quote. And I think it’s very interesting that entity that considers itself so enlightened is actually sort of mimicking the behavior of something of a dark past.

[00:04:55] Kendra: Mm hmm. Right. But really, competition is healthy. It’s good for education.

Charlie: That is true.

Kendra: So, I just wanted to carry on with that talking about our case here in Montana. When we had our Supreme Court case we seemed to have instant pushback, too. We always had pushback from the get-go when that legislation was put in place in 2015 for the tax credit scholarship program. And what started out then as a $150 donor cap. We’ve now effectively moved that up to a $5 million per year for 2024 starting in 2024, which is, it’s huge. I mean, it’s a huge win for parents that are utilizing these scholarships, but we’ve always had that pushback against educational choice and, education freedom, school choice and freedom here in, in Montana.

[00:05:41] Kendra: But it’s not just Montana, it’s all over. But recently, Montana, we’ve had a couple of really big wins here. The governor signed several new laws into place and, and we’ve got particularly the one Community Choice Schools Act, which has been primarily led by Trish Schreiber, she’s a staunch advocate and supporter of school choice and, and she’s been really supporting education freedom for, a long time, for the last several years at least, and I know she has spent countless hours behind the scenes and just poured her heart into making this new law a reality, and so we’re really grateful for her, but it’s finally, I mean it’s taken 24 years for Montana to finally pass a true charter school law.

[00:06:21] Kendra: And now we have options for parents here, and things will start developing in the next few years, but parents and teachers and citizens now can work to develop these unique, mission-focused schools, public schools that offer specialized education to parents, and I know that there’s a lot of students that could really use it.

[00:06:42] Charlie: it’s interesting to me as I listen to that Kendra, first, obviously, there’s a sense of, you know, that it’s great to hear about these wins. The other reaction is how did it end up at Montana as one of the last schools to have a charter school or last states to have a charter school option? I wouldn’t have expected that.

[00:06:59] Kendra: Right, you know, and it’s been, it has been a long time coming, but there’s been, always been a lot of pushback from the establishment. And even now, there’s a lawsuit that has already been filed from a couple of the big special interest groups, the lobbying groups, the establishment, you know, you’ve got the MQEC, which is the Montana Quality Education Coalition, and the League of Women Voters, and you’ve got a former Board of Education member on there, some teachers, and they’re all suing already our state, our governor, the superintendent of public instruction, to try to prevent these community choice schools from becoming a reality.

[00:07:33] Charlie: Boy, it doesn’t take long.

[00:07:35] Kendra: It doesn’t take long. I think it really boils down to the fact that children belong to the parents, not the government. And we parents should have that right to choose. There should be options if the public schools are failing, parents need options.

[00:07:49] Charlie: Well, that’s well said. So, coming up after the break, we have Shiren Rattigan, a micro school leader from Florida.

Well, we are thrilled to have Shiren Rattigan with us this week on The Learning Curve. Shiren Rattigan is the Founder and Lead Educational Curator of Colossal Academy. She is a U.C. Berkeley Extensions Educator who has been featured in Forbes, Sun Sentinel, LiberatED, and ReimaginED. Both a VELA Education Fund and YASS Prize/STOP Award Quarterfinalist, Shiren uses her 12 years of experience in adolescent education, as a teacher and an advocate on behalf of meeting the educational needs of adolescent students. She is a wife and mother of three daughters. And Shireen, welcome. We’re really thrilled to have you this week on the Learning Curve.

[00:08:51] Shiren: Thank you so much for having me.

[00:08:53] Charlie: So, let’s get right into it. You’re a former public school teacher, educational entrepreneur, and now a national leader in the microschool movement. Would you share with our listeners your background, how you became interested in K-12 education, and how your professional experiences prior to founding Colossal inform your overall philosophy about education?

[00:09:13] Shiren: Sure, so you know I am an arguably fifth-generation educator. Definitely my great-grandmother had a one room schoolhouse on a farm. My grandfather was a superintendent of schools in the very small town that my mother grew up in, my mother —

[00:09:29] Charlie: Now where was that?

