As students, parents, and policymakers question the purpose of high schools, educators worldwide are building novel secondary school designs. What makes them "innovative," however? In this conversation, Shadman Uddin, a master’s Student in Education at Stanford Graduate School of Education, offered that what makes a school innovative is less its adherence to a list of “novel” ideas, but more its outcomes against the things that matter most in society today, which includes knowledge acquisition, but also things like real-world applicability and social and emotional development.
Against that backdrop, Ken Montgomery, co-founder of Design Tech High, known as D-Tech, and Keeanna Warren, who just became the CEO of the Purdue Polytechnic High School network, joined me to talk about their school designs, in particular the importance of:
helping students connect to something bigger than the school itself;
offering competency-based learning pathways with a transformed assessment system;
allowing students to find their creative purpose aligned to the common good;
and building a more permeable school that is connected to the community and offers a deep sense of belonging.
They also talked about the role of AI (artificial intelligence) and the anxiety that their students feel around its emergence, as well as the barriers that arise to building school models that break the traditional molds—from policy to human capital. Ken and Keeanna also talked about how they’re seeing a lot of energy from parents for new types of schooling—and not the small “C” conservative force for the status quo that parents often fall into.
As always, subscribers can listen to the podcast, watch the conversation, or read the transcript.
Michael Horn: Welcome to the Future of Education where we are passionate about building a world in which all individuals can build their passions and fulfill their human potential. And to help us think about what that looks like and means today we've got three terrific guests in a format that we haven't typically done in the Future of Education. Where we're going to get to have a little bit of a conversation, a roundtable. We have Ken Montgomery, who I've known for many years. He's the co-founder and executive director at Design Tech High known as d.tech to those of us in the world. We have Keeanna Warren, the assistant executive director of Purdue Polytechnic High School Network, which has gotten a lot of plaudits over the years and we'll talk more about what they do there. And then the person bringing us all together, so to speak, is Shadman Uddin, who's a master's student in education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
And Shadman, I'm going to start with you as we launch into... We get four cycles, if you will, on this show. The first one is the morning warmup. And Shadman, you are bringing us all together because for one of your classes, you wrote this paper around next-gen school models, innovative schools, and we got talking as you were doing that. And one of your first questions was, what is an innovative school? If I remember this correctly.
I had COVID I think at the time, so I had brain fog. And I said, there's a lot of places out there, the Canopy Project, whatever else, that have done this in a variety of ways. But it seems to me innovation... As my friend Rick Hess often says, no one goes into an Apple store and says, “Give me your most innovative iPhone.” They want an iPhone that accomplishes something for them. And innovation is a means not an ends. And so what if we looked at the outcomes and asked, okay. Well, what are the processes that are getting them? So I'm curious how that suggestion landed and what did you learn in the paper?
Shadman Uddin: Yeah, totally, Michael. And first of all, I just want to thank you for having us here today. It's really exciting to be in conversation with both you, Ken and Keeanna. This has been a conversation that we've been having now for a few months through this research. It's really great to just have this forum and discuss a lot of the findings that we had in the paper. So before we get really right to your question about how did we define next-gen, I just want to form around a little bit of the team that was behind this and how we came to do this research in and of itself. So it was myself, another couple of students at the Graduate School of Business here at Stanford named Rahul Adhikari and Nikita Sushilkumar. And we were all together in Gloria Lee's class at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
And all of us were united by this sense of excitement that we had, seeing all of the students and families asking for more innovation in high school across the US and even globally as well with Rahul and Nikita coming from India. And we had this big question of, how are these new innovations that are happening, or at least the ideas that hearing from new school leaders, how are they taking shape and are they successfully scaling? And so we posed that question to Gloria and she was like, "Why don’t we go ahead and do a whole research project around this? Let's find out this answer together.”
And that really launched this amazing series of conversations. We spoke to over 26 different school leaders and ecosystem builders in what we defined or called the next-gen school space. And ultimately we learned a lot about what are some of the major barriers and what are also some of the key strategies that the highest performing next-gen schools are doing to kind of circumvent and keep growing amidst a lot of the barriers that they face.
