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My Startup Weekend Pitch:

I’m in DC for the education edition of Startup Weekend! It’s my first Startup Weekend, but here are my notes on how it works:

– entrepreneurs, and those aspiring to be entrepreneurs, can do 60-minute pitches for new start-ups at a Friday evening event at the beginning of the 54 hour weekend

– pitches are selected based on votes and teams then form

– teams build products the rest of the weekend with access to awesome mentors

– the teams present to a judging panel and finalists and a winner are named

The reason why I registered in the first place? It’s a fantastic opportunity to hone an entire skillset and network with education greats. However, as the event got closer, I became more entrenched with an idea I’ve had for years and am pitching it tonight:, a social network focused on helping teachers “get good” at what schools want, and then helping them tell the world about it. The first part happens when you earn badges by developing and demonstrating the teacher skills research shows our students need (think Foursquare). The second part is about using the badges to create a profile that’s searchable by hiring managers and peers, and join communities (think LinkedIn). Badges might be earned if you’re certified in a high-need subject area, are certified in multiple states, or participated in certain professional development programs. They may also be earned if you attach a lesson plan to your profile, or can demonstrate that you meet soft skills that research shows matter, like leadership, resilience and time management, through assessments or evidence. Content may be provided to help teachers get higher-order badges.

Readers of my blog know that my background is in teacher recruitment, hiring and quality– I was TFA, I helped implement the NYC Teaching Fellows from the first summer, served as the Director of Teacher Recruitment for the world’s largest school district of 1,600 schools, and researched and wrote about teacher hiring from an economic perspective in my academic career. I still blog about all this on Tumblr. But when I made the decision to go out on my own as a coach and consultant, I tried to run away as far as I could from teachers- only because I felt that was what I needed to make a clean break and put MY stake in the ground. But over the last 13 months, teachers keep calling me back- the webinar I did with SchoolSpring in May that sold out in 20 minutes, and then of course, the Teach Newark project we’ve managed since June.

Like many inspirations, it comes to one moment and mine happened this summer at an event when I found myself unexpectedly rushed by 200ish teachers trying to find a job. I unconsciously started giving out advice, pep talks, and pats on the back and I felt at peace in away I haven’t always felt as a coach. I felt at peace because even though I give them tough love, I truly love teachers and I’m good with them… and what could I happen if I could scale that? And that’s where Startup Weekend comes in.

If you were a teacher, are currently a teacher, or are an aspiring teacher, I’d love if you filled out our survey about your thoughts on our idea. Thanks very much!

Herman Cain vs. Steve Jobs vs. Occupy Wall Street

Last week, while walking home in Brooklyn after meeting some friends, the heel of my boot got stuck in a hole in the sidewalk, breaking my shoe and sending me flying into the air. I eventually landed on both my knees on cobblestone and then fell on my right side in pain. I couldn’t get up for 20 minutes and somehow picked the one street in New York City to fall on that no one else uses. I could have at least used someone to take a picture in case I could have sued!

Until I got up, shook it off, and limped home shaken, I sat on the street wondering what would happen if I couldn’t get up on my own. I should have worried about physical pain, but I was more worried in that instance about what would happen if I had really injured myself with a crappy health insurance situation as a single woman who owns a solopreneur business. The Opportunities Project has made it through its first year, but just barely, and if I had broken something, what would I do to pay for that care… and how would it impact my ability to serve clients… and what would happen to everything I’d taken a risk to try to build for myself and others over 80+ hour weeks since I first had my idea for my business in late 2009. Just because of a damn dark hole in the sidewalk.