[00:09:30] Shiren: Normal, Illinois. Normal, Illinois and Georgetown, Illinois, which are not normal at all. Or my mom is not normal at all! She was a SPED teacher for over 35 years in Zion public schools school district, which is um, Title I school she worked in for over 35 years, special ed, and then came along me. And, you know, I had a lot of resistance actually to going into education. I saw what it meant to be an educator, which was to give yourself wholly to your work and your vocation. And I didn’t necessarily want to do that. But um, when you grow up in a family of educators, everything’s a teachable moment. The way you speak, even, the way my mom raised me is very much education focused. So, there’s no, it’s inevitable, you know, it’s the teachers, children inevitably become some kind of educator. So, I went to work in public schools originally, and I was pregnant with my second daughter and I was restraining students.

[00:10:39] Shiren: I’m a math teacher. So, it was after math class and these kids were fighting and I was really pregnant, and I was realizing that I could lose my child. Like, this is a potential very dangerous situation that I’m in charge of making sure that these two children are not fighting, but at the risk of my own self, at the risk of my child. But I went on to work. I said, OK, I’m going to try private schools, which is for many public school teachers, feeling like you’re abandoning the system or you’re abandoning your, your students and being a traitor, right? So, I worked at private schools, very elite, very expensive, almost the exact opposite end of where I had been. And I found that it just wasn’t quite right either. There was missing connection. There was, we were missing nature. It was all about rigor and high competition. And so, I said, OK, let me try Montessori. So, I tried Montessori. There was lots of nature, but I missed the rigor part of it. And so, that’s kind of the genesis of Colossal, is like kind of pulling all of those things together into what now is Colossal Academy.

[00:11:45] Charlie: So, it’s almost as if you couldn’t find exactly what you wanted out there. So you created it.

[00:11:48] Shiren: So, the great Kerry McDonald, she calls it the Goldilocks, but I had a Goldilocks lots of tears, right? Like I wasn’t quite right over here It wasn’t quite right over there But Colossal was just right. I saw myself really as Miss Frizzle. I wanted to be on a bus. I wanted to go on new experiences. I wanted to be in nature with kids. I wanted to be experiencing our learning and not just from a textbook, but really relevant learning opportunities. And so, I have just that. I have — we just bought our second van because we’re growing and expanding. So, we’re on a bus. We’re able to go to Surfskate Science, which is a brilliant program here in South Florida. And the kids are on surfboards and skateboards every Friday. We have academics really four days a week, but on that Friday, they are together learning relevant skills that are really practical. And also they’re together with each other on the beach, like a magical experience to have. So yeah, that’s kind of how Colossal came about.

[00:12:48] Charlie: I sure spent a lot of time reading The Magic School Bus to my kids when they were young, I can tell you that.

Shiren: Yes!

Charlie: All right. So, microschooling is often described, it’s funny, you talked about your five generations back being in a one-room schoolhouse. Microschooling is often described as the reinvention of the one-room schoolhouse. It combines homeschooling, smaller class sizes, mixed age level groupings, flipped classrooms, personalized learning. Tell us about how you became interested you know, we heard about it from a more personal point of view. Tell us more a little bit about how you became interested in founding this kind of setting for an educational experience.

[00:13:26] Shiren: I think that we all really longed for deeper connection with, our educators, between the educator and the student and the student wanting to be seen and heard and have their individual time. And I knew that. I didn’t really know what a one-room schoolhouse was or what a microschool was or any of those like kind of terms or labels, but I knew that the way to move forward in the best possible way was to maintain being small. I also understand that just because someone’s your same age, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be at the same exact, place in the book as everybody else, right, at that same age.

[00:14:02] Shiren: I really understood and really loved what I learned in Montessori about having the mixed age and it’s a better practice to have, you know, you have — how many of your friends are exactly the same age as you. It just doesn’t actually work like that in the real world, but I understood that really having a small class size, having a range of ages to work with. I understood that having Community members, whether it be the local bakery, or we had, we interviewed an astronaut candidate one time, but having these people coming in and pouring in so that my students could see themselves and all plethora of people in the community was really important. We personalize and tailor learning almost, almost too much! Like sometimes I’m like, maybe I should not, maybe we should all just read chapter one. It might be really easy to do that. But what happens is we spend first few weeks really getting to know student and understanding where their academic levels are, where they are emotionally, where they are maturity-wise, right?

