Twenty distinguishing beliefs

  1. Pedagogically
  2. Strategically

This is a select list—in no particular order—of some essential beliefs we hold which distinguish our efforts from many of those past.

What do we believe which [nearly] no one else does?

Many people work in and have tried to transform education. We feel something new is needed. This means we must have a compelling reason to believe we will succeed where others have failed. Although we do believe our team is uniquely skilled and positioned, we believe our pedagogical, organizational, and strategic insights are far more important. Whatever nits we might pick with a given vector of reform—whether Dewey or KIPP or homeschooling—basic insights have been missed which have meant no level of execution would have been enough.

This is a select list—in no particular order—of some essential beliefs we hold which distinguish our efforts from many of those past. Some of them are common to hear, but people do not really mean them. They are thoughtlessly aspirational at best or fig leaves at worst. In those cases, we believe we can point to differences in our process, product, or strategy which corroborate our statement of belief.


  1. Love is a better master than duty. Consent, buy-in, interest, engagement, passion—whatever you want to call it, without it you're just putting lipstick on a pig. (This does not mean the lipstick isn't red, or waterproof, or useful.)
  2. But everything worth doing is hard. Learning xx is "natural" when you're in an environment richly affording (socially, practically, and intellectually) activities requiring xx. So, learning a language immersed abroad is "natural". But, it is by no means easy. Chasing "fun" or "easy" or "simple" silver bullets is a distraction. The right kind of hard is what matters.
  3. Depth is more important than breadth. Without deep engagement, you don't really learn a thing. And your various, ineffable developments (like "critical thinking" or "learning to learn") don't happen. The costs of this are much higher than the costs of less "coverage".
  4. Most design decisions should use pull-strategies. There are distributions in everything. In how long projects take, in how quickly someone will solve a problem, in how much support (academic or otherwise) people need, and so forth. This means something should only be started when something else has been finished, even if this creates slack. This leads to drastic changes: e.g., it means the entire notion of year-long grades levels, classes defined by semester, and "four years of high school" are all wrong.
  5. Youth need better things to do. "Better" both means more meaningful and more powerful. Access to incredible tools, resources, and communities is only accelerating. Harvesting the dividends of this for youth requires adaptation and extension. This makes traditional curriculum development pointless.
  6. [Cognitive] apprenticeship is the right analogy. Extending this analogy to more abstract, knowledge work is the primary design challenge. The oft-invoked and rarely-meaningful "learning to learn" requires thinking and talking about learning (both in general, and in specific domains), and being immersed in an environment where it is done well. School provides no opportunity to do this. Something other than "teaching" has to be happening around youth. Fortunately, the real world (e.g. the workplace) offers plenty of examples (and hence inspiration and direction) from which to learn.
  7. Youth need better people. ⇒ A curriculum (or school design, or technology) cannot survive bad teachers any more than a script can survive bad acting. Better adults doing better work should be the starting point for any redesign.
  8. Technology hasn't transformed education because it has been applied to teaching, not learning. By the time technology makes its way to School, the marginal contribution is far more likely to automate (and deprive of depth) the past than it is to enable novel, meaningful work by youth or adults. This is why we end up with cutting-edge tools and technologies being applied to helping students pretend to learn algebra.
  9. Education is prematurely professionalized, aping sectors with much more rigorous foundations. The vast majority of education research mostly isn't; i.e. it is not research (instead, it's junk, or about School-the-institution, or it's junk), or it is not about education (instead, it is about how we learn and think, and too low level to offer useful guidance). This makes it a distraction.
  10. Most of School's design choices reflect attempts to solve problems School created. Some of these may represent legitimate constraints, but none should be the starting point or priority for redesign.


  1. There is far more regulatory flexibility than most stakeholders realize. Leaders like Superintendents, School Committee members, and Special Education directors mostly operate on the received wisdom and best practices of the institution and often can't differentiate this from what's legally required or allowed. Their perception is treated as reality by most other stakeholders, cordoning off essential regions of the design space.
  2. Competing with School requires doing less, differently; not the same, better. Few innovations perfectly replace incumbents. The de facto prior review and veto power of incumbents in education force newcomers to pretend they will do everything School claims to, setting them up for failure.
  3. Governors, families, industry, and the law are the right leverage points. Everyone else (e.g. districts, Schools, postsecondary education, the federal government) either lacks the means or structural incentives to effect structural change.
  4. Public School's finances are downstream of housing; it is not incentivized to solve for equity and therefore never will. The perception of "better schools" significantly affects property value, and hence tax revenues. It is in most district's financial interest for students to leave the district (either by moving or choosing independent and homeschooling options). Taken together, this means public School districts will never, as a sector, solve their equity issues. This is both a moral failing and a strategic vulnerability.
  5. Education is designed as an investment but bought as insurance. Optimizing returns is far less important for most families than raising the floor to which they worry their kids could fall. But, education can (and should) make economic sense both at the individual level (where already the high school and college premium exceeds their costs) and the district level.
  6. Better people are out there; transforming the workforce is possible. Just as people who "don't like math" mostly "don't like math class", the profile and appeal of education as a career says more about School than youth work. The educational community's composition reflects (a) the creatively and intellectually barren world of School, and (b) the failure to adjust its business model to prioritize talent. These can be changed and new communities tapped.
  7. High resolution "teaching" is hopeless. Many reforms and tools—often labeled "individualized"—share a hypothesis: "If School is not working, do it more precisely." Since this can both be framed as "progressive" (It's more individualized!) and "scalable" (It's technology!), it is irresistible bait for reformers and technologists. This mistakes a creative management problem ("How is this person doing, what work should they tackle next, and how can I help?") for a broadcast communication problem ("What content or problems should I show you?").
  8. But, high resolution documentation of work is essential. Anything radically different will need to be able to credibly communicate to stakeholders (especially families, postsecondary institutions, and regulators) academic parity. If you are going to substantially change the structure of the input (e.g. if you want to get rid of the class structure of "Algebra I"), you will need to have some other representation of those skills. This requires high resolution documentation as a starting point.
  9. If you're serious about changing School, you have to run one. Otherwise, you will never be able to identify the real problems and opportunities, and you'll always be beholden to School's needs and model of their problems, not youth's.
  10. But, scaling direct service won't work. Human development is a high touch activity, and for the foreseeable future, the messy, multidimensional space of youth development will remain so. No one knows how to effectively manage large, high-touch service institutions. Until we do, alternative strategies are required.