Jeff Wetzler, Co-founder of Transcend, on Innovation in School Design

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on
LinkedIn
+


This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Jeff Wetzler, co-founder of Transcend, a nonprofit focused on innovation in school design that works with hundreds of school communities in over two dozen states in America. He shares his background and what motivated his interest in helping to bring about transformational changes to improve student outcomes. They discuss some of the features of classroom redesign, including school-based examples of how it can modernize our industrial model of education, to bring it in line with the upgrades we have all witnessed in other aspects of society such as transportation and technology. Wetzler talks about how school and role design can help teachers more effectively engage students in learning and maximize their potential. He offers recommendations for policymakers and school leaders seeking to implement classroom design.

Stories of the Week: In San Antonio, a high school student won a prestigious award for her work founding a non-profit that offers free online STEM courses to underserved students. Should we eliminate school boards? An EducationNext article questions whether they are capable of addressing 21st-century K-12 education challenges, or merely an obsolete mechanism for maintaining political power?

Guest

Jeff Wetzler is a co-founder of Transcend, a nonprofit organization that fuels innovation in school design in close partnership with visionary school operators around the country. Prior to co-founding Transcend, Jeff spent a decade in senior leadership roles at Teach For America. For the majority of that time, Jeff served as EVP of Teacher Preparation, Support, and Development and Chief Learning Officer, where his teams focused on optimizing the training and ongoing support of TFA’s thousands of corps members nationally. Before that, Jeff worked at Monitor Group, an international consulting firm, where he focused on adult and organizational development and created a technology product to extend the impact of learning experiences. Wetzler is currently Board Chair for New Classrooms Innovation Partners and has also served on the boards of Uncommon Schools NYC, and the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education.

The next episode will air on Weds., October 19th, with Dr. Maryanne Wolf, the Director of the Center for Dyslexia and Diverse Learners at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and the author of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World.

Tweet of the Week:

News Links:

San Antonio high school student wins national award for helping bring STEM education to underserved communities

https://www.ksat.com/news/local/2022/10/05/san-antonio-high-school-student-wins-national-award-for-helping-bring-stem-education-to-underserved-communities/

It’s Time to Eliminate School Boards – Education Next

https://www.educationnext.org/its-time-to-eliminate-school-boards/

Get new episodes of The Learning Curve in your inbox!

Please excuse typos.

[00:00:00] GR: Listeners, welcome back to another addition of the learning curve. Of course, I’m here with my partner Cara. Every week we bring together really interesting guests and really interesting tweets of the week, as well as stories. And this week will be no exception. I’m coming to you from beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia, where the leaves are now red lime and orange.

[00:00:20] What are they like in your neck of the woods?

[00:00:22] Cara: They’re lime. They’re not lime.

[00:00:27] I, I need to go to Virginia to see that No, the leads are changing here. It’s quite gorgeous. I would say they’re, very dark orange and a lot of them are just in my backyard. So, you know, fallen on the ground, which is great, no pun

[00:00:41] GR: intended. Yeah. ,

[00:00:43] Cara: no, no, no pun intended.

[00:00:44] there’s a pun somewhere in there about getting my husband to rake them up, but that’s, that’s a different one. , No, all is good here in Boston. And I, as you know, Gerard, I actually enjoyed the cold weather, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m already getting ready for ski season. Very excited about, [00:01:00] Sure.

[00:01:00] You know, I have to say for my story of the week, I felt like I needed to go with a feel good story because I’m tired of being angry and I’m just kidding, , because I feel like I wake up in the morning, I read the newspaper, I listen to the radio, I do all the things I’m supposed to do, and I walk away feeling like it’s all doom and gloom.

[00:01:15] And I don’t believe it’s all doom and gloom. And this story is proof. So this is a story. From K S A t.com in San Antonio, and the title is San Antonio High School Student Wins National Award for helping bring STEM education to underserved communities. So we’ve been talking a lot about STEM education and how to have, make sure every kid has more access to it and every family has more access to it, and how we do that with more STEM teachers, et cetera.

[00:01:42] And this is just a heartwarming. Actually heartwarming, makes it sound too soft. It’s a heartwarming story about like a really cool, really smart, entrepreneurial young woman. This woman’s name is Hannah Gu, and I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly. Hannah. And she founded this [00:02:00] nonprofit, well, that her nonprofit brings stem to underserved communities.

[00:02:05] Okay. And she. Won $10,000. She won the 2022 Gloria Baron Prize for Young Heroes and she’s at, Basis, We know the basis network of schools very well, both charter schools and private schools. I believe that this is a, charter school in San Antonio and she’s going to use that money. To further fund her organization.

