Monday, April 7, 2014

No Excuses vs. Progressives vs. Magic in the Middle - Yale ELC 2014

Achievement First's Dacia Toll rarely disappoints and her remarks at this year's Yale Education Leadership Conference were no exception.  Of all of the thought provoking comments made from the panelists and speakers, Dacia's profound remark during the opening panel stands out. Days later, I am still noodling on what she said.

In an oversimplification of her argument, she basically posited that in the education reform space there are largely two highly polarized camps: 
  • no-excuses types who largely believe in high expectations, more time, and disciplined cultures 
  • progressive educators who focus on student-centered, hands-on learning
Dacia argued, however, that "the magic" will actually happen when the two meet somewhere in the middle.

This resonates so well with our work at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy.  Born out of a strong and rigid no-excuses framework, our evolution shows that we are definitely building toward the magic in the middle.  A few years ago during a comprehensive strategy review, we replaced "no-excuses" with "high expectations, high support" in our lexicon.  More tangibly, our high school design is highly personalized, yet still steeped in academic rigor and strong culture.

This is just one example of an ongoing effort to challenge our internal practices as we learn from our experiences and those of others.  Throughout our growing network of schools, we are striving to find the best practices from anywhere and everywhere, including "no-excuses" and "progressives."

As we work to continuously improve, I hope that we are successful in finding that magic. Like Dacia, my bet is that the magic will be somewhere in the middle.

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