[00:15:03] Shiren: And then we start to personalize a plan for them. So, we put them in the math level that they really need to be in. And we encourage, not too hard, back to Kerry McDonald — not too easy, not too hard, just stuff, right — of a math level, as well as their language arts. And we’re able to really tailor. And then we have a great relationship with our parents, right? So, the parents — I had a mom text me the other day and say, my daughter’s really into Japanese. I was like, oh, that’s crazy, because two other kids are really, I’ll get a Japanese teacher. Great, that’s nice and easy. So, having that relationship with the parents has been instrumental because they know their child, they know what’s right for their, kids, and I’m here to be in partnership with them.

[00:15:43] Charlie: Oh, that’s great. That’s a great anecdote. I love that. Clearly the pandemic dramatically changed K-12 education in America. You know, and particularly when it comes to the expansion of models like yours, parents and families view their traditional schools more skeptically, you know, to open the door, as I said, to wider choice options. And it really expanded parents’ interest in homeschooling in micro schools and pods. Can you discuss your experience with the pandemic in schooling and how that animated your work to found Colossal Academy?

[00:16:15] Shiren: COVID and the pandemic really were the catalyst. It was the moment, the break in time. I had three of my own children at home and I had a four year old and I think it must have been a six year old. And then I had a 12 year old, all in one household. And I’m listening to such varying ways to deliver education to all three of these kids while I’m also trying to teach my own classes, right? So, what I found was like, the kids really need to touch and play with stuff. They don’t need to be learning in the computer. They need to be learning with their hands with manipulative and creating things. And so, what I would do is I would literally pack up these kits, and I would drive them to their house on Sunday night, Sunday evening.

[00:17:01] Shiren: On Monday morning, they would unbox kit one out of their five for the week. And so, they’re working and they’re manipulating the materials in front of them versus like dragging them out. So, it really extended what I think could be possible with virtual, but we also met people from all over the world. We were able to meet a cohort of students from Azerbaijan and Brazil and Mexico and just have conversations. That was really fascinating.

[00:17:28] Shiren: But, you know, it started to, we needed to see each other. We needed to be out of the house, off of a computer. And that’s how I found Surfskate Science. Every Friday we would meet, and the students could then be together instead of online all day with each other, but actually together and doing a great sport of our state and then they had like togetherness and belongingness and so then the parents were like, well, you know, we would love two days in person.

[00:17:52] Shiren: I’m like, oh, let’s do two days in person, because we have three. And so now we have a five-day full blown, drop-off program as well as a hybrid situation where families just want two days or three days. And so, we’re able to really tailor what that experience is and what the needs are for the family.

[00:18:12] Charlie: Well, you got the advantage of being in South Florida where you can do more outdoors, which certainly came in handy during the pandemic. And why not take advantage of it?

[00:18:19] Shiren: You’re outside all the time. We went to a lot of — we did a lot of forest schooling. So, we would go to see in the forest and just, the Emotions were so heightened. Kids didn’t know how to necessarily deal with being inside all day on a computer. So just turning to nature. We did a lot of gardening our second year and they learned how to have their own organic farm and cook their own produce. And now that’s replicated with, what we have now. And we have growing corn, so I can’t wait for the kids to come back next week and see ears of corn, which is like impossible in South Florida because of the humidity and all that. But there’s rows of ears of corn that we’re gonna enjoy when they get back. And it’s just a thrill to watch them see that they planted something and now, they’ve yielded corn.

[00:19:09] Charlie: That’s great. So academic standards experts like E.D. Hirsch and others, have long been critical of progressive education’s hold on K-12 schooling, which has often emphasized child-centered learning, but decade after decade has largely been unable to improve students’ basic proficiency in reading and math.Would you talk about how microschools and pods and hybrid learning might hold progress in ensuring students acquire the academic background knowledge and grounding in curricular fundamentals that traditional public schools have struggled with?

[00:19:40] Shiren: Yeah, so a lot of my learners actually come with IEPs and 504 plans and the whole intention of having an IEP is to be able to individualize an education plan young people. And what ends up happening is that a lot of the services aren’t available because they’re just overbooked, overworked, over, over everything. Everything is just so, the resources and the time — really it’s the time — are not available to many of the SPED teachers or the manipulatives or whatever is needed. What I find is the problem is overcrowded, you know, overcrowded classrooms, overcrowded schedules for people. And so, what we really aim to do is what these are trying to do, which is the least restricted environment for many of students. So, if I need a child, if a child needs to put their headphones on and remove themselves from — and go into a different area, they’re more than able and capable of doing that, and we’re, we’re able to make sure that every child has what they need. But what I’d like to say in the, in the colossal model is we have two strong anchors of literacy and numeracy. So, we strongly believe in relevant education and being ready for the 21st century and having like a seamless transition to adulthood.

[00:20:50] Shiren: But we also understand that a lot of what is going to equip you to be an adult comes in having a strong foundation in literacy and numeracy. So, we use Florida Virtual School as our language arts provider, as well as our math provider. And we do take a map assessment every year. And what I’m finding is they’re growing at such rapid pace in comparison to their peers. That their growth scores are going 94th percentile, 95th, 99th percentile, that they’re learning two years of math, and within a year, and we’re able to really fill in the gap, whereas just the large model, especially in middle school, just can’t happen.

[00:21:28] Shiren: And the other part is we loop with our students. So, on Day One, I know exactly what my student is. Some of the students are still finishing up workbooks from last year, right? So, it’s not like I have to read it to know them. There’s new students every year, obviously, but I also kind of know more or less who the student is, where they’re at. And so, we don’t need to waste time trying to figure them out, and we could just go ahead and pick up where we left off. And so those are kind of two ways we’re able to really think in and work on their what I call anchors, um, anchoring language arts and math, but more than that, honestly, they’re pretty good. They’re happier. They’re happier people. We see heightened increase of their math esteem, which it’s great if you can do the operations. But how do you feel when you’re doing math, right? Are you willing to get up to the board and teach a lesson on it? How comfortable are you helping your neighbor?

[00:22:19] Shiren: And what I find now is that they’re so comfortable with Not only their math and their language arts, but they’re willing to share with their neighbors, they’re willing to teach, and so the internal dialogue of who they are, and they come in saying, I hate math, to leaving and saying, well, I, I don’t hate math anymore, but I don’t love it, but I could definitely strongly help somebody get through their multiplication table or, being able to share and display what they’re able to do.

[00:22:46] Kendra: Hi, Shireen. It’s Kendra. So, you founded Colossal Academy there in Florida. Would you discuss your state’s openness to educational entrepreneurship and the state and local regulatory environment around pods and online and blended learning? And homeschooling as compared to other states.

[00:23:04] Shiren: Sure. So, in order to innovate, we need less restriction and less policy that gets in the way of innovation. So, right now we are in the educational renaissance across the United States, and we are absolutely changing the face of education. What we need as entrepreneurs and innovators is obviously funding, and that’s how we can be sustainable, but also policy that’s going to allow us to meet in alternative places, to maybe have a different type of zoning for microschools, and that we can actually be sustainable.

[00:23:37] Shiren: So, as of July 1, Florida is officially an ESA state, making it possible for every family to actually utilize ESA funding for education savings accounts for their children. And so, families can actually choose what option is right for them. So public school has a beautiful lane, and a lot of people choose the public school. Charter schools is another lane. Private schools are another lane. Homeschooling is another lane. And we just have such a vibrant tapestry of all the different choices, but it really is up to the family to make a decision for what they think is right for their child. Whether that’s dual enrolling as a homeschooler 15 or 16 years old, or if it looks like we need to — we’re at the public school because we love our local public school. And all of those things can exist and coexist as long as we’re centering the child as the most important. Aspect of education, right? And so, families know, and they choose what’s best for their child and their family.

[00:24:41] Kendra: Yeah, absolutely. That focus has to be on the children and, and nothing else and I like Florida now is an ESA state. Montana just recently — in May — passed a couple of new laws and one of them was a special needs equal opportunity ESA. So, we’re on the way there to getting ESAs across the board. So that’s exciting. Since COVID, the data has been clear that parents are increasingly interested not only in wider private and public school options like we talked about, but, but also homeschooling and educational innovations like your pods. Would you talk with us about how Colossal Academy works to develop and support microschooling and pods and hybrid learning in these underserved communities and meet the educational needs of at-risk student populations?

[00:25:23] Shiren: So, Colossal Academy really opens itself up to be a low-cost microschool. Every owner of a microschool or pod really has the choice to set their tuition at where they need to be. Colossal really aims to be able to be everybody’s school, right? So that anybody can have a seat at the table of. innovative education. And that’s really made possible by being able to accept the ESA funding. For many of my students, I have a family that pays $48 a month, and I have families that pay $600 a month. It really just depends on where they’re financially able to contribute to their child’s education. So, what I work on is doing a lot of work around fundraising for scholarships so that students — so that gap between the ESA — because our tuition is $14,500, which might sound like a lot, but we are in South Florida and the prices of rent are astronomical. So, although I’m saying $14,500 very casually, it actually is a low-cost model.

[00:26:27] Shiren: So, we try to make sure that families can access this type of education, obviously, by taking the ESA and taking every form of the ESA. And also working on fundraising so that we can make sure that our students really have what they need. We work to — I don’t know if you know, yes every kid, but that’s a really great foundation with policy. And we’re trying to make sure that you know, it would be really great if we could match the public schools spending per child. So, the Broward County, which was the sixth-largest district in the United States, they, spend per pupil $18,500, which there’s a significant gap between the $7,000 with the ESA and the $18,500. But, you know, it’s just going to take time and we need proofs of models that work and are really reaching every child to make sure that they have what they need and that there’s going to be evidences of that. And I think South Florida is championing that right now.

[00:27:25] Kendra: That’s fantastic. So, I know we talked a little bit about, or you talked earlier about academic standards, but assessing student achievement has really become one of the more contentious issues in K-12 education policy. How does Colossal Academy assess student learning and how does it hold its teachers and students accountable for these academic outcomes?

[00:27:47] Shiren: Great question. We, because we do take ESA, we do have to make that compromise of doing an assessment. We do the NWEA, which is an aptitude test. It’s very low stress on the child as well as the learning culture, like we don’t prep them for that. We just take a math test at the beginning of the year and the end of the year. I tell them the day before there’s no pressure. I’m not test prepping them all day, every day. So that’s one of the things that we do to see where they’re at with their peers nationally, but more than that, our students are building portfolios and on their portfolios. They’re designing their own website of learning. So, it is capturing really their journey of learning and we have four basic pillars within Colossal. One is entrepreneurial. We want you to graduate as the CEO of your business that you’re in, because we believe firmly that a strong economy actually is the basis to a peaceful society. The other aspect is experiential learning. So, they’re able to talk about what they learn and show what they learn through photography and captions on their portfolio.

[00:28:55] Shiren: Another part is academics. Where are you at with your math, your language, your social studies, all of the core subjects. And the last component is our life skills. So, we cook with our students, they learn how to sew, things that are relevant and actually put them in a position to be successful. So, they build their portfolios and then teachers do the same. Teachers build their portfolios of what they’ve taught and what has been successful, what has not been successful, and reflect on where they’re at in their professional career.

[00:29:27] Kendra: Very good. Well, I have one more question for you. Going back almost 30 years, there’s really been a wide variety of virtual, online, digital, blended learning platforms, and it has a lot of mixed success in academic quality. Microschoolers talk about Zoom school and the poor-quality remote learning that many families experienced during COVID. Could you talk to us about the educational lessons that have been drawn from the pandemic, in particular, how online and hybrid learning can better meet the needs of families and students?

[00:29:57] Shiren: Honestly, it may not be the answer you want to hear, but I will tell you my opinion. I actually think that there are learners that do so well from online learning without having all the distractions of the classroom, moving people, just to have a quiet space and to be able to move at their pace. I have students that just excel tremendously in that type of — so that they can watch the video over and over or read the lesson over and over and don’t aren’t expected to get it the first time. What I will say, though, about the pandemic did with education is, unfortunately, our large systems of education weren’t ready and aren’t agile and aren’t nimble enough to really be ready to take that on, right? So, the trainings weren’t available. Really, teachers weren’t giving very much autonomy and freedom to have the classroom that they wanted and needed to have. And it was a disaster for many people. I think in our case, it was a beautiful moment to really redefine it.

[00:30:55] Shiren: But again, we stayed micro. \We were intentionally small because I didn’t want hundreds of students. I really wanted to do this well. There’s a great way to do online learning, and I wanted to do that at the best that I could. I don’t think that every teacher was given that opportunity to shine in the way that they could and, would if we were given the tools and resources to do it. But the pandemic learning was definitely, I think, more than it cracking open, really, the teacher’s abilities, I think what it really cracked open is the system’s inability to change and adapt and move. Teachers have been adapting and moving all the time. We do it every two years with the whole overhaul and whole national standard shift in focus. And then we are nimble people, but I don’t think that we were given the opportunity to really shine in the way we could have if we were given more access to resources or time to develop how we wanted to. And then also to do what we knew what would have been right. So, for some of us, it would have been absolutely, I’m staying, I’m not shutting down, and I know that I can have a classroom with students, and others being like, I’m going to be home. And then having that choice that just didn’t happen. So, there were large district-wide decisions made that impacted people on the ground that are amazing classroom teachers, but maybe not so great as Zoom teachers that would have been happy to been in the classroom, right? And so, we were all kind of forced into one avenue of how to teach and that just doesn’t work at all.

[00:32:23] Charlie: Well, Shereen, that was great. Yeah, thank you so much. I really appreciate you making time for The Learning Curve. And I’ll tell you what, I think I’m speaking for Kendra when I say that I certainly learned a great deal from listening to what you had to say. So, thanks so much for joining us.

[00:32:37] Shiren: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited. The future is super, super bright. And I’m so excited to see what teachers and families are going to do and produce, especially now that we have more access to funding to be sustainable and do. What we love and know is right for young people. So, thank you again for the moment to amplify that message. And yeah, I look forward to hearing this and future episodes.

[00:33:00] Charlie: That’s right. Well, and it’s great to end on an optimistic note. The tweet of the week this week, I chose one from U. S. News Education, which was entirely selfish given that I have two kids in college, but it was tweet about looking at undergraduate students who work versus those who don’t and says about 74% of part time undergraduate students and 40% of full time undergraduate students in the U.S. were employed in 2020, which is an interesting number. And when you look back into the article that it’s looking into there was some pretty interesting information in there. On the plus side, you see that those who work tend to see increased earnings, that’s especially among students who are in non-elite schools, and on the negative side, it’s funny, this is one of those no good deed goes unpunished kind of things, you see that students who work often end up reducing their own access to financial aid. But it’s definitely worth a look, particularly from anybody who has any students in college.

So, next week on The Learning Curve, we will feature Jay Perini, who is the D.E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College and author of Promise Land, 13 Books That Changed America. And I hope you’ll tune in for that. And Kendra, it was just really great to get to guest host with you and I hope you come back and hope we can do this again. Thank you for joining us.

[00:34:40] Kendra: Thank you, Charlie. It’s really been an honor today.

Charlie: Thanks.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Charlie Chieppo and Kendra Espinoza interview Shiren Rattigan of Colossal Academy, a microschool in Florida. They discuss how Shiren became interested in K-12 education, how the COVID-19 pandemic led to her founding of Colossal Academy, and her development into a national leader in the microschool movement. Shiren addressed how microschools, pods, and hybrid learning can help students with curricular fundamentals that traditional public schools have long struggled with, and how educational alternatives can help underserved communities and at-risk students.
Stories of the Week: Charlie discussed a New York Post story about a judge tossing out a NYC teachers’ union challenge to the city’s new Success Academy charter schools. Kendra discussed the growth and status of educational choice and charter schools in her home state of Montana.


Shiren Rattigan is the Founder and Lead Educational Curator at Colossal Academy. She is a U.C. Berkeley Extensions Educator who has been featured in Forbes, Sun Sentinel, LiberatED, and ReimaginED. Both a VELA Education Fund and YASS Prize/STOP Award Quarterfinalist, Shiren uses her 12 years of experience in adolescent education, as a teacher and an advocate, on behalf of meeting the educational needs of adolescent students. She is a wife and mother of three daughters.
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