Sunday, November 3, 2013

Why Beyond Schools?

A bunch of folks have asked me about the title of my blog.  Since I worked and led schools for a decade, I clearly have a lot of affinity for them.  So why "beyond"?  I think we have reached the limit of what we can load on teachers and schools and expect them to do.  It is a bit like moore's law, every few years the linear improvements that yield to chips doubling in density every 18 months is threatened, and a new solution needs to be developed to get back on the curve.

I think parents in many Western nations went too far in giving up responsibility for our children's life outcomes to schools.  The only way I see our kids making the kind of gains we want is a partnership between teachers and parents.

I taught in very low income schools in Nashville, TN for three years.  I tried to work hard to get families involved in what we were doing in class.  My co-founder at Rocketship, Preston Smith, was much better at this and his ability to bring the community into the school is a huge part of what makes rocketship succeed.  It also made clear how far the norm had shifted at the average American school towards parents passing responsibility to teachers for their kids academic success.  I don't think that is good.  Parents have to pay attention to their kids, because everything doesn't go well socially, emotionally or academically and any of these areas can really take your children off-track.

In very low-income communities, people are often working multiple jobs and have a lot of things requiring their attention just to keep the lights on and family fed.  If education takes too much time or capacity at home, it won't happen.  Often there are language barriers to understand their children's academic needs or parents themselves don't have the academic background to help on their own.

That is a very difficult set of challenges to overcome in order to help your children.  But it has to happen.  Parents have to be clear on what their children need and have to have the tools to help them. The closer we get to every child walking into class academically prepared, the more we shift the norm back to a partnership between parents and teachers.

That is what we are working on at Zeal.  If we can help parents play a bigger role in learning, we think our superhero teachers will have a fighting chance of helping them to grow up to their full potential.


  1. John,

    A bit off topic from this post, but I am curious if you met Aarti when you were in India?​

    She is simply inspirational.


  2. It is just what I was looking for and quite thorough as well. Thanks for posting this, I saw a couple other similar posts but yours was the best so far. The ideas are strongly pointed out and clearly emphasized:*)

  3. Although teaching is not my profession, I have experience in the classroom from K3 through eighth grade. If students are self-motivated, many issues in today's educational environment become moot. Highly-motivated students are the easiest to teach, no matter if they live in China or attend Eton. Sure, the teacher may be the customer but the student is ultimately the consumer.

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