It turned out that I had banged myself up pretty bad, but self-treatable- I spent almost 4 days flat on my back with a heating pad on my bruised side and lots of Alieve. So yeah, I’ve been dealing with increased anxiety the last week or so exacerbated by staring at the ceiling (I also made some poor book choices. Sorry, Tina Fey). While I’m not 100% ready to formally announce things yet, I am on the verge of some business and personal changes. Decisions have been made, plans sketched out, but been difficult to physically put into action just now, even though I’m psychologically ready. But no matter how much clarity I have, I’m also worried about the uncertainty my choices will bring and the stability of the market… and how I went from being someone with an MPA in economics and finance to someone who is passionate about and really good at career coaching, social media, teaching and recruiting… things that just go with recessions like peanut butter and jelly? Breathe. But then there were also these things I heard or read the last week:

– “Don’t blame Wall Street. Don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”- Herman Cain

– “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life… Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”- Steve Jobs

– “I don’t want anyone listening today to think that once you’re done with high school, you’re done learning, or that college isn’t for you… You have to start expecting big things for yourself, right now… Take some risks once in a while..” -President Obama

– Someone who seems to have taken both President Obama’s advice (get your college degree, become a teacher) and counsel from Steve Jobs (follow your heart and intuition) from We Are the 99%.

The number of BFAs under 30 on the We Are the 99% blog with $85K+ in student loan debt has made my heart feel like it’s going to jump out of my chest. All around, the housing and medical debt are making my shoulders hunch permanently.

The problem is everything Cain, Jobs, Obama and Occupy Wall Street say are true, at last in part. Over the last year, I’ve met some amazing job seekers… and a lot who like to play the victim and/or don’t understand that creating success requires a disciplined plan and patience, among other things. But the majority of unemployed young professionals I’ve met are good people who did everything they were told to do by their parents, civic leaders and institutions to launch a career… study hard, go to a good school, pick something you like to do and are good at, get internships… and are stuck in place with few opportunities. Even for those of us who are taking risks, it is almost impossible without family wealth or the institutions previous generations could count on, like your local bank, to be there in your corner.

The rules have changed and the institutions we’re forced to work with- education, banks, and health care- won’t admit it and don’t have to change, and our political leaders are playing naive. I read some posts in my Facebook feed that the Occupy Wall Street protestors should watch Steve Jobs’ Stanford speech and understand personal responsibility instead of blaming companies, but Jobs believed our institutions should be focused on serving customers and users more than anything else. Harvard Business Review agrees. So everyone is right and everyone is wrong. And we all continue to suffer and wonder when and if anything will change other than bring more and different anxiety.

I spent yesterday upright, told my fear to go f’off for the day, and then followed up with as many clients as possible who are dealing with their own transitions, sent the final version of The Opportunities Project’s Quarter 4 plan to my team, and prepared for a group coaching session I led last night. To cure my anxiety, I can take responsibility for my future as much as I can and use my passions and talents to to serve others, and hope that no more hidden sidewalk holes creep up until the health care system can better serve someone like me. To make change, I can talk about the issues and challenge people to get real about what problems we’re actually facing. But is that enough?

Pay Attention to the Girls

Last year, I was fortunate enough to participate in a blogging campaign for The Girl Effect through an opportunity presented by one of my online coaching heroes, Tara Sophia Mohr. The annual blogging campaign (500+ bloggers) brings attention to the sobering stats of what happens to young girls in the developing world without intervention. Forced marriages right after puberty. A lifetime of poverty and an inability to take care of their family. By writing about these issues, we can start a conversation that creates a ripple effect which will eventually reach those who can make change on a systemic basis.

The Girl Effect has proposed that if we laser focus on investing in young women- before the age of 12- through education and entrepreneurship, we can make a large scale impact on the economy of third-world countries. The Kauffman Foundation for entrepreneurship recently found that women are the key to economic prosperity here in the U.S., too. If you pay more attention to little girls and young women in the world, things can really start to change for all of us. This video will explain and inspire.

The Opportunities Project doesn’t have an international reach, but we were started because I became passionate about the issues around economic inequality and access, and in particular how these issues impact still impact Generation Y women. The Girl Effect does a fantastic job of showing the impact of what happens when we don’t pay attention. What can you do to start?

Thanks to my colleagues and friends Tanisha Christie, Dana Leavy, and Michelle Ward who took me up on my invitation to join this year’s campaign. Please read their posts when you get a chance.

Three Tips to Not Trip Up Your Teacher Job Search

What a busy week- webinars with SchoolSpring and YouTern and launching our group coaching program (you’ve enrolled so I can get you your dream job, right?). And let’s not forget about the Life After College Party with the awesome NYC coaching community, NY Creative Interns, and Jenny Blake. Thanks to everyone who participated in these events and reminded me that I am living my dream as a career coach!

