Match Beyond Live in The Boston Globe

Guest post from Stig Leschly, CEO of Match Education

The Globe covered our very own Match Beyond this weekend.  It was good story, and an unveiling of sorts.

My favorite quote:

Match Beyond could better serve students, move the needle on college completion rates, and give many more people a route to the middle class.

The Match Beyond crew--including Andrew Balson (who joined us in January to lead Match Beyond), Mike Larsson, and Bob Hill--are rightfully proud and get all the credit.

They just put up a slick full web-site, and they're full speed ahead (hiring, adding students, etc.).

Recall the basics of Match Beyond:

  • Overview: Match Beyond is our hybrid college and jobs model.  It serves mainly graduates of Boston’s high schools who either never went to college or never finished college and who need better jobs.  It also serves some Match HS graduates who didn’t complete college.  The goals of Match Beyond are high degree completion rates (at a low-cost) and great jobs outcomes for students.
  • Part 1 of Match Beyond: The Degree. With our help, Match Beyond students enroll in Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America and, once enrolled there, work towards AA and BA degrees online.  These online degrees are rigorous, accredited, low-cost, eligible for financial aid, and competency-based.   Because the degrees are competency-based, students can work at their own pace.   Over the last two years, we have formed a close partnership with College for America.
  • Part 2 of Match Beyond:  The Coaching and Support.  From our Match Beyond staff, students get intensive personal coaching, academic support and jobs counseling as they work online and plan for better employment.  Our coaches form strong, authentic relationships with Match Beyond students.  Come summer, we’ll open a full “coaching” campus downtown.

Again, read more about all this in the Globe and on our new website

And to close, a quote from one of our Match Beyond students:

I am a real person.  I have bills.  I have to take care of a child.  It’s not easy, but Match Beyond makes it possible.  You get an education, and they will help me with my career.  Nowadays, you’re not going to get any good job without an education.  I don’t see why anybody wouldn’t do Match Beyond. 

-- Sarema, Match Beyond student

New Study. Same as the Old Study.

Guest post by Stig Leschly, CEO of Match Education

CREDO – a center for education research at Stanford – just released (another) study showing that students who enroll in Boston’s charters dramatically outperform their district peers in math and ELA gains.   

Specifically, students in Boston’s charters – when compared to their peers in the district – achieved four times the growth in reading and six times the growth in math.  This study points out that charters are serving roughly comparable numbers of low-income and special education students. 

Overall, Boston has hands down the best charter sector in the country, says the study (again).   

Here and here are some of Mike Goldstein’s prior blogs on CREDO studies of our charter schools.   They include a lot of sports references.

And here is Scot Lehigh’s spot-on Globe editorial this week on the CREDO study.  

To Scot, “this study should open some minds — if, that is, they are not permanently locked shut.”

New study. Same as the old study.

New Kindles

Guest post by Andrew from Match Next

Amazon released new Kindles last October. They updated their basic model and released a few new versions. Here’s the blog I wrote last year on the older models we bought back when our students were 3rd graders.

We got a few of the new basic devices to test out, and now a bunch of our students are using them full time. Here’s what they look like:



They’ve been great so far. They’re sturdier, faster, and have a touchscreen. They cost a little more than the older models, though. $79 each vs $69, but less if you bulk order.  

The touchscreen is the best part. It feels a lot like using an iPhone, so doing things like connecting to WiFi or digging through our library is just a lot easier and more efficient on the touchscreen device. We still love the old ones because they’re simple and reliable, but navigating through the pages could get a little annoying because the buttons made it a bit cumbersome. Here’s what the 2 models look like side by side:


The new touchscreen models do all the same things that we cared about with our old, button-based Kindles. Students can: 

1. highlight text 
2. look up words using the built-in dictionary, and 
3. search for books directly in our library. 
They could do these things on the old devices, but it was just a little harder because it takes  a little more time to use the buttons. 

One Annoying Problem

Sometimes when we charge them using a cord and plug, this screen will pop up and stay there: 


The fix is simple. You just need to hold the power button on the bottom of the device for ~20 seconds, which’ll force the device to restart. Not terrible, just annoying. 

The Bottom Line

I’d give this newer model a 9 out of 10. I gave the old ones an 8.

The touchscreen Kindles have all the features we care about that the older, button-based Kindles have. Although they’re a little more expensive, there’s one extra feature (not including the touchscreen) that makes them better, and completely worth the added cost: Kindle FreeTime. I’ll describe what this is in my next post. 

Next time: Kindle FreeTime - a Kindle-based tool that gives administrators the ability to more closely monitor a student's reading activity. 


if you’d like to talk shop:

Website Review: Goodreads

Guest post by Andrew from Match Next 

Our 5th graders start every school day with 1 hour of ‘independent reading.’ Each student chooses the book she wants to read, then reads it either on her Kindle or with the paperback version if we own it. We did the same thing last year when they were 4th graders, which I blogged about it here.

Here’s a problem we’ve had since day 1: helping kids choose the books to read. Especially books they’ll wind up loving. It’s sort of like dealing with picky eaters. A few kids will eat whatever you give them, some are cautious but willing to try new things, and others stick to what they know and absolutely refuse to change. We have tutors serve as ‘personal librarians’, but they themselves aren’t experts in what’s out there.

When our students were 4th graders, we used to do this on our walls to help our students find books:

At first, they loved it. Anytime a student finished a book, we’d print a copy of the book’s cover and tape it to the wall. If the student liked it, she’d tape a ‘thumbs up’ picture underneath and write her name. When the thumb was there, everyone could see it, and know that their friend read and liked that particular book. Like many things we try, though, the actual payoff started to fade. It worked okay early on because kids were into seeing what their friends were reading. But it was a lot of extra work for us to maintain, and as different kids read so many different books, we weren’t as tight on managing. When this happened, kids got bored and stopped checking the wall. When they got bored and stopped checking, it stopped working. So now, it’s gone. 

We’re trying something new with some of our 5th graders this year. Several of our tutors have been testing a solution for this book-selection problem. It’s a website they found that helps curate a list of books that a student may like based on their reading histories and recommendations from others. The website is called ‘Goodreads.’  

So what is Goodreads? 

It’s a website that people use to find book recommendations. People can track the books they’ve read, rate and review those books, follow friends, see the friends’ ratings/reviews, and recommend books directly to others. 

We’d give it a 7 out of 10. Our tutors who use it say it’s been a solid tool for helping them figure out what books to recommend to kids. It’s not perfect, but it’s way better than having tutors and students shooting in the dark to help the kid find an independent reading book. 

The best part of Goodreads is the social aspect of the program. It’s basically Facebook for books. Kids can keep track of what they’ve been reading, see what types of books their friends are reading, and give/receive book recommendations for those friends. The Netflix-esque algorithm it uses to recommend books isn’t bad, but the real win is having students get excited about books together. Instead of finding a book for each individual student, getting one student the right book could mean getting an entire group of students excited. 

How Goodreads Works:

Each user has his or her own set of ‘bookshelves.’ A person starts with 3 shelves: 
1. “Read”
2. “Currently-reading”
3. “To-read”

Students can add bookshelves if they’d like, and label these shelves whatever they want (like the genre of books they’ve read, or maybe a shelf of ‘junk’ books so they can remember to avoid those books). 

Students add books to their shelves. They just search for the book on Goodreads’ database, then add the book. Goodreads is linked to Amazon, so it has just about every book our students have read. Whenever a student finishes a book, they can do a couple things. 
a. rate it (out of 5 stars)
b. review it
c. recommend it to others

From a student’s book shelf, you can see the titles, student rating for each book, comments, and the date the book was read. Here’s an example of one of our student’s ‘read’ bookshelf (i.e. the books she’s already read): 

Book Recommendations

The more books students rate, the better Goodreads is able to ‘suggest’ the right books for users. So far, the books Goodreads has suggested have been pretty good, especially if students tend to like books of a particular genre. Our tutors say this tool has been helpful in finding the right book for a student, and that students have mostly liked the books they read as a result of a Goodreads’ recommendation.

Here’s what the  ‘recommendations’ page looks like for one of our kids: 

Students can also send/receive book recommendations from other people. This gets to the social media aspect to Goodreads. Users can follow other users, see what’s in their bookshelves, and even directly recommend a book to a friend. We love this because in general, students like reading what their friends are reading. Here’s an example of some of the recommendations one of our students gave another student: 

So how do our kids actually use Goodreads during Independent Reading?

1. When the Independent Reading period starts in the morning, students sign into their Goodreads account and mark where they currently are in their reading.This helps their tutors track their progress more easily. 
2. When a student finishes a book, they mark it as ‘read.’ Then they rate/review it, take a quiz on Accelerated Reader, and dig through their book recommendations and ‘to read’ list to see what to read next. They can also explore their friends’ lists or write longer reviews.
3. At the end of the period, they update how far they’ve read. 

The good

It’s an easy, free way to organize all the books our students have read and want to read. The ‘reviews’ and ‘ratings’ are helpful in gauging how much students have been enjoying the books they’ve read. The tracking feature is also a good tool for both us and the students to get a general sense of how fast they read books. 

The thing we love the most is the social aspect of the program. By being able to directly recommend books and explore other students ratings/reviews. kids have been able to see what their friend are reading and have read in the past. It’s been a good tool for both getting kids to start having conversations about books, and generating hype over a specific book or series. Some students even refer directly to other students’ lists because their interests are so similar. 

The bad: 

Book selections aren’t perfect. Sometimes they’re totally off base. It takes some work to sift through these. 

Also, because Goodreads is basically a social media site, it comes with a lot of the same social media problems. We’ve had to be really careful about making sure our students aren’t using it inappropriately, like sending each other off-task messages. It’s strictly a tool for book reviews, tracking reading progress, and recommending books. 

It also has some technical limitations. We’d like for each one of our students to be able to receive book recommendations from just our existing Kindle Library. Although we can link our Amazon Kindle Library to Goodreads, Goodreads is unable to accommodate each of our students individually. So, we’re having our students use their own accounts. 

As we tinker with Goodreads, I’ll blog about any updates and improvements. Stay tuned. 

if you’d like to talk shop:

"Nudging" Kids to Do School Work on Snow Days...?

Guest post by Andrew from Match Next

From Susan Dynarski at the New York Times: 

“...researchers have been quietly finding small, effective ways to improve education. They have identified behavioral “nudges” that prod students and their families to take small steps that can make big differences in learning. These measures are cheap, so schools or nonprofits could use them immediately.”


Seems like simple text messages can be good nudges. Here’s what else she says:


“Can nudges help younger children? Susanna Loeb and Benjamin N. York, both also at Stanford, developed a literacy program for preschool children in San Francisco. They sent parents texts describing simple activities that develop literacy skills, such as pointing out words that rhyme or start with the same sound. The parents receiving the texts spent more time with their children on these activities and their children were more likely to know the alphabet and the sounds of letters. It cost just a few dollars per family.

Researchers at the University of Chicago and University of Toronto are also working on methods to develop literacy. Ariel Kalil, Susan E. Mayer and Philip Oreopoulos sent families texts with tips about how to read with their preschoolers. The result was that parents spent substantially more time reading with their children.”


We wanted to test this out for ourselves because it’s really hard to get kids to do work on days off, especially snow days. We had 3 last week after getting clobbered by winter storm ‘Juno’ and another 2 this week (Ray was in shock - this is like springtime in Minnesota). So, we ran a quick, unscientific experiment to test this ‘nudge theory.’

Our question:

Can we use a text to nudge parents into getting their kids to do extra school work on a snow day? 

We looked at our Khan Academy data from the last couple months, specifically on days when our students weren’t in school (weekends, holidays, etc.). We found that on any non-school day, no more than 8 students used Khan Academy in a single day. And this happened on our “cold day” a few weeks back, when school was canceled because it was way too cold outside.  

Our test: Currently, there are two 5th grade classes: Harvard and UMass. On the first snow day (Tuesday, 1/27/2014), we had our tutors only text the parents of students in the ‘Harvard’ homeroom. They texted something along the lines of, “hey it’d be really helpful if your child used Khan Academy today on the day off.” That’s it. Quick text, nothing else. 

We looked at the Khan Academy data from that Tuesday to see if ‘nudging’ those parents with text messages would have any noticeable effect on the number of students using Khan Academy, and if those students came from the ‘Harvard’ homeroom. 

**Scientist/Economist Disclaimer: not a legit experiment. We know. 

Here’s what we found: 4 students (of 25) from Harvard used Khan on the snow day; 2 students from UMass used Khan. Basically no change from what we normally see on a day off, and actually worse than what we found on our ‘cold day.’

Bottom line

Doesn’t seem like this nudge, on its own, helped all that much. Our context is a bit tricky, since we do a lot of parent phone calls and outreach already. So this text is just ‘one more’ in a series of many touches from us. 

A whole bunch of mini questions about implementation here:

  •  What if we change wording of text?
  • Would they help in a homework situation rather than a snow-day situation? (parents are often not home during the day)
  • Might different timing of texts help?

Lots to think about and try here. 

Next time: I’ll review a website called “Goodreads,” which we've been using for a few of our students in our Independent Reading program. 


if you want to talk shop: