Featured Post

Fix, Don’t Discard MCAS/PARCC

This fall I had one on one conversations with many of our state's leaders and experts on the misplaced opposition to testing in gen...

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

It matters who they know, not just what they know.



In recent years, the term “asset-based” has become increasingly popular in youth development and education lexicons. It marks an important, and arguably long overdue shift toward understanding and intentionally building on students’ strengths and talents, rather than focusing exclusively on their deficiencies. More often than not, however, calls to take a more asset-based approach in schools situate individual students as the locus of control and change. Individual strengths, experiences, and perspectives are celebrated and built upon.   But our research on social capital suggests that the concept of assets is accurate yet incomplete. The reality is that students’ assets reside not just within, but around them in their networks.


  1. If you want to understand broader networks that students have access to outside of your school or program → Try social network mapping: For decades, social workers have used asset mapping, a close cousin to relationship mapping, in order to assess the support networks of their clients. One example is the Social Network Map, developed by researchers Elizabeth Tracy of Case Western Reserve University and James Whittaker of the University of Washington. Their tool helps case managers identify and sort the structure and quality of a client’s support system by mapping relationships into several categories, including family, peers, friends, and co-workers. Researchers recommend doing multiple rounds of relationship or social network mapping because students may forget to include certain connections that make a difference in their lives. You can gain a more complete picture of who your students know and depend on by revisiting relationship and social network maps. Read more about this approach in the article “The Social Network Map”.

  1. If you’re trying to better understand relationships inside your school or department → Try relationship mapping protocols with your team and students:  Relationship mapping is a strategy that can help schools adjust their practices to effectively forge trusting relationships between students and adults. All it takes is a roster of student names and two sets of different colored stickers for staff to visualize patterns among whom they feel they have a strong relationship with and whom they believe may be at risk for academic, personal, or other reasons. Larger schools and institutions may prefer to move through the process one grade level or department at a time. You can also perform mapping exercises across both staff and students to compare the results. From there, schools that identify students who lack trusting relationships with adults or faculty can direct additional connections and resources accordingly. For example, watch Ted Dintersmith’s Innovation Playlist to see relationship mapping in action at Jamestown Public Schools.

  1. If you’re working in a resource-scarce, human capital-scarce environment → Use relationship and networking mapping as a student project to identify latent resources: Not only does relationship mapping provide more detailed information regarding whom your students know and turn to—it can also surface relationships that you could enlist more deliberately to expand supports or opportunities at your institution. Make sure you have a shared contact database where you can store these connections so that they remain within reach for your community to tap into in the future.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Michael Horn on the Purpose of Schooling

Through much of the 1800s, a kind reading of history would say that the central role of public schools was to preserve American democracy and inculcate democratic values.

In the 1890s and early 1900s, competition with a fast-rising industrial Germany constituted a mini-crisis. The country shifted by creating a new role for public schools: to prepare everyone for vocations. That meant providing something for everyone, with a flourishing of tracks and courses and enrollment in high school.

Another purpose was added to America’s schools in the late 1970s and early 1980s: keeping the country competitive. Although this one had echoes of the prior purpose, it was quite different, as the nation became consumed by how students were doing in school as measured through average test scores.

The vast choices that students had in a “cafeteria-style curriculum,” the landmark report “A Nation at Risk” noted, was one “in which the appetizers and desserts can easily be mistaken for the main courses.” Having something for everyone, in other words, was no longer a virtue. It was a vice.

Just 20 years later, the primary purpose shifted again to asking schools to eliminate poverty by not just focusing on schools’ average test scores, but instead to make sure that children in every demographic, on average, reach a basic measure of proficiency in core subjects. The theory of action, in essence, was that academic achievement would unlock opportunity.

As much of that consensus has eroded in recent years, there has been some drift in the primary purpose of schooling from a political perspective, but what it is at the level of an individual school is a vital conversation to build a coherent model.

Schools tackle this in different ways. A common exercise for a school is to construct a portrait of a graduate to try and understand what an individual entering the world in some number of years would need to be prepared to lead a choice-filled and civically engaged life.

For my part, I’d argue that the goal at a high level is producing students who are prepared to maximize their human potential, build their passions and lead choice-filled lives, participate civically in a vibrant democracy, contribute meaningfully to the world and the economy, and understand that people can see things differently—and that those differences merit respect rather than persecution. As such, I’d encourage schools to think through five domains as they build specifics around their central purpose and priorities:

1. Content knowledge. There’s a mountain of research on the importance of academic achievement and content knowledge across a range of disciplines. After students learn how to read, for example, evidence suggests that the ability to distill the meaning of new passages we confront isn’t so much a skill as something that is derivative of our knowledge base about the topic we’re reading. Building academic achievement to at least a baseline is important for future life success.

2. Skills. The purpose of knowledge isn’t necessarily for its own sake, but so that an individual can do useful things with that knowledge and apply it in ways that make a meaningful contribution. Critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and creativity are vital skills that employers report consistently as being more and more important for their employees. The ability to use these skills, of course, is dependent on having some domain knowledge. As in, I can think critically and communicate well about the future of education (some would agree with that statement anyway!), but if you dropped me in a coding job, for example, I would be lost and unable to apply any of these skills. At the same time, as the example of the Minerva Institute shows—and as is described in Building the Intentional University by Ben Nelson and Stephen Kosslyn, as well as in books like Critical Thinking by Jonathan Haber—these skills can be defined and individuals can learn how to do them in a repeatable and intentional process. As an individual masters these skills in a variety of domains with intentionality—not something the vast majority of schools focus on today—individuals can then more rapidly apply them in new domains as they master its knowledge and lexicon.

3. Habits of success. Also called character skills, social-emotional skills, and noncognitive skills (my least favorite), habits of success revolve around things like self-regulation, executive function skills, growth mindset, self-efficacy, agency, self-direction, and more. Education psychologist Brooke Stafford-Brizard developed a framework around 16 of these habits for Turnaround for Children, which Summit Public Schools has most notably put into action in its schools. These are the sorts of habits that help turn individuals into lifelong learners capable of navigating life’s twists and turns—arguably more important than ever as the half-life of knowledge and skills continues to shrink in the digital age of the knowledge economy. And they can best be modeled, taught, and learned in the context of students’ academic journeys—not as a set of add-on modules.

4. Real-world experiences and social capital. Connecting school to the real world—through projects, extracurricular activities, externships, internships, and more—is important so that students can build a deeper sense for the different ways in which they can contribute to the world, why what they are learning matters, why certain goals are worth attaining, and what resonates with them, among other meaningful opportunities. If the goal of school is not just to ensure students are prepared academically but also that they have access to good life opportunities and careers, then relationships will also be critical. As Julia Freeland Fisher argues in her book, Who You Know, in today’s world, schools need to engage in this activity. After building a baseline of academic knowledge and skills, who you know often trumps what you know in life. And teaching content knowledge, skills, and habits of success in the context of real-world experiences and the cultivation of social capital can be a critical way to ensure success for all students across all these domains.

5. Health and wellness. As schools come back from a challenging time thanks to the pandemic, students will have a variety of different challenges around their social and emotional wellbeing, as well as their more basic health and wellness. Although there’s an argument around whether schools should be involved in these areas, for students to learn effectively, if they aren’t in a sound state in their wellbeing or health, learning will be challenging at best—which means it will land in the domain of schools. On top of that, schools have always played some role in health and wellness—witness the long history of physical and health education in schools. But I’d argue that we’ve often distorted the purpose of these sorts of experiences and that we ought to return to a more foundational one around preparing students to live healthy lives—and being sure to see these domains as not separate from academic learning, but as critically integrated.

If one accepts these baseline ideas, the nuance of how they land in any given schooling community will differ—and the approach to implementing them should likely be personalized based on each student’s distinct needs and background. But as a starting point, taking these domains and building SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound around each would be where I’d advocate starting.

Michael is a co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. He currently serves as Chairman of the Clayton Christensen Institute and works as a senior strategist at Guild Education. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Expanded Learning Time

Download the Brief


Mar 17, 2021 by Ed Trust and MDRC

A Strategy to Solve Unfinished Learning

As the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and at-home learning continues, there will be a need to help students, especially the nation’s most vulnerable students, complete unfinished learning for weeks, months, and even years to come. Research shows expanded learning time (ELT) is one approach to helping historically underserved students catch up to meet high standards. ELT encompasses programs or strategies implemented to increase the amount of instruction and learning students experience. ELT strategies include afterschool, summer, and in-school programs.

District leaders considering ELT should follow the research and invest in evidence-based methods to support students to get back on track, while also fostering trusting relationships and providing an opportunity for a well-rounded education. Additional time can be beneficial to students, but only if that time is spent in ways that maximize teaching and learning. Overall, leaders will need to ensure that all school time is used especially well after months of unfinished instruction. ELT can only be effective if time during the school day is also used to efficiently and effectively accelerate learning.

In this brief, we focus on ELT programs that significantly increase the amount of new math and/or English language arts instruction delivered to students.

What Do We Know About What Works?

District and school leaders considering different ways to accelerate learning will have to make a number of challenging decisions to meet the needs of students experiencing unfinished learning. District leaders will need to make important policy decisions; school leaders will need to make decisions around staffing, partnering with community organizations or providers, scheduling, and curriculum. With each of these decisions, district and school leaders will have to balance what the evidence says is most effective with what is most feasible given their resource constraints and local context.

How Effective is Expanded Learning Time?

We looked at the research to help leaders navigate complicated decisions. The chart below shows how implementing different features of expanded learning impacts its effectiveness.

Critical Questions for Leaders

Which students benefit most?

Research shows that increasing the number of hours of instruction students receive during the school day (either during nonacademic class periods or by extending the official school day) can be effective for all age groups, types of students, and subject matter.

Below are critical questions to ask, based on available research, as schools and districts are building plans to completed unfinished learning.


How many students should be placed with an instructor during ELT?

Smaller classes are better for extended learning time. They give teachers the opportunity to provide individualized instruction, which can be particularly helpful for students experiencing unfinished learning.

What kind of training and support should schools provide for ELT instructors?

The most effective ELT programs provide all instructors with pre-service training, on-going training, and 1-to-1 coaching.

How should schools extend learning time?

Extra instruction can take place after school, during breaks, or during the summer. Instruction during any of these periods can be effective if the instruction is carried out by certified teachers and if the curriculum is both individualized and aligned with the content in the regular school day. Scheduling decisions should be made equitably to ensure students and families who already face the most injustices do not face additional barriers.

How much additional learning time should students receive?

Research indicates programs that offer 44 to 100 hours of additional instruction have an impact on student learning. Programs that provide more or less extended learning time are less effective in some cases; however, the effectiveness depends on the subject area.

What curricula should schools follow during ELT?

The most effective ELT curricula has content that is aligned with content from the regular school day, and lesson plans that include options for individualized instruction, allowing teachers to tailor instruction to both struggling and high-achieving students.

What is the most effective way to ensure students attend ELT?

Unsurprisingly, ELT’s effectiveness is directly tied to student attendance. Schools can expect the highest rates of attendance if instruction is provided during the school day, since the extra instruction is part of the regular school schedule.

How should schools staff ELT?

Students have greater increases in learning in ELT classrooms staffed by certified teachers because of these teachers’ classroom experience, knowledge of the school day curriculum, and familiarity with state standards.