Yesterday, I took some time to listen to the recording for the SchoolSpring webinar which focused on using your competitive advantage to find a teaching job and re-read the chat. I pulled out three things I spoke about where people on the webinar weren’t quite convinced. I thought I’d address them today on the blog.

Apple-0031. Have a great digital portfolio. A digital portfolio is used to market your unique strengths before you even get the interview. A physical portfolio is limiting because it can only realistically be used in the interview.  Someone asked if a principal or recruiter will actually spend time online looking at your online materials. Absolutely. No one gets hired today without being Googled so why not point them to the an online space where you want them to look? Also, as online learning becomes more important in today’s schools, having a digital portfolio can demonstrate that you are onboard.

2. Use a GMail address for your job search. For some reason, this was one of the most talked about pieces of advice on the webinar! Trust me. There is data that shows that resumes with GMail addresses get looked at more often. Think about your brand and check out this piece from The Oatmeal on What Your Email Address Says About You if you still need to be convinced. As for university-based email addresses, recruiters don’t want to see them for two reasons. One, student email addresses quickly expire so I am going to assume that after May, it’s only a 50/50 chance I’ll actually get you so I’ll just contact someone else than potentially be aggravated with a bounced back email. Second, I want to hire someone who has already transitioned to adulthood and not a student.

This is just an example of what we talk about around mindset and branding in coaching.

3. Include your non-teaching experience on your resume. Every person interviewing for a teaching position in 2011 knows lesson planning and loves kids. When principals are interviewing you, they are thinking about the value you are going to add to the classroom beyond your basic training and what makes you unique. Any way that you can show you are well-rounded, do it. Think about some stories from your experiences outside student teaching and conclude them with how those lessons and skills are going to make you an amazing teacher.

There were also questions about how to teach in different states than the one where you earned your certification. I’m all for this, but ut’s not easy. In fact, this mobility issue is  very likely going to be related to my dissertation topic that I am taking on for the fall. I am planning to crowdsource my topic on my blog, so check back here throughout May for that post and give me your thoughts if this is something that makes you emotional or riled up.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog


AERA 11 Recap: Is Your Educational Organization Agile?

Two weeks ago, I participated in a panel at the 2011 American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference in New Orleans. This was my fourth AERA event and my first as a panelist. AERA is generally a conference I’ve attended because I’ve *had to* go as a doctoral student at New York University. I enjoyed it more this year than I have in the past, but AERA is still not where my personal and professional tribes hang out. I’m okay with that understanding, but it’s still good to step outside your comfort zone to expand your learning opportunities when possible.

My panel discussed research on the direction of teacher preparation. As a panelist, I discussed my role as a gatekeeper and a consumer of teacher applicants based on my work as the Director of Teacher Recruitment at the New York City Department of Education. Basically, my perspective is that different types of certification programs can fight among themselves over theories on how to prepare teachers. All that matters is that new teachers can demonstrate they are ready for the classroom when they meet a recruiter or principal and then deliver on that promise. With a decreasing need for teachers right now, it’s important that colleges don’t lose sight of this.

Here is information on my fellow panelists’ work and my presentation on SlideShare.

Pathways Toward the Future: The Promise of Innovative Teacher Education and Preservice Preparation Programs.

Division K – Teaching and Teacher Education

Chair: Angus Shiva Mungal, New York University – Steinhardt


-“Pathways Toward the Future: The Promise of Innovative Teacher Education and Preservice Preparation Programs.” Angus Shiva Mungal, New York University – Steinhardt

-“Reimagining Teacher Preparation: Apprenticing Effective Math and Science Teachers in an Urban Teacher Residency”-  Emily J. Klein, Montclair State University; Monica Taylor, Montclair State University; Cynthia S. Onore, Montclair State University

-“School Districts and Empirical Evidence: The Reflection on and Improvement of Teacher Recruitment, Selection, and Hiring Practices.” Tracy L. Brisson, New York University

-“Establishing a Unique University and School Support Organization Collaborative Urban Teacher Residency Program.” Ron Woo, Hunter College- CUNY

Discussants: James W. Fraser, New York University

While my colleagues were presenting, I took some notes on themes that I found interesting.

– In creating and implementing their teacher residency programs, Ron and Emily have been able to accomplish a tremendous amount through collaboration, but recruitment is still a problem. This interests me as a recruitment professional. Is there something special that must be sold about the benefits of residency programs compared to traditional and alternative certification tracks?

– As part of his dissertation, Angus is interviewing faculty at traditional education schools about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with alternative certification programs. He is finding some seriously good stuff (didn’t you know that seriously good stuff is an official academic term?). One thing that surprised me is the level of unresolved conflict that these professors feel. They generally think that alternative certification programs have great qualities… and they think alternative certification candidates make great teachers… but they still don’t want these programs around. It makes sense on some levels.

– As the discussant, Dr. Fraser asked me for my thoughts on how we could work better together- employers and preparers. My answer was that it’s about agility. The world is rapidly changing everywhere and schools are no exception. As public schools’ needs change quickly, we need institutions to change just as fast and give us the high quality teachers we need. If the largest percentage of students your college accepted after 2009 are studying to be certified as elementary teachers, you have a problem with your business model. In fact, your programs may be the first casualties once the higher education bubble bursts.

Outside of education implications, there are some career lessons from AERA, too. One, I learned that the panel was conceived when Angus and Emily randomly sat next to each other on a plane in 2010 and discussed how they were both doing research on teacher education. When was the last time you networked with someone when you were traveling, standing in line or something else mundane? Do it next time because things happen!

TweetupSecond, because I knew that I would have trouble meeting people at a large event where I felt like a fish out of water, I engaged on Twitter for the two weeks leading up the conference using the official hashtag #AERA2011. About three of us organized a Tweetup of about ten people at the Sheraton (see pic). On one side, it’s a little bothersome that less than 1% of the conference would be using Twitter. However, it made it intimate and we had real discussions. But here is the real kicker. I have stalked a certain professor at AERA for four years. He wrote a paper that I have marked up, highlighted, and annotated to death because I think it is genius. I’ve never been able to get close enough to talk to him because he’s always surrounded by people. Wouldn’t you know that he was one of the ten people who came to the Tweetup?!? I was able to speak to him for 20 interrupted minutes about my new dissertation concept and get amazing feedback! You’ve heard it from me before and you’ll hear it again. Never. Underestimate. The. Power. Of. Social. Media.


Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog


We’re Participating in the 2011 Social Learning Summit!

I left out some important news yesterday!

I’ll be at the 2011 Social Learning Summit Friday, April 1 to Sunday, April 3 at American University in Washington, DC. It’s a fantastic conference for job seekers, students, educators, and anyone else who wants to expand their network.

I’ll be moderating the “Practice Safe TEXT: Safe Practices for the Social Media Generation” panel on Saturday at the 2011 Social Learning Summit in Washington, DC! You can register for the summit for $10 here.

What questions should I ask the panel? Leave your ideas in the comments.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog


Would I Recommend Teaching as a Career?

Almost two weeks ago, Monica Ross Williams interviewed me on Reach Out Job Search Radio as a career expert. Monica was an excellent host and I really thank her for giving me the opportunity to speak with her on her show. One of the questions she asked was “Would you recommend that young people become teachers in today’s economy?” I was surprisingly floored. Strangely, no one ever asks me that question. Since I spent almost ten years recruiting teachers and principals in New York City, people generally assume that my answer to this question would be yes.

But when Monica asked me the question, I realized I couldn’t unequivocally say yes.  I wanted to give a fair and actionable answer as someone people can count on to give trustworthy advice on career options, especially if they are giving me money to do so. So I thought about it and here’s my answer: Yes, but with caveats and two pieces of pragmatic advice.

Create a back-up plan in case teaching doesn’t work out.

Would I recommend teaching as a career?When deciding on a career, everyone should think about their potential return on investment (ROI) for it. Your ROI doesn’t just include what you’ll earn as a salary against your initial education costs, but the value you put on your time. If you’re going into teaching, it should be because you believe your personal satisfaction, or your return, will be worth your investment, including all the financial, time, and emotional costs you’ll experience in preparing for and doing it.