But back to your first question of how did we even decide what was a next-gen or innovative school, and this was where we got caught up for a couple of months honestly. We saw the Transcend Canopy Project that tried to define next-gen by a various set of inputs that they quoted to be different tiers of innovation in next-gen. And what we realized is, one, we were most interested in the scaling strategies and how were the schools surviving and thriving. And we didn't want to get so caught up in more of the intellectual and theoretical debate about what constitutes a next-gen innovation in a school. And so what we did is actually after speaking to you and then Kim Smith at Cambiar Education is we opted to do a different taxonomy or classification for how we thought about next-gen. And what we ended up deciding to do was an outcomes oriented framework.
So we thought about, okay, what are the outcomes that next-gen or innovative schools are trying to create within the high school landscape today? And then can we look and see what schools across the nation are performing well across those various indicators of outcomes? And so we leaned on Sir Ken Robinson's five educational outcomes that he outlines in his book, Imagine If. Imagining a new way of school, a new way of education. And those five categories are academic, economic, so that's job readiness, social, cultural, and personal. And we saw a number of schools doing different things across those different domains. Some schools focusing on primarily one outcome. But that then allowed us to compile a list of schools that we saw to be high performing in each of these categories. And then we went ahead and started reaching out to school leaders like Ken and Keeanna to learn more about how they were growing and how they were building out their visions.
Horn: Ken, let's go to you on your school model. D.tech is one that I was out at the Bay Area actually still when you launched it. So I got to see some of it up close. But love for you to give the same sort of overview.
Ken Montgomery: Yes, thank you. Just like everybody else, I appreciate the time and opportunity to share our story with you all. I think a lot of what was kind of said is same with us. I think that's why we're all here. Definitely, one thing that is really resonating is a lot of people have said that we have all these programs, which I'll get to in a second. But what really separates us is our view of students. Like our view of what students are capable of. The fact that we feel high school is not just preparing you for something, you should do something real while you're actually in high school. And so we say that we exist to provide people the opportunity to do meaningful work, contribute to the common good, and develop their creative purpose. So everything that we do is just aligned towards that.
We say people, staff and students. And the creative purpose part is becoming even more prevalent because… even more important, as I'm sure we'll talk more about AI, there are a lot of changes. And that's what we say too, is that we don't know how the world is going to change. We just know it's going to change quickly and unpredictably. So we prepare our students to enter that kind of world. So we have five pillars. What makes a design tech school a design tech school? The first one is design thinking. All our students have a four year design lab, design thinking graduation requirement. And they can earn their regular high school diploma from us. Then also an innovation diploma. Which certifies that we worked with Stanford Center for Assessment Learning and Equity about developing rubrics for how you assess creativity, initiative and things like that.
So if the students take on this additional project, they earn their innovation diploma. And that's tied to design thinking. We're competency based. All of our students, we have an advisory period, all of our students have flexible time during the day and then we also have intercession. And so we are located on Oracle's corporate campus in Redwood City. And that really started... The first connection was our intersession program.
So three times a year for two weeks, the students take a break from their core classes and basically the Bay Area becomes their classroom. And so one example of that, Oracle employees teach kids computer coding or wearable technology or the internet of things. Or our students might go out to learn how to perform in a rock band or things like that. So it's really just trying to get kids out in the world and have them, like I said, find their creative purpose while contributing to the common good. We try to align everything towards that.
And we also really are focusing on belonging in terms of, especially with... I think that's something with the next-gen model is like, we've seen the previous system, it has left certain people behind based on their identities and in some cases it was designed to do that. So something I think is essential and if you're thinking about what does the next generation of schools need to do, it needs to have that equity component in it as well.
Horn: Super interesting. And I'm hearing some common themes across the schools obviously, but there's that belief in students that they can do something real while in high school in both your models and you also have connection to something bigger than just the school. Keeanna, obviously the direct linkage with Purdue University. Ken, with Oracle. And this finding of purpose. And, “What is my superpower?” I think was your words, Keeanna, right? For each individual. I'm curious because both of you sort of build in outcomes as you're talking about this. What students are capable of and doing it while they're in school.
But by the same token, you're also bringing in these project-based learning, design thinking, these elements that people often say are innovative and yet John Dewey or Maria Montessori might have said, “Ah, we thought of that before.” So I'm sort of curious when you think of this frame where Shadman landed around innovative school more focused on the outcomes than what you're doing, if you will, how does that land for you as defining what next-gen really is? Keeanna, why don't you go first and Ken you can follow.
Keeanna Warren: Yeah, I think that's a really incredible question because I think one of the things is, honestly if you look at research based practices in teaching and learning, it is you learn by doing and it's not something that we've reinvented. But I think it comes down to really applying best practices but putting students at the center. And it really sounds simple, but I think there is this historic assumption that students aren't capable or want to learn. And I think that is a really big piece about just really centering the learner and it's not innovative in the traditional sense, but using...
So for example, using technology systems so that you're able to undo and not have to use a master schedule. Those are one of the ways that we apply next-gen learning to the teaching practices that we know that work. Using the science of reading. I mean, none of that is new, but just the implementation of it is really new.
But I think that these next practices are an answer to making sure that teachers are getting what they need. So I love how Ken brought that up. It's not just about... The students aren't the only learners in the building and that's what we call it... I focus not on students, but on... Not just on the students, but also just being learner-centered overall in the ecosystem. And I think just integrating technology in a way that's purposeful and actually innovative. And I think really just the application of it and ensuring that really the practices that we know work really well, integrating real life learning into it and really doing things with technology that are going to lead to future success.
And then just keeping up with the times. There's so much technology out there that's incredible that's not being utilized. And I think some of it is fear and not understanding, but I think what sets us apart is we already know what we've been doing for years doesn't work. And to disrupt that, you have to apply new practices and new technology, which requires an awareness of technology and teaching and learning and all those things. So I do think it’s just applying what we already know and marrying that with the technology that exists is what makes us next-gen.
Montgomery: I feel that... I don't know, this is where I always have these moments recently. I feel really old because I feel like I'm on the next-gen of next-gen. So when we were opening, we were a next-gen school, but we were… it was more towards... Because we were trying to personalize learning. That was kind of like what was considered next-gen 10 years ago. And now I feel like the next-gen is going to be more about helping people find their creative purpose. And so I love what you were saying at the start about you don't go into the Apple store and say, “Give me an innovative product.” You go in there and say, “I want something that works. Something that does this.” So I think it is a really nice shift to think more of innovation in terms of the outcomes instead of the process. In terms of like, are you personalizing learning, are you using these tools and things? It's more like, what are you after?
Because I think innovation, I think you could say, what we're doing is innovative. We're an innovative school because what we're trying to do is create a model that helps people navigate the world around them. And so whatever you're doing at that time, that seems really innovative if you can do that. And so you can think like, what did the iPhone do? It did help us navigate the world around us and it decreased the friction of a lot of things.
And then in doing that it actually started to change the way we navigate the world around us. And so I feel like if you can build a school model that is flexible enough, that is really helping people navigate and then shape the world around them, that they're considered innovative. And that's why I think it is really important to have more of the conversation focused on the outcomes instead of the tools and the technologies and the process. The process starts to take more of a backseat to the outcomes.
Horn: Yeah, I love that. And obviously when you start blowing up master schedules and so forth, you create more dynamism into the day and week and year of what you can accomplish and how you can change. As we move into the work cycle, Shadman, I want to go to you on this because I'm curious in your research, what were you seeing as those practices that were popping up as sort of common themes across those next-gen models?
Uddin: Yeah, absolutely. And just even a quick note on the discussion that Ken and Keeanna brought up here as well. I mean, what we saw on a broad level across schools across the country were so many different innovations. From changing class sizes, from experimenting with hybrid, from bringing in more industry partners into the school. I think why we really preferred to abstract it to the outcome level was to really be able to think of this whole landscape as an ecosystem. Where various different next-gen schools were innovating in the ways that were most responsive to the needs of their community. Those were some of the grounding principles that we saw to be most effective. And we found whenever we tried... Especially early on when we tried to litigate against, oh, are you trying project-based learning? Have you seen the research there?
It was almost like trying to just force a square peg into a round hole, just trying to pigeonhole a school into saying, "You're only next-gen if you do this." And I think that wasn't really fair to a lot of the edupreneurs that we were speaking to. Because they're coming back to us and saying, "Hey, we are listening to our families. We're listening to the students. And we're delivering based off of that. And these are the outcomes that we as a school value. Sure. We'll incorporate some traditional model stuff too and then we'll innovate here." And getting into that debate almost, it just didn't seem fair to the spirit of what we wanted to encourage within this broader ecosystem. But to your question of what were some themes that we were seeing across the country, and it is really difficult to try to find these threads between schools in Indiana versus schools in Tennessee and New Orleans and the Bay Area. There's such different family needs.
But we did see high level, there was broader openness to hybrid learning. More interest around having smaller schools. This is primarily driven by a concern around safety that we saw across the nation, both as a result of the pandemic and unfortunately because of the rise of school violence from both gun violence as well as within schools. And so there were more families looking to say, "Hey, I actually just want to have a more socially community oriented experience for my child." We saw that in number of places. I think number one, we just saw a strong desire from families across the country looking for more career and technical education for their students. Be it, "Is this going to get my child into college better?" Or even, "Is this actually going to open up new alternatives outside of college?" As well. And so we saw both of that. Funny little story I think that was unique about our approach is we actually tried to do this whole thing and just see what ideas were resonating across the country.
And so myself alongside a couple of other students at the business school, we actually put up a bunch of different landing pages of 30 different next-gen school ideas. They ranged from learning technical and computer skills to learning how to build social change or entrepreneurship, fully self-directed learning, et cetera. And we generated over 1500 clicks on Google Ads over two weeks. Which is pretty bonkers. Like 23 out of the 30 ideas beat the average consumer product conversion rate of 2%. And five ideas generated from between 9% to 16% clickthrough rates on the ads.
And that was such a big signal to us of, it's not just that there's one or two ideas that families and students are looking for, it's that there's a lot of yearning for change in high school. I mean, we pitched each of these as high school for entrepreneurship, high school for computer science, high school for AI. Just to see what we could get from students. And then out of all those clicks we spoke to over 40 parents and students just to get an understanding of what exactly they were looking for. And at the base of it all, it was just this yearning for something new and traditional schools just not meeting the needs of their students. And so I think from the demand side we were like, okay, this ecosystem development around next-gen needs to happen. There's there's so much interest for it.
Horn: Well, so that's so interesting because I think a lot of people say, "Gee, parents are a small C conservative force in education. They don't want change, they don't want this, they don't want that." You're suggesting something very different. So Keeanna, take us on the ground now in your community. I would say something common that Shadman just outlined that connects to what you and Ken said, which is connected to community. Communities are different. So those needs might manifest themselves differently. But what are you seeing? Are parents leaning into these new practices? You mentioned AI, using tech to undo the master schedule. Those could be I imagine daunting in some circles, but are you seeing that or are you seeing something else
Warren: That aligns exactly. We are seeing so much community voice and choice and even in the foundation of our schools, we reached out to parents and we asked, "What are you looking for?" And they were telling us the same things, "We want to make sure that our kids feel safe." And that's not just physically safe, but there's a psychological safety that goes along with what Ken does with his schools as well, is just making sure there's that sense of belonging. Parents are looking for smaller schools, we're even launching a micro school model to support that need, which is a conversation for a whole another day. But very interesting and intriguing and something we're very excited about. I think another really important piece is, we believe in the power of community. We believe that we should be a school without walls. Not literally because we live in the Midwest where the weather is changing often.
And so we want walls, but in the sense of the term of we want community partners to come in. But we also want our students to go out. And we want our students to care about their communities and solve the problems that are most important to them. And ideally we want our kids to feel empowered and proud of their community. So we really center community in all that we do. I also believe in parent as the first teacher and unapologetically believe in school choice that is inclusive to all. So I believe that kids should have a school that fits their unique needs. Again, I think that we are past the industrial age where we are preparing kids to be factory workers. That's not what we're doing. That's not what we are going to do in at PPHS because that won't properly prepare the kids.
But that's what's happening in a lot of spaces. And then as far as the evidence, you vote with your feet. And so I will tell you, we're in a public school system, so we are open to all kids and that's really valuable to us. But I'll tell you, our seats fill up quickly. We live in a city where there's a common enrollment for our township or school, the boundary lines for our school and we consistently fill up. And I think that is evidence of itself that that's what parents are looking for. But even in our feedback we hear the same thing. The sense of belonging, the feeling that our kids will actually be prepared for the future of work. And that parents are feeling that their kids are actually prepared for college and post-secondary success.
Horn: Ken, what about you? Are you having a similar experience or are you seeing some parents be like, "No, thanks."
Montgomery: Yes, it's similar and I do think... Your school sounds amazing by the way. I mean, I love that emphasis on community because I feel like that gets overlooked way too much in terms when we talk about next-gen and things like that, that human connection is at the heart of it. And because we are centered on anchored and design thinking, empathy is one of our guiding principles. And so we just for a very basic level, the reason that we've been successful attracting students and such is parents... We're in the heart of Silicon Valley. Parents look at how they are working now compared to how they were 10 or 15 years ago. Look at their kids' school and if it's traditional, they're like, "Well, this just doesn't match up. There's no way this experience,... My kid is having basically the same experience I had. There's no way that could be preparing them for what work is going to be like in their future."
But what we've even noticed even more so with students in the last the six months with AI and ChatGPT, we've seen an increase in... I don't want to... Anxiety is a strong word, but it's a lot of nervousness around students where all of us have moments in school we're like, "When are we ever going to use this?" And so now with ChatGPT, students are asking themselves about that with everything. Like, "You're teaching me to write an essay, when am I ever going to use this? You're teaching me to make a presentation, we're never going to use this?" And then they take it to the next level, "What am I going to do? What is going to be left for me to do?" And so our counselors are, we talked about AI, our counselors are pointing out that there's student anxiety around this.
And that's why we are feeling even more so that we have to lean into our, developing people's creative purpose. Because even though ChatGPT will be able to do a lot of things, we are still human. We still need to know that we matter, that we make a difference, that we can create. We still have to have this sense of purpose in our lives. And so we're seeing that even more so just in the last six months. Even more so at the student level. The demand from the student level, even more so than the parent level, as the students, it's really starting to hit them. Because students are doing their work differently. Their schoolwork, they're able to do it very, very differently than they were just six months ago. So I think that's increasing even more of the drive for like, "Whoa, we need something different from the student." The students are saying, "We need to be repaired differently." And the parents are like, "Yeah, we agree."
Horn: It's so interesting. Keeanna, you've teased this now a couple times, so I'm going to you. AI, how are you all using it? Because this is actually the first time I've heard Ken, what you said about student anxiety and nervousness. I've heard more of the teacher side of this and that students are using it. Keeanna, it sounds like you're doing something with that energy though to lean in on it. So tell us more.
Warren: So I think that is something we're seeing too, that students are nervous about it from different perspectives. So we get the student who's nervous because they've watched too many Will Smith movies and they don't understand the fact that AI does what we tell it to. So it will do that. And so we're teaching kids to be the programmers there. But we're also teaching kids to be the consumers of the programming. And I think there's also the fear that, "I won't have a job or my parents won't have a job because these chat bots in different forms are going to take those certain skill level jobs." And that's true. And so we're coaching the students around how to become the folks who program it and the folks who innovate. So I'm like, if you're thinking about creating a chat bot now, you're two steps behind and we need to make sure that our students understand how to stay ahead.
I always use the quote, I'm like, in a world of Netflix, don't be a Blockbuster. I even forgot the name of it because it's irrelevant to us. And the kids are like, "What's that? You're so old." I'm like, "Yeah, I'm proud of it." So there's a piece there. I think there's another piece because we're a school that's diverse by design so we believe firmly in the power of all the types of diversity. But I also know, and transparently I will share, my dissertation was on AI use in education. So yeah. I was like, the last thing you want to do is talk to someone who wrote a whole dissertation about this. So yeah, that's always a disclaimer of stop talking about it. I have to remind myself. But not a lot of people who look like me, so a woman, a Black woman, not a lot of us are writing the machine learning models.
And so AI can feel dangerous to a lot of educational leaders that I spoke to because there's a lot of bias that could be in there. So one of the lessons that I love to do is... And you have to build a strong culture before you try this, but have the students play around with AI and specifically around the idea of bias. Have them explain to you why racism is a good thing. Some chat bots will give you a really compelling argument. And we have an agreement that racism historically, not been good. Sexism, not good. But you can get those chat bots to give you compelling research... I shouldn't say... I hate to use the word research,
Horn: But some sort of manufactured... That's insane. Wow.
Warren: Yes. And so I'm like, "Kids, you have to be the ones that are moving us forward with this because it's just one sided in many ways." So that's just one piece of it there. And just really emphasizing the importance for students on how to use it. So I use it myself. I tell the kids that I use it and I tell them how I use it. I have learned how to write really good prompts to get really good outcomes.
And so there's a good lesson there too. And then I think another piece about using it, I always tell the kids I'm a good writer. I would even say... I'll say I'm a good writer. We'll start there. But if I am a poor writer and I try to use the platforms, it's not going to help me. So you still need to learn. And also there's some AI that make grammatical mistakes. Now I know that grammar actually changes over time just like language does. And that's a human art form behind it. And I can tell if a computer wrote it versus a human with creativity. And so that's the art that we always bring to it. So I'll stop there because I literally could talk about this for days and I don't want to do that. But yeah, so I think there's so many great lessons in there on teaching kids how to be the creators and how to use AI properly.
Horn: Well you answered one of the questions I had also, which is how do you get the adults in the building that know about AI and what to do with it and what questions to ask? So that was great on multiple levels. Let's move into our special section, which is I'm curious sort of the biggest factors that are driving or hindering growth of next-gen high schools like yours. Shadman, you just came off this research project, so let's start with you and then Ken and Keeanna, I'd love to hear on the ground what you've experienced around things that are driving the growth. We've sort of hit on some of that with the parent demand, but also the hindering. So Shadman, why don't you step in first?
Uddin: Totally. And this was really the crux of our paper. Really trying to understand what were the barriers and drivers that were affecting growth. I mean, you've even heard just a snippet from two school leaders how exciting the innovation is in next-gen schools. And we had the same experience with every single one of our school leaders that we spoke to. We were just like, "How do we get this? How do we get more of this?" And so what we ended up doing was actually trying to frame our analysis in a broader framework. So we broke down every single factor in terms of either demand side, supply side, cultural or regulatory. Which encompassed like the political environment and the policies therein. And what we saw was demand side is really strong. Schools have existing strategies for how to either generate more enthusiasm or find families and build that way.
There's certainly challenges on the demand side that we saw. But we saw, at least in the learnings that we compiled from the schools we spoke to, we saw some really excellent strategies for being able to capitalize on the demand that's existing for new innovations within schools. And I think Ken and Keeanna can probably talk more about what their schools are doing. They've done really great jobs there. But in terms of the barriers, where we saw the most friction and this almost was across the board entirely, was on the regulatory side. And then on the supply side constraints. And so within supply side, we had three main categories that we saw really serious challenges facing next-gen schools. That's human capital, that's in infrastructure. And then finally financial capital. Human capital, it's already... There's a teacher shortage broadly. To get next-gen school teacher talent, not only do you have to be able to attract and retain those teachers, you're also looking for a unique skillset of teachers.
For example, at Design Tech Ken talks about how you're looking for that special nexus of skills in a teacher who knows how to teach well, but also knows design thinking and knows how to be able to teach it and deploy it at that level. And then one story that we heard from East Bay Innovation Academy was you get new teachers, you develop them and you put them on your website and all of a sudden you've got headhunters taking those teachers from you after they've been upskilled. And so there's this really competitive environment around human capital that we just were hearing from everyone. And obviously then you go to infrastructure. This I think is one of the biggest constraints facing next-gen schools is, if we have models that require us to be physically in place, many times it's the buildings themselves and the cost of either building a new one or updating existing buildings that really just require so much financial capital from the get go. That you have to go ahead and already have X number of students set up.
It doesn't allow an innovator to be able to test new models or test new marketing and get those students. You already need some significant financial capital raised in order to go ahead and start your new school. And I think what we heard was this was a mega constraint because for founders who don't have extensive networks around access to capital, which is really rampant across the country, then it becomes very difficult to have an idea. Especially for a lot of school founders who don't have entrepreneurial backgrounds to be able to go ahead and make that step.
So those were three really big constraints and we pose a series of recommendations around how to deal with that. I think both schools do an excellent job dealing with some of the regulatory constraints that they face, either partnering with district leaders or building coalitions with existing stakeholders in a school market and community.
We saw that to be a really effective strategy of being able to anticipate some friction that may be coming up from a political standpoint. I think that was a really excellent strategy. And then of course, working really carefully with community design. And I think where future entrepreneurs have an opportunity is, how can you help schools really think about bringing their infrastructure costs down and helping schools access more financial capital and think about ways that we can... And this is one of those wicked problems of tackling the teacher shortage, but those are where the ecosystem needs to be thinking about in order to really help lift that dynamic back up and see more of this innovation that we're hearing on this call scale to so many more communities and demographies across the country.
Horn: Ken, let's go to you. I'm curious your answer on this, but I also, I'll just say, the infrastructure piece, partnering with Oracle, you have a really interesting answer for that part of the puzzle that actually contributes to the model as well. I don't know if you want to comment there or go elsewhere because California obviously also has had its share of challenges over the last few years. But your call where to go.
Montgomery: Yeah, I definitely think... Well, that's one of the infrastructure... We were not... Oracle built this, a building on their campus and they lease it. We have a 50 year lease, a dollar a year. And that's solved the biggest infrastructure problem that most new schools have. That we have a facility.
Horn: But actually let me interrupt you for one second because I'm curious. Some people watching this are going to be like, "Okay, but you had an amazing partnership with Oracle. What are the odds I can replicate that?" So what's the lesson to maybe take away from that, that transcends that one partnership?
Montgomery: I think there are a couple of things. One, it works really well because both sides, Oracle and us, we have humility about what we can do and our limitations in that we feel that there are some things that a person working on the job can explain to our kids and teach our kids in a way that maybe a teacher may not even be able to. Oracle on their site also, they're not trying to run our school. We have autonomy in what we're doing. So it's really a partnership that starts with humility. And I do think that that's the other piece of it. Or I think a lot of the next-gen models have more promise in this is the flexibility. Is that if you want to make partnerships like that work tie it to the humility on our side, we have to make things flexible to access those partnerships. We have to be willing to say, "Well, maybe we don't have to do it exactly this way." So that we can work.
So especially freeing up the time. Most companies don't run on a bell schedule. I think actually all companies. Very few companies run on a bell schedule. So we have to be able to flex things like that to take advantage of the resources that they provide that way. But I do think, in California especially, where we are in Silicon Valley, the facilities is a major challenge. And so that was where we were very fortunate that Oracle saw that. They believed in our model, they saw that as a need and that's why we're on their campus. But the two challenges that are still challenges that I didn't think they would be after when all the schools had to close because of the pandemic, I thought that, well, schools are building up this, at least the foundation of an infrastructure to offer flexible learning situations. Even though it's not perfect across the board, everything, but every school had to do something to make it more flexible.
And we also thought, like the economy basically came screeching to a halt when kids couldn't go to school. It caused a lot of disruption. So I thought, wow, the political power and will of educators is going to be stronger than it has ever been before. But what we've seen is everything, it was just a race to get back to normal. So things where we thought like, okay, we have this foundation, flexible, so some of the policies might enable us to be more flexible, things like that. Like, no. It is just right back. Get your kids seat time, instructional minutes, all that. It's like the flexible learning that we did didn't even happen. And then the same thing, just the teacher sustainability, that if you're teaching teachers a new model to be innovative, but they can't sustain it professionally, then it does feel like you're really... It's a difficult journey.
Because especially like you said, the design thinking. We don't lose people, but we can't recruit people. Because we can't match the salaries. And it's even around here, a lot of people work in tech are like, they are coming back to the office, but they have very flexible work schedules. Whereas teachers, you're still here from, the school day starts here and it ends here. So in terms of the compensation and the flexibility in your work life balance, the value proposition for teaching is getting... It's challenging now. And I think that hopefully we'll start to loosen up some of the policies and rules allow around that or increase the funding for compensation. But things can be done and I thought those things would be done based on what we learned, but they haven't happened yet.
Horn: It is similar to my observation. Lightning round around this and then we'll move into closing time. But I'm just curious about this specific issue around seat time. And obviously I've been pushing for competency mastery based learning since I've gotten into this field. Everyone has different barriers that they poke at when they look at the regulatory landscape, at what's holding that up. So sort of the lightning round of what are the two biggest things in your judgment that are holding that out? Ken, you want to go first then whip around Keeanna and Shadman, you can close with a couple more.
Montgomery: Yeah, I think it's just the lack of consensus around how to assess those competencies. If we had that then we could focus more on that than the seat time. So I think that's the biggest... That along with really... Especially like I said, this is really pronounced where we are [inaudible 00:39:56] investing in teachers in a way that they can afford live a middle class lifestyle in the communities where they work.
Warren: I would agree with the fact that teachers just need more training and support, and we all do on how to really... I'll use the word fairly, measure competency so it's unbiased. But there's still some art form to it. I think that's really big. And I just think marrying the idea of, we know that learning is not time-bound. There's nothing in research that confirms that. And just making sure we're applying what we know and that teachers feel really prepared to understand what competency-based education is and how to really help students move towards and giving coaching and good feedback. I'm super into ungrading and other things that we could discuss, but I think those are two really important things.
Horn: Well, that's two round resounding votes for redoing the assessment system. Shadman, what did you find?
Uddin: Yeah. I mean, it's actually funny that you say that because I think it even goes back to the earlier conversation we had about inputs versus outcomes. Even when thinking about next-gen. I think this is a similar situation of where a lot of folks in traditional school systems, policymakers are thinking, "Oh, these are the inputs that make a school a school." As opposed to thinking, "These are the outcomes that we want to be seeing within our students."
And when you're coming in with that input lens, you're just tethering a lot of schools to have to do X, Y, or Z. Sure, maybe having seat time regulated within some schools works for some communities, but for other communities that have really played around with hybrid and have really figured out distance learning, is that really what you want to be holding that school too and stifling that growth?
Yeah, I mean, I think here at the Graduate School of Education, we often talk about how there's a whole body of learning signs that we're discovering around how we should be thinking about each learner and their context and delivering based off of what cognitive information they already have and designing KCIs, all of these frameworks. But then when you go to the school level, the conversation is nothing like that at all. And that was just this big disconnect that we saw in terms of outcomes versus inputs.
Horn: Fascinating. So closing time, Shadman, you get the last word and I was going to ask you around limitations of the research, but that's a very deficit minded way of asking it. So instead I want to ask, what's the further research that you want to do or you'd like to see in the field that isn't there yet?
Uddin: Yeah. I mean, I think this conversation is really step one. One of the cool things that we saw once we sent out this paper to all of the schools that we interviewed and the other ecosystem builders was everybody was just so excited to hear what other schools were doing when grappling with similar problems that they were facing. And I think being able to discuss this at a level of, okay, school founder to school leaders, to ecosystem builder. Like, have these conversations about your specific pain points and thinking about, okay, what are the strategies that have been deployed? Where are the pain points? We just kept hearing from school leaders that they're so busy just trying to get through and keep their organization and school running that the opportunity to really connect across the country with people who are trying different models or not even trying different models and just doing things entirely different, that was something that we thought to be missing.
And so one thing for us as next steps is how do we continue to use this research to generate more community, more conversation. And really think through how do we better support school leaders and school founders like Ken and Keeanna who are on the ground innovating. So my ears are open and definitely eager to hear more from folks who do listen to this conversation and even from folks here today of just like, yeah, how do we make this better? How do we continue to push the ecosystem to allow for more innovation?
Horn: Well, we know that by the time this conversation released, we're recording it before you graduate, but you will have graduated by the time this comes out. So congratulations. We look forward to watching what you do to further that. And Keeanna and Ken, just a great appreciation with the work that you continue to do to unlock the futures for these students that are going to make great contributions in the world. So thank you all and we'll be back next time on the Future of Education.