[00:02:26] And the name of that organization is San Antonio Math include, her state admission is to provide greater access to STEM education. So that’s pretty much what it is, right? She has a YouTube page, she has math tutorials, and she brings kids in and gives them sort of this supplemental learning, but she’s getting kids from all over the country, from New Jersey, from Washington, and she.

[00:02:49] Even different countries. She’s got students coming into her classes from India and Canada using her online materials. She also was appointed by the [00:03:00] San Antonio City Council to help distribute funds to support at risk youth in this way. And her dream, of course, is to come up here to the Boston area and attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

[00:03:12] She wants to study math so. So many things, Gerard, that I love about this story. A young woman in stem, a young woman who is helping to bring others into stem. A young woman who , before she’s even a teenager, really has a great idea of where she wants to go, what she wants to do, and she’s giving back to her community.

[00:03:29] And so, This is the kind of story jar I have to say that makes me happy to get up in the morning. Like I need a little bit of this every single day, and it gives me a little bit of hope. Well, it gives me a lot of hope, especially when we’re constantly talking about, I know so much of my day these days is consumed by thinking about teachers and where teacher shortages are and how we solve those problems.

[00:03:50] And of course, you and I spend a lot of time thinking at. Macro policy level, which is very, very important, right? How do we help states and how do we help on [00:04:00] a national scale incent people to go into the profession of teaching and sent people to go into stem teaching and learning. And this is just a great reminder that also some of the greatest stuff happens from the ground up and from the people who are actually in the classroom experiencing the education that we’re looking to give them.

[00:04:17] So, I love this. I say, Best of luck to Hannah, and something tells me that if we’re still lucky enough to be doing learning Curve years from now, maybe at some point we’ll have her on. So we never know. I think she would probably be a great guest. Gerard, what do you think? ,

[00:04:31] GR: Ditto. It’s always good to see someone with real world experience deciding to put in this situation, her hat and the ring as an entrepreneur.

[00:04:40] She saw a problem. She said, I’m gonna do something about it. And she put together an organization to make it happen. And then of course, We see the kind of great rewards. One of the things that we definitely promote here on the learning curve is entrepreneurship. Yes, we’ve had people who are social entrepreneurs in the technology sector.

[00:04:58] We have had [00:05:00] entrepreneurs in the academic sector, but we also have the K12 sector and someone who’s not per se aligned already. With a national brand or name group organization, but in fact someone who says, I’m going to do this. So that is a feelgood story and definitely the kind of things that keep us excited and keep a smile on our face.

[00:05:16] So if you wanted a happy, feelgood story, I think that’s a good one.

[00:05:21] Cara: Yeah, it is a good one. Gerard, what are you thinking about

[00:05:23] GR: this week? So my story is a feel good story for some and a not so feel good story depending upon your frame of reference. So my article is from Education Next, and it’s written by Henry.

[00:05:36] Who’s an assistant professor at the John Hopkins School of Education. He also served as Assistant Secretary of Education in the Clinton administration and was the mayor of Dover, New Hampshire. So, he’s someone who understands electoral politics. He understands education, the big picture, as well as at the ground level.

[00:05:54] So the title of his article says Everything, It’s Time to Eliminate School [00:06:00] Boards. So he begins the story by saying, That what he is writing about today could have been written 50 years ago. So he relied on a story when he was an intern working for a member of the Boston City Council, and this was from 1969 and 1971.

[00:06:16] And he said at that time, Many of those politicians really had no interest in trying to build communities and schools. In fact, if anything, they were using parents against each other. So for our listeners who followed our show before, we know that 69, 71 early time for a lot of school desegregation battles in Boston.

[00:06:36] We also know this played a role in creating the metro program, which we’ve talked about. But he said what he didn’t like is the fact you had lawmakers pitting black. Against white parents, particularly in South Boston, who said, We don’t want our kids here. And the black parents said, Listen, you’ve gotta give our kids an opportunity.

[00:06:53] Well, he said they’re all was said and done, people maneuvered the way they needed to, but at the end of the day it was about themselves. And he [00:07:00] gives an example of one council member named Gerald F O’Leary, who went from the council, was elected to the school board committee, and guess what? He eventually went to.

[00:07:10] For kickbacks dealing with a school contract. So he just used that as a personal example to say, I’ve seen how local school board corruption and politics have really made it tough for school boards to make sense. And he lists some other reasons. So we’ll start a course with corruption, but he gave a moderate example.

[00:07:28] He said that recently Atlanta school board members went to jail because they tampered with student test results. And I happen. Years ago to live in Atlanta when there was a cheating scandal in the city, as well as questions about allocation of funds. And uh, the superintendent ended up leaving and it was a, it was a big mess there.

[00:07:47] And he also talked about Prince George’s County. He’s a resident of Maryland and he said that some of the members on the board there were accused of also tampering with school bus contracts. So one reason he said, We need to eliminate. We have too [00:08:00] much corruption on the school board level number two is technology.