What many people don’t understand is that the cost to become a teacher in our country is extremely high for an entry-level profession that pays little. The barrier is high because certification is expensive. In many states, certification requires at least one semester of unpaid labor in the student teaching experience and a master’s degree after a few years of teaching. It also takes more time to become a good teacher compared to other entry-level professions where the learning curve is shorter. If you go through all that …and then can’t get a teaching job or decide it’s not for you, your options may be limited as an education degree doesn’t have the same market value of a liberal arts degree. If you read the I TEACH NYC Facebook page, you’ll see that many of the recent graduates who did not find teaching jobs were forced into retail positions because they couldn’t convince other employers of the transferable value of their experience and education. Did you really spend all that money on your BA to now only be qualified to work at Forever 21 as a clerk or as your neighborhood barista? (I’m asking Justin to do some research and find more information on what education majors do besides teaching for a future blog post.)

Though our country’s private sector has recovered, it takes a while for that recovery to trickle down to the public sector in the form of taxes to support education. Consumers also don’t trust that the recovery is real so they’re not spending, affecting incoming sales tax. The fact is that no matter how you wish it to be different, districts are not hiring teachers in great numbers and I am not sure the perpetual “teacher shortage” is ever coming back. The National Association of Colleges and Employers issued a survey that found that for the class of 2010, journalism graduates were more likely to find jobs than teachers. I never expected to see data like that in my lifetime, but it’s reality.

So if you’re thinking about teaching, double major in something else you like in addition to education. That doesn’t mean that you have to pick something like accounting if you hate numbers, but something that could get you a job that pays a market-rate college graduate salary. Spend at least one of your college summers interning in that field or take a virtual internship during the school year with flexible hours. When graduation approaches, doggedly pursue teaching, but if you’re not finding anything after a reasonable amount of time, start pursuing that back-up plan. You can always pursue teaching when the economy changes.

As an aside… I think this high cost to enter the teaching profession is an important point for people who are following all the Wisconsin rhetoric to understand, even if you’re against public sector unions. Since new teachers have to work a long time at a low teacher salary to break even on what they paid to get that certificate, stability and easy entry into the job market become more essential to the livelihood of a teacher than it does for other professions. 
While there may be reasons for private sector employees to be on Scott Walker’s side, the argument that removing tenure rights will make teachers “more like us” does not hold economically. It’s more complicated than the sound bites make you believe.

Understand what teaching is and what it’s not.

Teaching is about setting high goals for your students and doing everything you can to help them meet those goals. That means instruction, as well as helping them find ways to limit the obstacles they face outside the classroom, whether it’s building up their coping and other soft skills, working with their parents, or collaborating with professional partners outside your classroom. It requires significant leadership and analytical skills. Teaching is not working with kids, or imparting your wisdom, or solving problems of social justice and if those are your main motivations, the job is not for you. Those are parts of the jobs, but they serve to support your daily mission to do things in your classroom that will make your real-life students- like my Glendy, Anthony, Kayla and Stephanie- become people in their 20s doing things that satisfy them and help them support themselves.

Before applying to a teacher certification program, go shadow a teacher that you respect for a day. Can you do this every day? Will you be able to filter all the political noise around teaching to concentrate on your students short and long-term needs?

On Monday, President Obama gave an education speech and made references to teachers’ role as nation builders. I agree with him, but inspiration is cheap (with all due respect, Mr. President). So please, be a teacher because we need smart and dedicated people like you, especially in science and special education. Just do all the hard planning work you need to do BEFORE you send in that application to the teacher certification program of your choice. As a career coach, I help people change their career directions all the time so my point is not to make you think that you’re wedded to teaching for the rest of your life because you study it. Just don’t underestimate the costs before making an initial commitment.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Are We Missing the Point in Education Reform?

It’s been almost a month since New York Social Media Week, but been thinking lately about the Disrupting Education Panel I attended and how it really was the tipping point for me on this change I am going through in my thoughts about education reform. While I thought we were making big improvements in schools in the last decade, I’m starting to think that we’re completely missing the point. Here are some tweets I posted from when I was at the panel:


– We have to teach our kids how to mine brilliance on social media.
– Oh my. Panelist just mentioned holding teachers accountable for not using tech and social media


In case you don’t take much stock in tweets from the mouths of tech punks, here is an Ashoka Fellow and Brown alum saying the same thing just less direct and more eloquently and not using the term “social media.”



(Thanks to Timothy Johnson III for sharing the video with me via Twitter.)


At one time, I had wanted to do an insightful blog post on the State of the Union and how disappointed I was with Obama’s comments on education, but I got distracted and didn’t know how to express this change I was feeling. But it’s becoming clearer ever day. This Week with Christiane Amanpour intrigued me this weekend, especially a segment on trying to buy American products for your home. A group of ABC journalists went though the products in one typical family’s home and found that except for one vase, everything else was made overseas. When trying to replace the foreign-made products with American versions, the reporters found that there were entire products that aren’t even manufactured in our country anymore. Not a huge surprise, but the point that one of the journalists made that stuck with me was that our country obsesses over the fact that we don’t have workers making plasma televisions in factories here any longer, but we should be collectively focused on how new graduates are doing to design the next best thing after plasma.


And then I saw THIS video and was both depressed and slightly inspired.



(Thanks to my friends at TBEX NYC for posting on their blog.)

I am becoming increasingly despondent about our schools. Some say we know how to fix them, but we just choose not to do so. The current reforms, when they work, give more students access to middle class jobs, but now it looks like those jobs are disappearing faster than working class ones. How long will it take for ed reform to adjust to this new reality? “College for all” does not work. Middle-income jobs in health care and related fields don’t require bachelor degrees so why go into intense debt? Second, our colleges aren’t even teaching people to be creative or innovative (thanks Paul Krugman).

Ed policy is a mess. it’s become so focused on ideology and “who has the power to do what” instead of creating a vision for what habits and skills our K-12 students should be learning EVERY day, and how that ties into what we expect them to do at age 18 or 22 when they’re supposed to be out on their own and changing the world.

The social media thing sticks with me because it just reinforces how behind we are. Instead of trying to lockdown young people’s access to Facebook and Twitter, maybe we could teach students how to use it correctly to communicate and connect with the outside world and learn new things. As crazy it sounds, maybe creating learning standards and making social media an integral tool in K-12 education is where the debate should be.


Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Download Our White Paper: The Economic Achievement Gap

Clients, friends and fans (who ever thought I’d have fans when I grew up?) know that I am not your typical career coach for many reasons. One of those reasons is that I was driven to this business because of my disappointment with our K-16 education system and my sincere belief that I can do something about it through The Opportunities Project.

In December, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was interviewed on 60 Minutes. He used part of the interview to express his concern about the relationship between education and the current unemployment rate. In his words…

“It’s based very much, I think, on educational differences… If you’re a college graduate, unemployment is five percent. If you’re a high school graduate, it’s 10 percent or more. It’s a very big difference. It leads to an unequal society and a society which doesn’t have the cohesion that we’d like to see.”

(Articles: College, Jobs and Inequality- NY Times and Fed Chair Says 4 to 5 Years for “Normal” Unemployment-


First, I think that the unemployment problem is worse than what Bernanke states. The unemployment rate for college graduates only includes people who are eligible for unemployment insurance, which requires working full-time for at least a year in most states. Most college students who attended school full-time have not met that requirement, making them ineligible for unemployment when they graduate. This means that most of the class of 2010 are excluded from the government’s official statistics. Second, as a New York Times editorial pointed out, “college for all” is not going to solve our economic problems because these unemployment statistics don’t reveal that a high percentage of college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

The “unequal society” is the real issue. We have people who confidently and happily produce great work and people who don’t. We have discounted the impact of education’s failure to prepare young people for the careers that are available in today’s economy. We don’t teach our students how to be strategic, resilient, or creative and we push aspirations that don’t fit their abilities and interests. Sometimes that includes college. I am now seeing first hand how this mindset stays with people, even when they hit their thirties and beyond.

