Kimberly Steadman of Edward Brooke on Boston’s Charter School Sector

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[00:00:00] Albert Cheng: Hello everybody. I hope you’re doing well wherever you’re tuning in from. I am Albert Cheng, your co-host this week. for another episode of the Learning Curve podcast. And co-hosting with me this week is Steven Wilson. Steven, it’s great to have you on the show with us. Albert, it’s wonderful to be here. Why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself to the listeners. I know we’ve connected in the past, but not everyone listening has,

[00:00:25] Steven Wilson: Yes. I’m particularly excited to be joining you because Pioneer is very dear to me. I was there many moons ago. In fact, when we were working to all so much for joining us today, and we hope to see you again in the future. And academic education and how despite its aims, this will leave already marginalized students more excluded and less empowered and more unequal. So, I’m stepping right into some controversy as you can see.

[00:01:07] Albert Cheng: Ah, we don’t shy away from that here. And maybe let me up the ante a little bit and move on to our news. I guess what I wanted to highlight for a new story this week, it’s an opinion piece in the New York Times that showed up a couple days ago, and it’s entitled, Higher Education Must Reinvigorate the Liberal Hearts. And the authors of this piece started by observing a lot of the Protesting and the civil unrest or lack of civil discourse really on higher education campuses these days.

[00:01:40] And, they’re making an argument that 1 of the reasons for this is the higher education has shied away from the liberal arts. And there’s a view out there that. Reading some of these classic texts or these great texts, it’s a narrow minded because its only texts written by dead white European males and that sort of argument. But what these folks are arguing is that actually these texts tell us a lot about the human condition and human experience. And, without wrestling with the kinds of questions that generations of folks have. Wrestled with, we miss out on something important. We miss out a lot on understanding ourselves, miss out on critical thinking, miss out on having our own views challenged, and there’s a lot to gain from engaging in these classic texts, these great books, so to speak. And so we can pull up that article and point our listeners to that. But anyway, I you have thoughts about that, or, you had a new story as well that you wanted to talk about.

[00:02:35] Steven Wilson: Yeah, I just want to say, I’m so glad you picked up on that piece, Albert. It’s really important, and commitment to the liberal arts on campus is waning, and I think with very dangerous results. I think one thing that doesn’t get mentioned in the piece, or generally, is that being told what to think is really boring. And so, when you go into classes, including K 12, where you only see one point of view and there isn’t that kind of wonderful invigorating sparring with ideas that you’re describing, is that what is that children are bored and sullen and even angry.

[00:03:09] So we do need to fix that. And I’m really glad you raised that piece. So, my eye, this went to an opinion piece. This Week in the Hill by Tanya Tetlow, who is the president of Fordham University in New York. And she really vividly describes what she calls the, quote, slow moving disaster in K 12 following the pandemic. The, quote, untold injury on the achievement of young people. And she thinks this cannot be addressed. She’s been working with students just on campus, whether at her college or elsewhere, when students arrive. She cites the collapse of NAEP scores since 2019, of course, especially in math, and maybe most alarmingly, the widening of the achievement gaps.

[00:03:53] So what she’s calling for is exciting. She wants a national tutoring corps, what she calls a small army of tutors that would help students recover from pandemic learning loss. And here’s how it would work. Young college graduates would be rewarded for their service with college loan forgiveness. But instead of it being given away, as under President Biden, it would be earned from participating. And she’s quick to cite the success of so-called high dosage tutoring. So, it’s a really interesting and important proposal, and I hope one that is taken seriously. But I would just touch very briefly on some important obstacles. She cites the work of Harvard economist, Roland Fryer, his research on high dosage tutoring, but when we say high dosage, we mean it five days a week, 50 minutes each in small groups of six students.