[00:08:03] He said, Listen, parents are more plugged in into their school systems to their principals and teachers than ever before. And when you have direct line democracy where parents can actually go to the school, To the principal, to the teacher, or have the information sent to them. He just raises the question as to why do we need to have a school board serve as a middle person for that to happen?

[00:08:25] Number three is expertise. He says a lot of school board members just simply genuine flex to school administrators. Whether it’s a principal, whether it’s an central office administrator or even the superintendent, and he said school boards have to play a stronger role in making sure that they also interject their expertise as elected board members, and also represent the interest.

[00:08:49] Uh, The constituents if they’re elected at a ward level versus at March. Fourth he said voters, he said listed in the past several years, we’ve just seen that many [00:09:00] people do not turn out for school board elections. So for example, in 2022, he lives in Montgomery County. He says that at 160,000 Republican and democratic voters, Cast a vote for the governor, but in the same race, only 60,000 voters went down the ballot to actually vote for school board members and primaries.

[00:09:19] And he says, Given the lack of voter apathy, maybe we don’t need a school board. He also talks about teacher contracts and unions and the role that they play in terms of making sure contracts are steered a certain way of not. But the author also says that parents can take advantage of a local source that school based.

[00:09:37] That can do some of the same things. And that’s the Parent Teacher Association. Now, as many of our listeners know, in 1897 Alice, Bernie and Phoebe Hurst were the founders of what is now PTA was originally in National Congress of Bombs and for over 125 years, they’ve played an important role of getting teachers and parents together at the local school.[00:10:00]

[00:10:00] To work on a number of issues from gifted education to equity to fundraising, but also to student achievement. So in his perspective, we just need to get rid of the school board because it’s a relic of progressive era politics. So there’s some points where I have agreement and some where I do not. Number one, I think that corruption is a factor.

[00:10:21] In school board politics. But sadly, it is an aspect of American politics in general for the same reasons that we can name people on the school board who’ve been involved in the various activities. We can say the same thing for city council members and the same thing for mayors, and I don’t think there’s a big call to get rid of those two.

[00:10:39] So I would say corruption is real, but that’s not a reason to get rid of the school board system as we know it. In terms of technology, I think he’s right. Parents have more access to teachers and principals. But guess what? You still need to have a group of people outside of the school building who wake up and go to sleep and think about how to make this happen.

[00:10:59] [00:11:00] And so technology is important, but I think the smarter ways of using technology to empower parents to work with the school board, because if you get rid of that school board, I just don’t see how technology. Or alone is going to close some of the gaps. Now he is a former mayor, as I mentioned, of Dover, New Hampshire, and he’s a supporter of mayoral control.

[00:11:20] And your city of Boston has a mayoral control model as a Chicago, New York and DC and someone who actually worked in DC doing the era of mayoral control and is someone who’s actually written scholarship in this area. It’s mixed on the number of results. So I would say there are some places where you need to have.

[00:11:38] Mayoral control, but in many instances, simply leading the local people in place to be helpful. . So I think it’s a great article. I am under position that we need to mend school boards, not in school boards.

[00:11:53] They play an important function in our democracy, and we also have to keep in mind just the [00:12:00] demographics of. The school board makeup itself, you know, you’ve got approximately 82,000 school board members representing approximately 13,000 districts, and when you look at the makeup, 52% are men, 48% are women.

[00:12:14] We don’t see that type of parody in. private sector boards, we don’t often see that at university boards. So there are a number of dynamics that come into play, and if people are electing representatives to represent their interests represent their focus, it’s something that we should look at.

[00:12:32] And trust me, I’m just not sure how many principals all of a sudden want to assume the responsibilities that was once left in the hand of school. Well,

[00:12:40] Cara: I’ll be really brief. I think that school boards have great value to add and I wish that we were having, I think I agree with the points you majored, not necessarily the points in the article.

[00:12:49] I think we need to have a conversation about how to ensure that school boards are functioning well, which is separate from getting rid of them because certainly there are many boards out there that do genlock to [00:13:00] administrators that aren’t doing the good job. I’ve been a part of both kinds of boards, but I think that when a school board is working well It can really help set the strategic vision of a school.

[00:13:11] And it can drive a school, can drive a district, it can drive, no matter what kind of setting you’re in, it can drive that organization, that community, forward in a way that is good for growth and good for culture. And I, oh, on the tech piece, if I’m supposed to be more involved in.

[00:13:29] School because I have greater access to technology than I fill out a loss. Because I think the most important connection is when I am face to face and in the school with teachers, with administrators, with the people that are with my kid more hours a day than I am pretty much most of the time. So thank you for that great article.