In January, I started thinking more about education and the economy as I was getting ready for the Teach for America 20 Year Summit. As someone starting out in career coaching, I’ve focused on gaining individual clients versus the social entrepreneurship and advocacy part of my business model. The Summit’s challenge to ask yourself what role you play in eliminating educational inequity as an alum made me reflect if I should be stepping that advocacy role up now. I also started reading press coverage about a book called Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. Arun and Roksa found that students are learning very little in college and even worse, the “achievement gap” between poor and upper class students becomes exacerbated while they are in college. I read the book and what really stood out to me was the alignment between what the Collegiate Learning Assessment (the assessment the researchers based their findings on) measured and what employers desire in new hires (per the National Association of Colleges and Employers). It’s clear as day that we know what we should be doing in education and we’re not doing it, for various reasons.


Four Skills Measured on the Collegiate Learning Assessment

Top Four Skills Most Desired by Employers

Communicate Clearly Verbal Communication Skills
Solve Problems Strong Work Ethic
Think Critically Teamwork Skills
Reason Analytically Analytical Skills


My colleague Keith Petri, Founder and CEO of eBranding Me, and I had contemplated writing white papers on what role higher education, and particularly the college career center, plays in the scope of employment problems recent graduates face. As more people started talking about Academically Adrift, and we became more aware that we could make a difference, we knew it was time. With our co-author Justin Mathews, we just issued our first white paper, The Economic Achievement Gap: No End in Sight, our first paper in our three paper series called Solutions for Change in Education. In this first paper, we outline the problems through a summary of economic data and then offer starter solutions that could be implemented immediately to improve the likelihood that today’s college students and graduates find jobs. Our second and third papers will go into more detail on college career services and student responsibility, respectively.

The Opportunities Project and eBranding Me

You can download The Economic Achievement Gap here. A press release can also be accessed from my Press page. Keith, Justin and I encourage your feedback and have left the comments open on the page where you can download the paper. Change will only happen through discussion and collaboration and we want to have that with you!

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog


Teach for America #TFA20 Recap and Reflections: Part II

Based on length, I am now separating my TFA posts into three parts. As a result of a conversation I’m having on another blog, I’ve decided to address something in the interest of transparency. Class and ideological assumptions about who participates in TFA and why is a prickly thing for me. Once people hear that I’m a TFA alumna, many will start talking to me as if they know what type of family I grew up in, what schools I went to or what I think politically. So you don’t have to make any assumptions, here is what you need to know: I grew up in a working class family in a Massachusetts fishing town and graduated from a high school that lost its accreditation because our building didn’t have a proper gym or library, among other reasons. Both the valedictorian and I (3rd in my class) were lucky enough to go to Syracuse University based on generous scholarships. I’ll never be a graduate of an Ivy League school and after interviewing several of them for jobs over the years, I’ve become okay with that. Politically, I am all over the map, depending on the issue.

These next reflections on the Summit focus on what I’ve called Sticky Concerns because I think if they’re not addressed, they’re going to “stick” to Teach for America’s work to meet its goal that all children will have an excellent education. Ruben Brosbe on Gotham Schools also blogged about this yesterday. Everything that follows is based on my observations, and not any conversations I’ve had with people at TFA, official or unofficial.

So my Sticky Concerns…

Our Egypt Moment, Ed Reform Assumptions, and Unions

At the Summit, there was a theme that education should become our country’s “Egypt moment.” At first, I was taken aback by the connotations of that statement, but as I’ve reflected on it, I think it’s appropriate. Schools in all types of communities are struggling and something significant and urgent needs to happen. Like most taxpayers and Americans, I have become increasingly impatient.

I think that Teach for America has the right to assume that if you chose to attend the Summit, (1) you have bought into their vision that all students deserve and MUST have the opportunity to achieve academically (and economically as adults), and (2) that collectively, we can make a difference. However, I think it’s a big leap to believe we are all in agreement on what that path looks like and this is not an insignificant assumption to make. For that reason, I had issues with the morning panel on education reform. There were people on the panel that I respect individually, but I think that featuring them together collectively was a mistake for Teach for America, especially with no alternative perspectives in the group. The fact that 80% of the panel either lead non-unionized charter schools or recently led the only two major districts that didn’t participate in the US DOE’s federal conference on Advancing Student Achievement through Labor Management Collaboration sends a message about what you need to believe if you want to participate in this Egypt moment. Having Randi Weingarten on a panel by herself at the same time that Malcolm Gladwell and Gloria Steinem are speaking doesn’t cut it as portraying that your organization is open to multiple opinions.

Personally, my opinion on labor unions has always been complicated. Here is why:

•    All four of my grandparents were union members. The three that worked for the federal and state government made important contributions to society, experienced great working conditions and retired with good pensions. My other grandmother worked her butt off for 40 years in sweatshop conditions as a member of the Ladies Garment Workers union (I speak about her on a video on my Facebook page) and died almost penniless because of a worthless pension.

•    My dad has been a union member his entire life, mostly as shop steward, and is still active as a leader. I walked my first picket line at eight years old and helped mimeograph (yes, mimeograph) materials at the union hall for my dad’s meetings. I saw first hand how my dad helped countless people who were really screwed over due to no fault of their own.

•    When I was a member of the UFT, my chapter leaders (I had three in two years) were so far up the principal or central UFT’s ass, they couldn’t be bothered with any new teacher concerns. I spent two years calling and writing letters about per-session work for which I was never compensated. I only got paid when after telling him I was giving up, my dad (unbeknownst to me) found the phone number of a high-ranking official at the UFT online and left a message for him using an AFSCME Executive Board title (a volunteer position). His message was returned in 24 hours and I had my check within ten days.

•    As a manager for over ten years, I saw the UFT defend people who they knew didn’t deserve to be teaching. I saw them ignore the concerns of a new teacher (with high student test scores) who was run out out of her school by an incompetent principal. I’ve also seen them help good teachers who were really concerned about kids, but were terrorized by poor managers.

I bring all of those experiences with me and I can’t just let them go based on a fiery speech.

One of the speakers on the morning panel spoke about how policies like LIFO (laying off teachers in seniority order) treat teachers as if they were widgets. I agree, but that’s identifying a problem, and I want to hear a good solution. There is a vague proposal that principals should make layoff decisions because they know teachers better. I’ve worked with principals in NYC for years and have seen MANY of them do wacky things when it comes to hiring and working with teachers- not here and there, but as a matter of practice. Waiting for Superman didn’t talk about how principals impact our educational problems and it was a major omission.

I don’t support LIFO. But not being in favor of an existing law is not a policy solution. If we get rid of something, what are we substituting it with? For me, accepting that there will be some collateral damage for teachers and kids if principals don’t get layoffs right is a struggle I’m having a hard time overcoming. I know too many good new teachers who I personally recruited and think it would be a travesty if their students lost them, and I can’t stop thinking of a friend and good veteran teacher who had an extremely hard time transferring because countless principals balked at her salary. I am begging for someone to show me a real plan that will be fair to teachers and provide the best results for students. My concern is that we have too many people with opinions on both sides who turn passive-aggressive when it’s time to hammer out the details of how we’re really going to help kids and the people closest to them. This is not easy at all.

Finally, I am also worried about how this rhetoric plays with our current college students. The last few years, I ran a successful intern program at the NYCDOE. It was my great pride that almost every intern was inspired by his/her experience in public education and applied to Teach for America (most were accepted). This year, not one applied. When I asked them why, they said that they don’t want to join a profession that’s so “unstable.” I felt utterly startled by that statement because all we hear is how teachers have the most secure job in the world. But it’s not only my former interns. The National Association of College and Employers interviewed some of the best and brightest college students across majors about what they’re looking for in their first job and their priority is security. If the rhetoric about education continues this way, I’m afraid it’s going to be a distraction and prevent the smartest young people we graduate from considering teaching. That will have a very real impact on students.

Is there a middle road here or am I being delusional? What do you think we should do in the name of change that works?

As a PS, one of the best classes I ever took was The History of the Teaching Profession at New York University under Lynn Gordon. If you want to know more about why our teaching corps looks like it does and how unions have been innovative and improved educational outcomes, not just working conditions, I have a great reading list. I was annoyed by Waiting for Superman’s underwhelming summary of how teachers’ unions were started because the history is so rich. If you’re interested in this, email me.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog