"One of the reasons teaching is so difficult is we've thrown so many different jobs at teachers. There's the custodial job and the academic job.
These are really different skillsets. At Rocketship Education, which was very high-performing, I would say only about 10% of our teachers were really great with kids and really great academically. If the best folks at one of the best school systems are like that, then maybe those should not be the same job?
But still to this day, we say, "if you can manage kids well, you're a teacher and then if you're academically gifted but you can't work well with kids, you're not going to be a teacher.
And so the real question is "How can we have both of these roles and have them work together so that kids are both feeling that somebody cares about them, but also they have somebody that is really an expert." - John Danner
Our guest today is John Danner. John is an investor in Edtech and the Future of Work. During the last 3 years he has participated in investments that have impacted many learner lives, like Lambda School or Outschool. Before being an investor, John started Netgravity, an internet advertising firm that went public and was sold to Doubleclick now Google. Then he did a U-turn and became a teacher in a school district. After that, he built a school and started Rocketship Education, a charter school network that now has 13K students in 23 schools across. Finally he went on to start Zeal, an online real-time support math tutoring company which he later sold and became an investor.
In this episode, John and I think about trends in K-12 innovation, discuss the benefits of cohort-based courses in a K-12 environment versus adult education, dig into what really is core learning and what is not, dream about different learning experiences that could and should exist, distill what first principles you need to build a school today.
Listen and take note of how one of edtech's more respected investors today thinks about the future of education.
Some thoughts from our discussion:
1/ We've thrown too many jobs at teachers, that's why teaching in K12 is so hard and often ineffective
2/ Care & academics are separate jobs and the first that should be unbundled. Care & academics are different skillsets, very few teachers are great at both
3/ Care is local/physical, academics should be mostly delivered in the cloud
4/ The cloud is evolving from cold, recorded videos to live online experiences, rich with peer relationships. Students have different & changing learning needs, so it is easier to group learners flexibly in the cloud vs physical spaces
5/ School should be better than kids' other alternatives. Don't take kids away form their videogames, turn learning into videogames. That's what Synthesis School does
6/ K12 startups like @Prendalearn and adult learning startups like @gaganbiyani's maven.com could compare notes. Richer cloud experiences in K12, more use of physical/local micro-spaces in adult learning
7/ Physical micro-spaces can be used to enhance the cloud with more peer collaboration: students of similar interests/goals/identities gather in-person to work on projects
8/ Academics should be unbundled further into core learning and interest-based learning. We've made everything core in K12, we should strip it down to reading, writing, math. Then let students pursue their interests.
9/ The best format for interest-based learning is Cohort-Based Courses. CBCs foster accountability & relationships, John sees GalileoXP's nanodegrees and bootcamps as a model to follow.
10/ High school is the valley of death in kids' educational careers, a death march of subjects preparing for college. Strip those down to the core and fill the space with interest-based CBCs. Just like Sora Schools is doing through it's partnership with Outschool
11/ There will be a Lambda School for X in every sector once employers stop making hollow diversity claims and remove interviews for apprenticeships. That's when college will become the 10% solution
Some quotes from our discussion:
03:47 - One of the reasons teaching is so difficult is we've thrown so many different jobs at teachers, right? There's the custodial job, the classroom management job, and then we have the academic job. So the real question is how can we have both of these roles and have them work together so that kids are both feeling that somebody cares about them, but also somebody that you know is really an expert at whatever teaching her, how to read.
12:07 - If you find that there are five kids that are misunderstanding one aspect of doing two digit multiplication, you can pull them into a live online group and you can teach them that. So I think that online naturally does grouping better in some ways than physical spaces, because it allows so much more flexibility in the composition of the group.
17:46 - We've made everything core in K-12. I really think that reading, writing, and math are actually your core things. And then these other areas should be grouped more like cohort-based courses.
19:16 - You want the school, after- school or whatever program you're building to be competitive in a child's mind with their other alternatives. So if their other alternatives are YouTube and X-Box, that's pretty tough, right? And so we've always defaulted to, well, school is this coercive thing where your parents say "you need to go to school and your teacher tells you what to do, and you just need to deal with that cause you're a kid and you don't have any choice. The approach Synthesis took was, well, we're going to build a super cool video game. And then we're going to have these live sessions where students are working together and planning and strategizing and figuring out what they're going to do. And we're going to be thoughtful about the objectives that we're trying to achieve with the kids from a learning perspective as they're going through this game. Here's what I can say: kids like to play this game of lot. So they've won on the like, "is this as interesting as YouTube and X-Box?" Yes. I like that as an orientation, like build something kids will love and then figure out how to accomplish academic objectives within this highly motivated kind of environment. I liked that as a first principle of building a new school.
38:21 - The main thing with students with non-traditional backgrounds trying to get jobs in companies, whether it's tech or healthcare or whatever, is that what companies say and what companies do are very different. So a company will say, "yes, we want diversity, we want students with different backgrounds, we think that makes us a better company". But then their hiring practices are exactly the same as they always were, where they seem to just be matching for how close are you to the ideal Princeton grad.
Here are some resources mentioned in our discussion:
- Lambda School - https://lambdaschool.com
- Outschool - https://outschool.com
- Rocketship Education - https://www.rocketshipschools.org
- Maven - https://maven.com
- Prenda School - https://www.prenda.com
- GalileoXP - https://galileoxp.com
- Synthesis School - https://www.synthesis.is
- Ender - https://joinender.com
- Songbird - https://www.songbirdeducation.com
- Building a Second Brain - https://www.buildingasecondbrain.com
- Write of Passage - https://perell.com/write-of-passage/
- John Danner on Venture Stories - https://www.podchaser.com/podcasts/village-globals-venture-storie-591423/episodes/the-past-present-and-future-of-59632693
- John Danner on the Future of Learning and Work Podcast - https://anchor.fm/flw/episodes/1-John-Danner---EdTech-Investing--Trends--Opportunities-ep6k91
Where to learn more about the John:
- Twitter - https://twitter.com/jwdanner
- Dunce Deals - https://dunce.substack.com/people/3039585-john-danner
- Blog - https://johnwdanner.medium.com
Where to learn more about Enrollhand:
Our webinar: https://webinar-replay.enrollhand.com
Our free Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/schoolgrowth/