[00:04:44] This, as Mike Goldstein of MATCH, who I consider the great expert on high dosage tutoring, will tell you is incredibly difficult to implement. And then the last thing I have to say, it’s not at all clear that there would be an appetite among young people for this effort. Their enthusiasm is for vanquishing racism and not fixing institutions or building new ones. So, I just would question whether we could ever attract the kind of numbers that we’re talking about. TFA, at its peak 10 years ago, was three times its current size. We have 2,000 core members a year, and her proposal would require A million or more, but still, it’s an important idea. I recommend the piece to everybody.

[00:05:27] Albert Cheng: Yeah, no, I think you’re absolutely right to point out the excellent research we have really on tutoring and what that can do. And I know, with some of the work you’ve been involved with in some of these high performing charters, that’s really a hallmark of the approach. You’re right to highlight some of the challenges we face. I hope we can surmount them and given our current moments with learning loss or lackluster academic growth. I hope that we’ve been observing. I’m all for any ideas and let’s try them out and see if we can build something and make some lives better.

[00:05:58] Steven Wilson: Absolutely. I just think that instead of adding a band aid, we should fix what’s broken, which is K-12, we pay for education four times, we pay for K-12, and then we add pre–K in front of that to try to fix it, and we add remedial courses in college after that. And then employers pay again to fix the skills gaps of their new employees.

[00:06:21] I would just hope that we would turn instead to finally fix a K 12. And that’s why I’m so excited about our guest today from Brooke, because she is proving that this is possible every day, but not to steal the thunder from you.

[00:06:36] Albert Cheng: Or, as Steven said, we’re going to have a Kimberly Stedman joined us after the break, so stick around to hear about her work at Brooke Charter Schools.

[00:07:00] Kimberly Stedman joined Brooke Charter Schools in 2004 as a math teacher and professional development coordinator. Since then, she founded Brooke’s First Elementary School and co led the expansion of Brooke from one campus to five. Ms. Steadman is currently serving as Network Co Director and holds responsibility for all academic aspects of Brooke. Before coming to Brooke, she taught fourth grade in the DC Public Schools and fifth grade in Chelsea Public Schools. Ms. Stedman earned a B. A. at Harvard College, a J. D. from Harvard Law School, and a Master’s in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Kimberly, welcome to the show. It’s a pleasure to have you here.

[00:07:41] Kimberly Steadman: Thanks. Thank you so much for having me.

[00:07:43] Albert Cheng: I did just read your bio, and there’s some information about your background, but I want to give you the opportunity to say a bit more. for 20 years, you’ve been a highly successful teacher, school leader, academic leader, educational entrepreneur, really, with Edward Brooke Charter Schools. Could you just share a little bit more about your background, your formative educational experiences, and really how they’ve informed the work and philosophy at Brooke?

[00:08:06] Kimberly Steadman: Yeah, to start off, I was just really lucky to have received a great education overall myself. I had some amazing elementary teachers and high school teachers who helped foster a deep level of learning.

[00:08:17] And I feel really grateful to have had that and privileged to know that’s not unfortunately an opportunity that everyone in this country has and that is distributed equally across all parts of our country. I want to start with gratitude for the education that I received. When I was in college, I knew that I wanted to do a service oriented career, and so dabbled in a lot of different things, but really just ended up falling in love with a program that I did that was an after school and summer program working in the south end of Boston, in via Victoria and Tent City, and it was working there that I did. Just really became passionate about believing that an excellent public education should be the birthright of every child, that there should be a range of public school options for families to decide which ones are the right ones for their own families. So I joined Teach for America after I graduated.

[00:09:05] I taught in Washington, D.C. public schools. Which when I joined in 1997 was going through a really rough patch and like school started three weeks late that year. my second year, I didn’t get paid until February because their payrolls were so messed up. just a lot of system wide problems there in DCPS.

[00:09:24] And with all of the confidence of a 23-year-old, that bold, naive, I’m going to go fix all these problems by myself. And so, I went to grad school and got my law degree and my master’s in educational policy so I could go write education laws that would fix everything. But the thing is, I missed teaching every moment that I was in grad school. And so I decided to go back into the elementary classroom. all so much for joining us today, and we’ll see you in the next one. Bye. We talk a lot about what our kids were learning and what our obligation was to our students. And so met John Clark at my interview at Brooke and just decided that he was somebody who shared my vision and I wanted to work with.