[00:13:46] I think you and I are in a. Agreement And I would love to talk at some point down the line about what constitutes a highly functioning board, whether elected or appointed. Cuz you’re right, , the mayoral control models and the appointed ones don’t necessarily have a great track record either.

[00:13:59] [00:14:00] So Gerard coming up right after this, we’ve got a guest who I think might also have some opinions on this topic, but we have so much to ask him about. I don’t know if we’re going to have time. We are going to be speaking with Jeff Wetzler. He is the co-founder of Transcend a nonprofit organization, The Fuels Innovation in School Design, and that is a pretty cool topic.

[00:14:20] Listeners will be back with Jeff Wetzler right after this. Learning Kirk listeners, we have with us today, [00:15:00] Jeff Wetzler, a co-founder of Transcend, a nonprofit organization that fuels innovation in school design in close partnership with visionary school operators around the country. Prior to co-founding Transcend, Jeff spent a decade in senior leadership roles that Teach for America.

[00:15:16] For most of that time, Jeff, EVP or Executive Vice President of Teacher Preparation Support and Development and Chief Learning Officer, where his teams focused on optimizing the training and ongoing support of TFAs thousands of core members nationally. Before that, Jeff worked at Monitor Group, an international consulting firm where he focused on adult and organizational development.

[00:15:38] And created a technology product to extend the impact of learning experiences. Wetzler is currently board chair for new classrooms, Innovation Partners, and has also served on the boards of Uncommon Schools in New York City and the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education, where I was a founding member.

[00:15:53] Shout out to Nate. Jeff Weer, Welcome to the Learning Curve.

[00:15:57] Jeff: Thank you for having me. It’s great to be with. [00:16:00] We’re happy to

[00:16:00] Cara: have you here, and I’m sure you might hear listeners a little munchkin knocking on my door in the background. That is my five yearold, so I’m gonna apologize and ask him to close the door.

[00:16:09] I know our listeners are, very they get it, Jeff, when we’ve got kids in the room. But anyway, we wanna hear about you, not my five year old . So tell us about, you’ve got a storied resume here. Could you share with our listeners a little bit about your own background, how you came to the work?

[00:16:25] And talk to us not only about your time at tfa, but your time in, in the many other endeavors you’ve had and how they’ve shaped your education about what matters, what matters for K to 12 education in the

[00:16:37] Jeff: us. Sure. Happy to. I’ll work my way backwards a bit, starting at Teach for America and then forwards as well.

[00:16:44] And we’ve a couple things in there too, but as you said in your kind introduction, I did spend. Quite a while. I Teach for America where the teams I worked with and I were responsible for the training and support of our teachers across the country. [00:17:00] That’s actually where I met Elon Samoa who’s my co-leader of Transcend as well.

[00:17:05] Teach For America was actually a client of mine for five years before I joined. In 2005 I had been consulting to Wendy. Their CEO at the time and other leaders at, at Teach for America. And most of the consulting work that I had done was for profit organizations. And I did some amount of work for Teach for America, but I always found myself.

[00:17:32] Spending more time on the Teach for America project than I was probably supposed to be spending and less time on some of my other clients. And that told me something. what I observed was that Teach for America. Was a more passionate culture, harder working, better run than almost any corporate client that I had ever been working for.

[00:17:53] And of course I was also falling in love deeply with the mission and education, the pursuit of educational equity as [00:18:00] well. So for all of those reasons I jumped ship in 2005 and came to Teach for America. The bulk of the time I spent at Teach for America was devoted to understanding and leading teams working to better train and support our teachers across the country.

[00:18:16] Most of whom are brand new teachers. And every year we would make investments in . better lesson planning, training or classroom management training, or real time coaching or, diversity or any number of different kinds of things. And every year we would see incremental improvements in our teachers skill and capabilities in those areas.

[00:18:38] The thing that I didn’t see year after year that ultimately. Really got me curious was transformational changes in outcomes. And so after a number of years of working on perfecting the training and support we could give to our teachers, I started to ask myself, What might be deeper [00:19:00] causes of the drivers of outcomes than I had the levers to affect in the role that I was in.

[00:19:07] And I started to think a lot about what was the actual job of the teacher that we were training people for and supporting them in. And really seeing how. Very challenging that role is that when you are a teacher and you’ve got 30 students, plus or minus, and they are probably ranging anywhere from, three to four grade levels below the grade that you’re teaching to three to four grade levels above the grade that you’re teaching.

[00:19:34] And have a whole range of variation and needs and differences and all that kind of thing. And you’re the teacher and you’re told meet every kid’s need and all the other things we say to teachers, it’s no wonder such a hard job. It would almost be as if we said to doctors, You are the general practitioner and the surgeon and the nurse and the technician, and you should invent a drug and see 30 patients at the same time.

[00:19:58] And of course, we would never put [00:20:00] doctors in that position and we would never think that if we did that, the answer would be to train them better. It would be to change the role. But that’s, not how we thought about education. And so I started to pull on that thread. And when you start to pull on that thread, you ask, Why do we design teacher roles that way?

[00:20:15] And you very quickly get to, well, why do we design classrooms and schools that way? And so that led me to really being focused on this root cause of the design of school in the first place. And that was one of the big motivators to launching Transcend.

[00:20:31] Cara: I absolutely wanna hear more about Transcend, but I’m really curious about something and that is, I often find having spent, like 25 years in education reform, one way or another we’re allowed to call reform anymore. One of the things that now, as a parent, I often reflect on. How my own education either, like, both informed my awareness of some of the problems that you put your fingers on.

[00:20:56] Like, so many kids aren’t actually learning in schools. So many of our [00:21:00] teachers aren’t driving student outcomes and our schools are all set up mainly the same ways. Like we don’t think about different ways of doing school. I’m curious, given what you do now, like what was your schooling like growing up and how has.

[00:21:14] Sort of shaped the way you think about what you do, whether it’s at TFA or, what you’re doing at this point.

[00:21:20] Jeff: So I went to a public, I went to public school throughout, , K through 12. I would say it was a pretty conventionally run public school. It was considered a good public school. And my two kids, now I have two, high schoolers, a ninth grader and 11th grader.

[00:21:39] Essentially also went through public schools for their entire schooling career and are still in it. And what has been very striking to me and was also a motivator for launching Transcend is that their experiences are almost no different than the experiences that I had. Like it’s eerie how little has changed in 30 odd years [00:22:00] between when I went through school and when they’re going through school, despite how radically different the world.

[00:22:04] How differently, we communicate and transportation and technology and all those different kinds of things. And as a parent I see very close up how much intellectual potential and emotional potential and character development potential my kids have that is just not getting engaged and developed at school.

[00:22:24] And when I see it that close up, it’s heartbreaking. And I know that my kids don’t have any more potential than any other kids. And so when I think about the millions and millions of young people who are going to schools that are largely unchanged from not just the schools I went to 30 years ago, but 30 years before that and 30 years before that it really adds fuel to my fire in this work.

[00:22:44] Cara: Yeah, no, that’s amazing because there are, even if most public schools are designed in the same way, there are some that are much better at, driving student outcomes, and that might be based on any number of factors. But I think that, the evidence is there.

[00:22:58] Jeff: I totally agree with [00:23:00] you that there’s variation in terms of how well schools are run and how well schools are executed and the outcomes that they can get for sure.

[00:23:06] And a lot of the schools that are often seen as good public schools, even in more affluent communities, Still suffer from the problems that the industrial model of design creates for kids and for teachers. And the differences that we see, I think are often more attributable to the socioeconomic advantages that kids in those communities bring as opposed to that those are quote, better schools because they’re still stuck in this broken.

[00:23:37] Cara: Yeah. Oh, I couldn’t agree with you more. we have placed our own children in what I think of as a pretty innovative private school. Maybe, maybe you should come and visit and tell me um . But I often say to my friends in this really wonderful community that we live in, that’s known for very strong public schools, when they say, Oh, I’m a little worried.

[00:23:54] My response is often, You guys are going to do just fine. if what you’re looking [00:24:00] for is high test scores, right? Because your kids are in a place where they’re fortunate to grow up with parents who have been very educated and had many opportunities. And so if the high test scores what you’re looking for, but I agree with you.

[00:24:10] So that has a, . Ton to do with it. I know Gerard’s really eager to dig into sort of like the mission of Transcend and how you founded it and everything, but have to ask you a question sort of about the current moment and teachers, because, innovative school design is one thing.

[00:24:24] But you’ve spent a lot of your life thinking about teachers and inducting teachers and how we help the adults that are integral to the day to day in schools function and do their jobs. And do their jobs well, and we’re in this moment where, I think the. Stories of a national teacher shortage are greatly overblown, but certainly in certain areas we’re seeing definite teacher shortages.

[00:24:46] And in many states we’re seeing moves to like sort of, tons not just of emergency certifications, but lots of questions around. What kind of qualifications does one need to become a teacher? What kind of training before you’re actually in the classroom, et [00:25:00] cetera. And I’m wondering if you could just share with us some thoughts on you’ve given us an idea of the state of what you see as K to 12 education in terms of schools, but what about in terms of teaching as a profession and the folks that are being attracted to profession?

[00:25:12] Jeff: Yeah, I was speaking with someone yesterday who shared a very resonant way of looking at. Which is to say we don’t actually have a teacher shortage in this country. We have a shortage of good conditions for teachers to be working in. And if the conditions were different there were lots of the great teachers and potential teachers around would be flocking, to the job and to the role into the profession.

[00:25:37] and that really resonated with. Some of the conditions I think have to do with pay and some of the conditions have to do with respect and status in this country. But I think a lot of the conditions also go back to what I was talking about earlier with regard to the actual role design in the first place.

[00:25:54] And so for us, when we think about the design of school, you can’t separate that from the [00:26:00] design of roles for adults in the school. And there are ways to design roles for adults. That I think would be far more attractive than the industrial model of school typically allows the current teacher role to be,

[00:26:15] that’s

[00:26:15] GR: actually a good transition to talk about transcend, and I’m interested in learning about the education philosophy and what drives the mission and how to see what you’re doing and how it’s helping advance larger goals about education, about the importance of high quality school design options and how is it promoting the ideas of equity and

[00:26:35] Jeff: opportunity.

[00:26:35] So I think the, the fundamental. Belief that animates transcend, first of all at the level of students, is that all students, all young people in this country have infinite potential. But that, that potential is being suppressed by the experiences that many of them are having in the industrial design of school.

[00:26:59] And that if [00:27:00] we wanna really unlock the potential that every young person has and deserves to be engaged. It’s going to be very difficult to do that if we don’t look at some of the fundamental design features that have persisted for over a century in schools. Design features like. The fact that we do group students by age and move them through by and large from grade to grade, regardless of whether they’re mastering what they need to be mastering that we do put a teacher in a room with 30 students and ask that teacher to do it all that we do.

[00:27:36] Typically have pretty thick walls both between classrooms and, subjects and departments but also between the school and the rest of the community and including parents, et cetera. And so the list goes on and on about the, like the features of this model and what it results in is students largely being disengaged in school, feeling that school.

[00:27:56] Boring, irrelevant. That oftentimes they don’t [00:28:00] belong, that their identity is not affirmed. They don’t feel like a sense of community, that the expectations are actually not that challenging for them, et cetera. And we know from learning science that that’s not what’s gonna foster kids who are really achieving and high levels and developing.

[00:28:15] And that what really matters is a different set of experiences that kids need to have, which is kids feeling like there really are high expectations, that the learning is rigorous, that they’re in charge of their own learning, that they have a sense of safety and belonging that, that they can be learning anytime and anywhere, et cetera.

[00:28:32] Transcend has a way of looking at this that we call the 10 leaps, which is a shift from the experiences in the industrial. To the experiences that the 21st century demands, particularly when we know that machines are going to take over a lot of jobs, that you know that the world is changing rapidly.

[00:28:49] That kids need to not just be able , to read and do math, but also think critically and be entrepreneurs and reinvent themselves and be leaders, et cetera, et cetera. And so we believe that in order to foster these different kinds of [00:29:00] experiences, we did different designs of. And Transcends mission is to support communities all across the country to imagine, build, develop, and ultimately share and spread.

[00:29:11] These more innovative, these different kinds of designs of schools that foster the experiences that are gonna really maximize each young person’s potential.

[00:29:20] GR: We talk about community. our listeners would be interested in knowing how many schools and states are you working in? And I know you have a number of projects you’re excited about, but could you share with us two communities or schools where it shows how and why your.

[00:29:38] Product matters to that community, to its teachers

[00:29:41] Jeff: and to its learners. Absolutely. we’re a national organization. We work directly in about half the states in this country. we’ve done direct projects and support with, Several hundred school communities over the last few years.

[00:29:53] We also share in an open source way all of our tools and resources and methods with schools in every state in [00:30:00] this country. But just to take a couple of examples and I’ll just say at the beginning Transcend really sees ourself as supporters of the work of great communities and great leaders.

[00:30:11] They are the heroes of the story. They are the protagonists. , we are the supporters. And so the genius behind all of. Really lies in the communities and our job is to facilitate them through processes that help them to strengthen what they’re doing and to bring it to life and all that kind of thing.

[00:30:27] But I just wanna make that part clear. I’ll share two examples. One is a community that we partner with in the Central Valley of California called Lindsay Unified School District. Led by an amazing superintendent named Tom Rooney. And an incredible team that he has developed and built over the years.

[00:30:48] And one of the most exciting things that they have done over the years. is to transform the time based system of education into a mastery based system of education. [00:31:00] So rather than students just advancing because a year went by they advance when they’ve mastered the material, whether that takes them a year, two years, or two weeks.

[00:31:10] they’re getting to the point where students. Don’t even say I’m a second grader as my main identity, but rather I’m this many years old and this is where I am in reading and this is where I’m in math and I know that the harder I work, the more I can achieve. And it unleashes just an enormous level of motivation for students to achieve.

[00:31:31] And they’ve seen tremendous gains. And what’s particularly exciting to me is that students don’t just say, I’m in it for myself, Let me work faster so that I can move faster. But there’s a real sense of community where they say, We’re, gonna go through this together. And so if I have a peer who is not moving along as fast as me, how can I help them?

[00:31:50] how can we serve one another as a community as well? And I think when you can really break up this time based grip that the industrial model has on us, so [00:32:00] much else becomes possible. that’s one example. A second example is a community that is called Ness Elementary School in Washington, dc which was developed by an amazingly brilliant genius school leader named Cynthia Robinson Rivers.

[00:32:16] reopened the school after it had been shut down for a period of time in Washington DC and opened it in a diverse neighborhood and was dealing with A, I think, common challenge of students coming to school, carrying in some cases quite a bit of trauma. And that trauma, as we know from the science leads students to show up at school in more of their survival brain than their executive or their learning brain.

[00:32:46] And so Cynthia’s design challenge was how to reimagine the experiences that young people have. So that they can, as thoughtfully and quickly as possible, shift from their survival brain to their learning [00:33:00] brain. And it led her to think about everything from how are students greeted at the door to what kinds of mindfulness rituals are there.

[00:33:10] To how does even snacks and meals work to how to help students learn how to regulate their own emotions and support one another to regulate their emotions all the way into a very different kind of learning pedagogy that’s much more maker based than a didactic kind of pedagogy. And the school has been incredibly successful.

[00:33:30] It’s been a model that many other schools, both in DC and across the country. We’ve been watching and we have been fortunate to partner with them to the point where they have codified their model and it’s now spreading not just in Washington DC but in other parts of the country as well, and showing that it’s possible for innovation to take root beyond the place where it originated, which is exciting to us because it means that communities don’t have to all reinvent the.

[00:33:57] When there are strong models out there that [00:34:00] are well developed, tested, and codified, and when local communities build the right conditions they can adopt these models and really see great benefits for their young people.

[00:34:08] GR: When I think about schools today and some of the challenges they have, we’ll tend to focus on the teacher population alone as we should. We’ve had educators on the show, but rarely do we have an opportunity to hear from leaders, either a school building principal or superintendent.

[00:34:29] Your team works a lot with leaders. Uh Their policy makers who listen to our show, what are two things that you are hearing from leaders that they say they want, and given the work you’re doing in design with Transcend, how can policy makers support the kind of work you’re doing and particularly the two things that leaders say they

[00:34:49] Jeff: need?

[00:34:50] Yeah. So as part of what Transcend. To try to create broader conditions for school design and innovation to thrive. We actually, [00:35:00] literally ask the, schools that we work with, what exactly do you need from policy that would make it more conducive. And there are a few things that tend to come up as themes.

[00:35:08] One is that they need the time and space to actually do this kind of innovation work. Because one of the features of the industrial model, Is that it doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything other than executing and implementing school today. And so they need protected time, space, resources, whether that’s local innovation coaches that you would have at their at schools, just the same way you might have a literacy coach or a math coach, whether that is money to give their staff release time to go see innovative models across the country.

[00:35:38] Whether that’s resources to partner with organizations who can support them through that process. They need and want time and resources to actually be able to innovate, not just run the day to day model. Because they know that if all they have the time and resource to do is to implement today’s model, they’re never gonna be able to get out of that to move to something better.

[00:35:56] So that’s number one. I think number two is [00:36:00] they want some evolution around assessment and accountability. Not because they. Opposed to measuring what students know or being accountable for what students are learning, but because some of the ways in which it happens in terms of the, time cadence of it, the narrowness of the focus on a subset of things that they know really matters for students, the focus on outcomes to the exclusion , of experiences as well.

[00:36:28] Can create pressures and incentives for them and their teachers to teach in a way that doesn’t always maximize both what educators can bring and wanna bring and what young people need as well. those would probably be two of the most common themes that we hear.

[00:36:44] Cara: Jeff Wesler, thank you so much for joining us today on the Learning Curve.

[00:36:47] It’s been an absolute pleasure.

[00:36:48] Jeff: Thank you for having me. Really appreciate the conversation. Absolutely. You take care. All right, you too. Bye-bye.

[00:36:56] GR: [00:37:00] In my treat of the week comes from Tom Loveless. He’s a former professor of mine went. I took a class at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and he says, quote, about one fourth of fourth graders. We [00:38:00] nearly three grade levels below. What is typical for that grade? In other words, comparable to a first grader.

[00:38:07] These are students who struggle in reading and have trouble decoding words in their quote. Professor Loves has always been a straight talk. And he’s a great user of data and he often makes it available to the public in ways that they can grab it, but also to academics as well. So that’s my three of the week.

[00:38:27] Cara: That’s a great tweet. Looking to folks like Professor Loveless to help guide us in what will be just a couple weeks as what we anticipate to be pretty devastating. Nate results come out and in the midst of a time when states are trying to I think too many of them do away with the very measures and spotlights and other things that help us understand whether or not schools are doing their job to help kids be able to read as he points out on grade level , and graduate equipped for college and career or whatever pathway they choose.

[00:38:59] Ard. [00:39:00] It has been wonderful to spend time with you as always. Next week we’re gonna be back together. We can talk about, we can maybe um talk about, I don’t know, I’m going apple picking, so I’ll be excited to provide you with an update on that. But we’ll be talking with Dr. Maryanne Wolf. She is the director of the Center for Dyslexia in Diverse Learners at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and the author of Reader Come Home, The Reading Brain in a Digital World.

[00:39:25] I’m excited for that one. That’s a great title. Gerard. Until then, take care. Watch those lime green leaves, and I’ll talk to you next week.

[00:39:35] GR: I look forward to it. Take care.

Recent Episodes

Award Winner Peter Cozzens on Tecumseh, the Indian Wars & the American West

This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard talk with Peter Cozzens, the award-winning author of The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West. As National Native American Heritage Month winds down, Mr. Cozzens reviews what our schoolchildren should know about Native Peoples’ innumerable contributions and heart-wrenching experiences.

Award-Winner Nathaniel Philbrick on the Mayflower and the First Thanksgiving

This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard talk with Nathaniel Philbrick, historian, winner of the National Book Award, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and author of Mayflower: Voyage, Community, and War. Mr. Philbrick shares what we should know about the actual historical events of the First Thanksgiving in 1621.

Georgia’s Alisha Thomas Searcy on School Choice, Teacher Unions, & Elections

This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard talk with Alisha Thomas Searcy, the Democratic nominee for Georgia state school superintendent. She shares her experience as a former six-term state legislator and school leader; her recent bid for Georgia’s top education post; and her passion for K-12 education reform.

KaiPod Learning’s Amar Kumar on Homeschooling Pods & Blended Education

This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard talk with Amar Kumar, founder and CEO of KaiPod Learning, a network of in-person education centers for online learners and homeschoolers, based in Massachusetts. They discuss how the pandemic dramatically changed parents’ sentiments about their traditional public schools, opening the door to wider private school choice options, including homeschooling, micro schools, and pods.

Stanford’s Pulitzer-Winning Prof. Jack Rakove on James Madison, The Federalist Papers, & U.S. Constitutionalism

This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara and Gerard talk with Dr. Jack Rakove, Coe Professor of History and American Studies and Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Stanford University, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. Professor Rakove reviews the biography of James Madison, often called the "Father of the Constitution," and the influence of classical and Enlightenment learning on his farsighted political thought and leadership.

UK’s Miranda Seymour on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein for Halloween

This week on a Halloween edition of “The Learning Curve," guest host Mary Z. Connaughton talks with Miranda Seymour, novelist and definitive biographer of Mary Shelley, author of the classic Gothic novel, Frankenstein.

UCLA’s Dr. Maryanne Wolf on Reading, Brain Science, & the Digital Age

This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Dyslexia and Diverse Learners at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and the author of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World.

Jeff Wetzler, Co-founder of Transcend, on Innovation in School Design

This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Jeff Wetzler, co-founder of Transcend, a nonprofit focused on innovation in school design that works with hundreds of school communities in over two dozen states in America.

NYT Best Seller Laurence Bergreen on 530th Anniversary of Christopher Columbus Discovering the New World

On this special Columbus Day edition of “The Learning Curve," guest host Pioneer Institute's Mary Z. Connaughton talks with Laurence Bergreen, a prize-winning biographer, historian, chronicler of exploration, and the author of Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504. Mr. Bergreen discusses what people should know about the life, career, and myths around Christopher Columbus, the courageous, ruthless, and complicated explorer and navigator, on the 530th anniversary of his history-changing and ever-controversial discovery of the New World.

NACSA’s Dr. Karega Rausch on Charter Public School Authorizing

This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Karega Rausch, President and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Dr. Rausch shares some of his background, his interest in K-12 education reform and charter public schools, and lessons from Indiana and other states that inform his work.

Khan Academy’s Sal Khan & ASU Prep Digital’s Amy McGrath on the Khan World School @ ASU Prep

This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Sal Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy, and Amy McGrath, the Chief Operating Officer of ASU Prep and Deputy Vice President of ASU Educational Outreach.

Hoover at Stanford’s Dr. Niall Ferguson on Britain, the English-Speaking World, & the Politics of Catastrophe

This week on “The Learning Curve," Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Niall Ferguson, the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior faculty fellow of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. He is the author of 16 books, including "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe."