Can it succeed THIS time?

You're a schoolteacher. Or a school leader. You want to try X. But X has been tried before in your school. And it didn't work.

You know that. You have ideas on how to make it succeed this time. How do you convince others?

Two ideas:

1. Fix aspects of failed X in a convincing way.

2. To win buy-in, reframe X as a solution to a newly emerged priority in your school.

Here are examples of each.

1. FIX

Remember Mrs. Kombo? She runs a middle school in Niger. (I will have a few more dispatches to blog about soon). Her school has no access to the Internet -- no service providers. There are 3 billion such people in the world.

One of my board members is Jamie Goldstein. A brother from another mother. Jamie is a venture capitalist. We were supposed to play golf 2 months ago. He is a good golf partner because he hits it far and often into the woods. I hit it short and into the woods. Therefore he helps me find my ball on the way to his. Jamie skipped golf because he had a deal percolating. It turned out to be this: O3b Satellite.

The name O3b comes from “the other three billion” a reference to the worldwide population of users who don’t have regular access to the Internet. The company plans on providing broadband to 150 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East....The network will consist of eight Ka-band satellites orbiting at 8,000 kilometers, four times closer than regular geostationary satellites.

Cool, right? But other such efforts have failed before.

I asked Jamie: "if Iridium, Globalstar, Teledesic all failed -- what makes you guys think THIS deal will work?"

Jamie replied:

a) Our customers are big telecom companies. not individuals. as such, we can (and have) signed five year deals with them well in advance of launching the satellites.

b) Our constellation is (relatively) inexpensive because we occupy a single orbit around the equator. This gives us huge bandwidth per $ of capex.

c) We leverage many of the technologies and components that others have used and we benefit from the learnings of their vendors.

In other words, a CEO pitched Jamie with X. He had answers to why X would work this time: 3 substantive changes to details that could make or break the venture. It worked: Jamie invested.

In K-12, many ideas are recycled. Sometimes a failed idea -- X -- is indeed the right one, if the details are fixed.


At MATCH, we believe strongly in high-dosage tutoring.

That while it's possible for an individual teacher to concurrently remediate the huge math and reading skill deficits of kids, it's extremely difficult. Why not lower the teacher challenge from "extremely difficult" to merely "quite challenging?"

That it's possible to solve many logistical issues over traditional tutoring programs (often volunteer, often after-school). That it's possible to increase tutorial quality and lower hourly cost.

We don't think our approach scales infinitely, but it can certainly grow.

In Boston, 2 charter schools have adopted our "full-time" tutor model, and a few more have adopted our earlier "high dosage tutoring provided by work-study students" model.

Economist Roland Fryer, of EdLabs, brought the first large-scale growth of our model to Houston, as part of his larger effort to do school turnarounds. He is measuring the effect of high-dosage math tutoring there. He is also measuring the effect of our tutoring at 2 district schools in Boston.

He made a tiny twist -- but sometimes it's the tiny twists that matter -- in how he presents the idea of tutoring.

He observed that when he talks to superintendents about tutoring, their initial reaction roll their eyes. They think: "We've tried X. A million times. X doesn't work." This is understandable.

Simply to say "No, this is different. It's high-dosage, high-quality, carefully measured tutoring..." sounds too much like what everyone else said. So basically X has a bad brand. It has baggage.

So Roland conceived another way to describe tutoring. He reframed it. He was listening to them describe their problems.

One was: "Differentiation." The idea is teachers are supposed to teach differently to reach each kid in the classroom. In ed reform world, it's a powerful technique or buzzword right now. Essentially, an excellent teacher can pull off differentiation, but most teachers are asking for help.

Boom. Messaging opportunity. Roland connected the dots. Roland is not offering X anymore (tutoring/baggage). He's offering Z (differentiation/solving a problem).