[00:10:18] So I joined Brooke at that point, and that was 20 years ago at this point. I joined Brooke, which was only in its third year, going into its third year of existence at that point. Just had fifth and sixth grade, so I joined as they were starting seventh grade. And then I’ve been here ever since, got the opportunity to start their first elementary school and then have gotten to work with just amazing people. Children, families, and educators throughout my time here. So I would say it’s like bringing everything that I’ve experienced together but also learning from everyone else all the time that’s informed our work and our philosophy here at Brooke because I’ve learned so much in my two decades here from everyone I’ve worked with.

[00:10:54] Albert Cheng: Thanks for sharing a bit more about that. I want to talk a little bit more just about, your background and how that informs how you operate things right now. There aren’t that many public-school leaders in Massachusetts or anywhere else, really, who’ve got three degrees from Harvard, including a law degree. Could you discuss a bit more about the academic expectations that you face to add an Ivy League and really how that training, whether it’s in law or in education, how does it help you pursue excellence as a leader in the charter school network?

[00:11:24] Kimberly Steadman: It’s hard for me to, separate out how much of it was having gone to Harvard in my Ivy League education, because it’s the only one that I have, it could be that the academic, Expectations are the same as other colleges, but I just don’t know any difference because I only went to one. I would say I got too many degrees from Harvard probably. I should have expanded and gone other places to learn from other institutions. But I loved my undergraduate there. And I got my law degree and education degree at the same time. So, I had to do those together. But I think that in general, being a disciplined thinker matters and being able to confidently learn involving listening to others, reading a lot and trying to just Learn as much as possible is something that I’ve been able to do and hone throughout my education, but I also think that being a disciplined thinker only helps so much because leadership is such a human experience.

[00:12:12] And I think that like my education of the humanities, and everything maybe helped me understand humans better, but I think a lot of it is learning from experience of doing it and leading by watching other people lead too. I would say the big thing that law school helped me do is know when I need to call a real lawyer instead of anything that I actually learned. Yeah. Okay. That makes sense. Yeah. I’m like, this could be a labor situation. Let’s call a labor lawyer instead of me thinking I know everything. My only career is law school.

[00:12:39] Albert Cheng: Let’s get into Brooke Charter Schools and their distinctives and just what’s going on in there. So, you mentioned John Clark. He’s your husband now.

[00:12:46] Kimberly Steadman: Yeah, he wasn’t when I interviewed. That was the first time I met him. Now he is my husband.

[00:12:51] Albert Cheng: Yep. Yep. Just for the record, but anyway, you are both the co-directors now at Woodbrook Charter Schools, and they’re a bit different from other charters that are run by larger education management organizations.

[00:13:02] I think of KIPP, for instance. So, tell listeners about the school’s curricula, the teachers, the culture, and really how you’re able to maintain that focus on high student performance in reading and math.

[00:13:14] Kimberly Steadman: Our teachers and leaders are amazing. I have deep gratitude for what they do every day. John and I are definitely leading the vision, but not solely. We are in a team that is working on this every day. I think that we have really stayed true to focusing on the instructional core. And really caring about that and having that in the forefront of our minds all the time. Our curriculum really values putting thinking on the kids and that’s been true for us all along.

[00:13:42] There are a lot of other schools that have gone in a different approach doing A form of instruction that’s often called the, I do, we do, you do instruction, where the teacher models something, then expects the students to work as a class to do the same thing, and then independently do it. Our approach, we have written out our elements of effective instruction, and it involves a controversial line rejecting I do, we do, you do teaching, and instead trying to flip that model and have our students really engage in the problem solving first. And whether that’s like reading a text on their own and then trying to process it with their teammates before the teacher steps in, or in math, we have something called problem solving tasks where students grapple with a problem that they haven’t seen before and try to figure out based on the logic of math, how they can do that next step and work as a team.

[00:14:34] Class to try to discuss it. So, it’s a very discussion-based students bringing a lot of their own thinking to discuss and teachers guiding and facilitating. They’re definitely a very active participant in it all, but not as the, the one who is standing in front, giving all the knowledge to students, but instead the ones who are ideally master facilitators of student learning during all. Yeah. So, if that’s our view, students need to be very actively engaged. And discussing and doing that deep thinking, then other things flow from that. So, like our culture is about building a culture of achievement in our schools. And so, you need to have a certain culture in order to do that and make all students feel like it’s a safe place for them to take those intellectual risks.

[00:15:16] And so a lot of things we do, I’m sure overlap with all of the other charters. I think it’s just the instructional vision really. is where it’s mostly coming from. And it’s been pretty stable the whole time that we’ve existed. Like, when I joined Brooke, it was John’s vision of, from his own instruction of how he ran math classes, and how, the responsibility for the learning and the belief that all kids can do it, and so having classes that flow from that.

[00:15:41] And then when I started the elementary school, just a different version of that system. Same aligned vision that we have that let us work so well together, which then ended up us getting married eventually. But that was a long time. That was many years and us knowing each other. But that like connection of like it always being about the student learning and the students doing the heavy lifting in every class has been consistent from when I joined Brooke 20 years on now. And it looks different in different places, like for me. A phonics lesson is going to look different than a middle school computer science or a high school chemistry class. We don’t just say, put together any chemicals you want and see what you learn. It’s a very guided learning experience, but it is always students doing the heavy lifting at the focus.

[00:16:22] Albert Cheng: Speaking of students, I want to give you a chance to describe your, the student body and the families that you serve. Book Charter Schools, really, you’re a network of urban schools that, why do you serve core minority students in Boston? Tell us more about the students, the families, and really how you’re able to help deliver the results that you do with these students.

[00:16:40] Kimberly Steadman: Yeah, I would say our students are wonderful, but I think all kids are wonderful. We’re a lottery-based school, and so I would say the students who get in are just a cross section of students in Boston. In Boston, we have school choice for everyone, and so it’s not that There’s a neighborhood school that kids go to, or they opt into charter schools. There aren’t neighborhood schools, so every parent is having to do a school choice mechanism. It doesn’t mean you get your choices all the time. My first choice would be for my own children to go to Brooke, and they have never gotten in. But that was also true of our Boston Public Schools. We ranked which ones.

[00:17:13] We wanted for our students, and we didn’t get any of our ranked choices there either. Sadly, there just aren’t enough quality schools for kids in our city. So, I think our students are great, but I don’t think it’s untrue of other students. Like those kids who don’t get in or don’t apply, I think are also wonderful young people. Our families send their kids to school every day, trusting us with their little ones to keep them safe, do right by them. I feel honored. that they trust us in that way. And like, when we look at what our families want, we know that we are very clear in what we are. We are an extended school day. We have a rigorous curriculum. We are college prep. We. Make commitments to our families when they come here. And I really deeply believe in school choice because I don’t know that every family wants that. Like our school day ends at four. You could have families who don’t want that long a day for their kids.

[00:18:03] And I totally respect that, but it is like us being very clear. If you come to Brooke, this is what we are. And so, letting parents make that kind of decision for themselves of what best matches their families. And then I think how we’re able to deliver outstanding results is. Because we are committed to our core, and we really focus on that core. And I think that involves some discipline thinking about saying no to a lot of things that seem like great things, like community organizations coming in to do a million different activities with kids or something like that’s great. We’re in a research rich city of Boston, but how can we. Instead, provide those options to families if they want to opt for that on their weekend time or anything.

[00:18:44] And we’re very committed to, we’re about academic expectations and academic excellence. And that’s what our focus is on. we have sports and afterschool clubs and all of those things, but we’re very clear that they are always secondary to our academic mission that we have. And we’re not always trying to do the next flashy thing. We’re pretty committed to just keeping our eye on. Our kids learning in our classrooms and how do we know kids are learning and how can we like every day just get a little bit better instead of believing that one thing is going to fix anything or cause drastic improvements that it’s that like day after day, year after year impact.

[00:19:21] And I think because of that, we’ve also been incredibly lucky to have very stable leaders within our schools too, which has been huge for us. A lot of schools have experienced a lot of leadership turnover. And like our first school that we had. John was principal of the middle school from the day it opened, and then I was principal of the elementary school. And then we turned it over when we moved to a network, and that principal that we turned it over to is still there. So, in the 22 years of the school’s existence, the middle school’s had two principals, and the elementary school’s had two principals, me and John, and now Meg Parkett, who’s wonderful. So, it’s that stability of leadership that I think causes families to trust us, too, and know that it’s the same people who they’re committing their kids to or entrusting their kids to every day.

[00:20:04] Steven Wilson: Kimberly, I would just say that this stability in leadership is really extraordinary, and I bet that is significantly due to the vision, Clary, that you and John have about instruction. You’re not as profited as you point out. By educational and ideological trends, because you have stuck by your clarity. I wanted to ask you if I could about expansion. To me, that’s one of the most exciting parts of the story and very significant for school reform nationally, that when you expanded to new campuses in the city. You maintained quality and in some cases actually outperformed the flagship. And that’s true for some other Boston charters that took the invitation for the state to expand. So the implication of that is that we can scale. Can you tell us a little bit about how you did that scaling and what mattered most to those successful replications?

[00:21:05] Kimberly Steadman: Yeah, replication is hard, and it’s a pressure point for schools, so it is a place where often results go down. We were lucky, as you said, to go in the other direction. We’ve improved as we’ve grown, especially in the first few years after expanding. I think there are a lot of factors for that. We had an incredibly strong staff when we moved to expand. And because of that, we were able to seed each of our campuses with high performing teachers from our original campus, and so when we started our second campus, we started with kindergarten, first, and fifth grade, and we were able to move our strongest kindergarten teacher and our strongest first grade teacher and very strong fifth grade teachers over to our second campus, and then the year after started another, and being able to move people within the city because they wanted that leadership opportunity to move into another campus.

[00:21:54] I think provided a really strong start for our schools and we were able to do that because our campuses weren’t that far apart from each other. Like we didn’t try to start one campus in Boston and one campus in Worcester and one in Spokane. Springfield, because they were all in Boston, we were able to have that kind of consistency of staff and leadership. So, I think that’s one of ours. one of our organizational values is we grow best together, and we hold that dear. And so, we have always been a very open door, like lone wolves don’t work out at Brooke. You really need to be part of the team and sharing ideas and trying to work together and our leaders really exemplify that.

[00:22:29] And so being able to learn from each other is something that we’ve held dear the whole time. For instance, we have instructional rounds where leaders from each of our campuses are in each other’s buildings, looking at classes together and talking about what feedback they would give so that we can make sure that our visions are consistent between campuses. We have principal meetings all the time. So, people are working together. Our assistant principal groups are working together. So, there is a strong feeling of connection between our campuses. And so, we were able. to grow on the academic side with that. Also, we did not have to spend a lot of organizational resources doing a lot of recruiting and things because our wait list has been so long that like we were able to start at other campuses and immediately have enough students and therefore have enough tuition and be able to make the financial side work well.

[00:23:17] Our waitlist, when we were expanding, it generally is between, 2, 000 kids on our waitlist every year. And so, because of that, we’re able to fully fill our schools as we grew rapidly. And then there are some of the not exciting but very true things about, acquiring real estate and that we, our good financial stewards, our organization, and so we were able to move quickly to build spaces and not have to move around the city because that kind of stress.

[00:23:41] Steven Wilson: Kimberley, sorry to interrupt you, but can I just punctuate the buildings? Fascinating. I love buildings.

[00:23:46] Yeah.

[00:23:47] Steven Wilson: And we did a lot of real estate development at Ascend too, and God knows it’s hard. But I just want to punctuate the three things that you mentioned. This cultural element of identifying with the whole and not just with your own school, can be a problem in charter networks. Huge. And then this idea of seeding, and the seeding only works if you have enough density in the first school of highly capable teachers. To be able to afford the loss. those are just, I just think that the things you mentioned are so interesting. I want to ask you about this extraordinary phenomenon of Boston having some of the best charter results in the country and the most progress at closing achievement gaps. I’m very curious to hear from you, what you think are the most prominent factors for driving that exceptional success. Is authorizing, the quality of authorizing, an important part of the story? Is it the labor pool of Boston that people would point to? The strength of the underlying charter statute? Or is it more about the drive and ambition of founders like you, who were educated to be ambitious, visionary people? Where would you place the explanation?

[00:25:02] Kimberly Steadman: It’s hard to tease it all out. I would say everything that you just said really matters. I think that the founders of the initial charter networks in Boston were very energetic leaders who were really passionate and clear eyed about providing excellent education to our kids and what that took. And I would say that, the drive and the energy from some of those founders was really inspiring. And so, it was like, I want my school to be better than John King’s, although we went to college together and it’s wonderful, but I want to help her for her future.

[00:25:32] Steven Wilson: That’s really important, actually,

[00:25:35] Kimberly Steadman: Like I was inspired by him and wanted to,

[00:25:37] Steven Wilson: It’s so interesting because ambition and competition is out these days, but there’s a very warm and important role that it plays.

[00:25:45] Kimberly Steadman: I think that, it matters how it’s done, of course, because I wanted outperforming people who I deeply respected by them rising and me rising to Competition can definitely turn to a negative place, but because we had strong relationships with each other, it doesn’t, it didn’t feel like a negative competition, which things can easily move to. And I think that it’s a deep love too, of my adopted city, that I love Boston and I just want more. Great seats in great schools in Boston. And so, people had that mentality. Like we visited each other’s schools. We like learned from each other actively because competition can also lead to people shutting their doors and trying to hide their secrets.

[00:26:23] And that was not at all the culture. So, I think that that was another, we grow best together, like we’re all in it to help our city and to rise together. I do think that the high state standards matter too, though. So, there are some structural things that like the rigorous assessment, like I love MCAS. I think it’s a test that I want my own children to be able to do well on, and I want the same thing for our kids here. I think that it provides us with a good test where kids have to think deeply and write and problem solve, and it’s gotten better over time. So, I think that having that is helpful, and then, yeah, having one charter authorizer I think is actually a very positive thing, and that early on the state was willing to shut down some schools that were not serving kids in the right way.

[00:27:07] Steven Wilson: Yes, and it has a very illustrious sequence of deputy commissioners or whatever their title was at the time that were running those offices. You’ve got Scott Hamilton, all kinds of Kirby and fabulous people. Okay, so now to turn a little bit to the darker side since, say, the 2016 charter school ballot initiative. I’m going to ask you a question about the ballot loss. The charter sector in Massachusetts has been struggling some more. And can you talk a little bit about that ballot loss, the various charter caps and regulations? And maybe also as another contributor, the new and different ideological commitments of freshly minted teachers. And how that might be changing the game and the challenges that you and other charter leaders face.

[00:27:56] Kimberly Steadman: Yeah. The ballot loss was really tough for us. It took some wind out of people’s sails. I think that it’s because the unions out messaged us and were very Tenacious in their campaign in a way that was really successful. Like we lived in an area of Boston, Roslindale at that point. And we would even have a sign up for yes on question two. And I would still wake up with my car having a flyer for no one to in my own driveway next to my sign that I could put in my yard, like they were just trying to get to everyone.

[00:28:29] I think that it was rough, but I don’t think it impacted what we were doing in our schools. I think it just made us quiet politically. At this point, we just want to fly under the radar and not have our funding cut, which is a pretty small goal, I would say. And so, I think that was something that then made it that we could focus just on our schools and not on replicating. And so it was a moment that we could do that. We also never had a, we’re going to take over all of a city plan, so it didn’t really change that much for us day to day. But, given our wait list, we would have considered a bigger scale, although not a huge one. And it’s just that, that we know that more families want a Brooke education than can get it.

[00:29:09] I wish my kids went here. So, it was hurtful in a we need to think more about PR, but I don’t think it like changed the day-to-day education our kids are getting. within their schools. The thoughts on like people going into teaching now and some like changes. We’ve had a lot of things happen in the last decade and COVID is no small thing. And I think that pendulums swing back and forth. And this is the long view of someone who’s been at the school for 20 years and will stay longer than this year, that we’re always trying to make our schools the best possible place for our kids and want them to feel valued and seen for who they are and all their complexities, but And I think Charter has had some work to do to think about that.

[00:29:48] We are really comfortable with our high behavior and academic expectations that we hold our kids to. We just gave a parent survey over the last two weeks, and 85 percent of our parents gave favorable responses to our academics, our behavior expectations, and then some neutral and very few negatives. So, we really do feel aligned with our families on why they’re choosing Brooke. And I think that sometimes there are, Some people who are grappling sometimes with, are we doing right by our kids and then bringing everyone back to, who we are and having that clarity of vision behind it so that you can weather storms like COVID with that clarity of who we are and that we are serving our families who chose this education for their kids.

[00:30:29] And I think there’s been some exposure of, if people aren’t clear about who they are and what they’re messaging and what they’re about. That it can feel like a really unmoored time as people are changing some of their thoughts about their relationship to their work and to what it means to serve others and how to balance things for themselves.

[00:30:47] Steven Wilson: Okay. I think on that, that one thing that pops out of that is again, vision clarity, right? You’re all about instruction. I heard that again and again. I was so excited that you saying staying true to the instructional core earlier in the hour and building a culture of achievement. And I think that part of your success. I think that’s robust enough to withstand claims for other purposes in the building. And I’m not sure that was the case at many of the other Boston Charges, particularly as they underwent leadership changes. And then, as a result of those kinds of challenges to their ways and approaches, We’ve now seen sinking results, but that’s not been the case for you.

[00:31:35] Kimberly Steadman: We’re definitely lower than we were pre COVID, and we are fighting to get back.

[00:31:39] Steven Wilson: Not nearly as much as others.

[00:31:41] Kimberly Steadman: No, not nearly as much as others. yeah.

[00:31:44] Steven Wilson: And that’s important.

[00:31:45] Kimberly Steadman: Yeah, the charter sector has definitely had a change in. In outcomes, I don’t know other schools well enough that I would feel comfortable talking about why for other schools, but I know that for us, it really is being clear of who we’re about. We have our core values as an organization. We stick to our organizational values. And we stick to a clarity of we are who we are and that.

[00:32:07] Steven Wilson: And because you have that clarity, you are gaining teachers who want to do that. You have that. if we were talking business, we would talk about, I don’t know, the value proposition.

[00:32:17] You have total clarity about that. And so you actually draw in teachers from other Boston charters that are dismayed by the changes that are taking place in their own schools.

[00:32:29] Kimberly Steadman: We definitely have our headshot concept from our good to great and are very focused on what we are is we are about great teaching. And that is our focus all the time.

[00:32:38] Steven Wilson: Exactly. So lastly, one last question for you, Kimberly. The charter sector has achieved great results for students in Massachusetts, but now it’s confronting real political challenges. I just wanted to ask you, what would you like to see the policymaking community and the wider folks out there help you? What would be most helpful to maintaining your results and growth and impact?

[00:33:06] Kimberly Steadman: Yeah, with policymakers, I want to make sure our funding doesn’t get cut. I’m very worried about the unpopularity of charters being a way to cut funding for education in one sector, but our families deserve to have their schools funded. And so always are looking for support with that. at this point, we listen to voters. We’re not trying to do any kind of increase in the charter sector at this point. I do think there needs to be a lot more that either charters do or. Any advocates help us do of getting out the message to everyone that we’re public schools, because that became very clear to us on the ballot initiative, that is not the perception and the understanding.

[00:33:46] And so just more truth telling around that, that we are public schools, and then I am always an advocate for charters being shut down, to be honest. So there was a hiatus on that. Things are changing right now, and schools are choosing to give back charters or on probation, and I don’t have any thoughts on any individual school that, that I would ever want to speak about, but I just think that the charter proposition is that this increased autonomy that you get has to come with increased accountability and accountability. Thank you. Because of COVID, all of that got disrupted with accountability measures, but we’re coming out of that now. And I hope that we can stick with that and also stick with MCAS, so that we can have an objective measure that we’re all holding ourselves accountable to. I’m concerned about the pushback right now that is happening against MCAS, and I hope that doesn’t remain a story for long and that instead we can keep the MCAS where it is and really commit to. Thank you. Having schools that are preparing our students for that objective standard.

[00:34:46] Steven Wilson: Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. The threat to MCAS is very serious because it’ll be replaced by all kinds of inconsistent measures that won’t give us a true read on how children are doing, and that’s essential.

[00:35:00] Albert Cheng: That actually takes us to the end, Kimberly. And so, I just want to thank you again for your time and for sharing about all that you’re doing at Broke and its history and how you got to where you’re at today. Thank you.

[00:35:10] Kimberly Steadman: Thank you guys for inviting me and for this great conversation.

[00:35:14] Steven Wilson: Thanks so much for coming.

[00:35:29] Albert Cheng: Yeah, I really enjoyed that interview too, Steven. it’s always a real treat to hear about some of the good work that folks are doing in and in some of our schools.

[00:35:37] Steven Wilson: Particularly her, it’s incredible what Brooke has accomplished.

[00:35:42] Albert Cheng: Yeah. This is going to take us to the conclusion of our show. But before we sign off, there is the tweet of the week, and this week’s This tweet of the week comes from Ed Week. It’s actually a reference to an article about two schools experience with their cell phone policy. One school leader can’t use cell phones, the other embraced them. What works? So I know we’ve talked a little bit about this on the show before, what do we do with cell phones? How do we What policies do we set at schools to optimize learning, really, or to eliminate distraction? I’ll point listeners to this interesting article. It talks about a middle school that enforced a ban and seemed to work, according to their school leader. And then a high school that actually encouraged the use of cell phones.

[00:36:30] And in their minds, it seemed to work. take a look at some of those stories and see what you think about those. That brings us to the end of our show. Join us next week. We’re going to have Maya Shiloni, who is an Israeli student at Harvard University, to come and discuss anti Semitism on campus. And Steven, finally, I want to thank you for co-hosting. It’s been a pleasure to run the show with you. Thank you. I’ve loved it. Yep. Hope to have you back again. And until then to everybody, I hope you have a wonderful rest of the day.

This week on The Learning Curve co-hosts U-Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Steven Wilson interview Kimberly Steadman, co-director of Edward Brooke Charter Schools. Steadman reflects on her educational background and leadership in urban charter public schools. She discusses the importance of rigorous academic expectations for K-12 students, and how this outlook influences her educational philosophy co-directing the Brooke charter school network. Ms. Steadman shares the challenges faced by Massachusetts charters due to the post-2016 ballot loss, and how she and other charter public school leaders advance supportive policy reforms.

Stories of the Week: Albert shared an article from The New York Times sharing the impact of Socrates, Plato, and liberal arts in higher education; Steven discussed a news story in The Hill on ‘national tutoring corps’ to fix education gaps.



Kimberly Steadman joined Brooke Charter Schools in 2004 as a math teacher and professional development coordinator. Since then, she founded Brooke’s first elementary school and co-led the expansion of Brooke from one campus to five. Ms. Steadman is currently serving as network co-director and holds responsibility for all academic aspects of Brooke. Before coming to Brooke, she taught 4th grade in the D.C. Public Schools and 5th grade in Chelsea Public Schools. Ms. Steadman earned a B.A. at Harvard College; a J.D. from Harvard Law School; and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


Tweet of the Week: