The Journey to JumpRope
JumpRope is excited to be working with John D'Anieri and Sara Needleman, our new consultants and leadership coaches. They are both Maine educators with long and varied experience in standards-based teaching and learning.
Our journey to JumpRope goes back to almost to the beginning of what is now 25+ years of trying to redefine public education in terms of relevance, rigor, and relationships. In the early and mid-90's, both Sara and I worked at schools affiliated with the Coalition of Essential Schools, which founder Ted Sizer led through a conversation that resulted in the CES Common Principles. Looking back now, two of those principles read as the philosophical blueprint for the vision for education that JumpRope champions.
Less is More, Depth Over Coverage
The school's goals should be simple: that each student master a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. While these skills and areas will, to varying degrees, reflect the traditional academic disciplines, the program's design should be shaped by the intellectual and imaginative powers and competencies that the students need, rather than by "subjects" as conventionally defined. The aphorism "less is more" should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content.
Demonstration of Mastery
Teaching and learning should be documented and assessed with tools based on student performance of real tasks. Students not yet at appropriate levels of competence should be provided intensive support and resources to assist them quickly to meet those standards. Multiple forms of evidence, ranging from ongoing observation of the learner to completion of specific projects, should be used to better understand the learner's strengths and needs, and to plan for further assistance."
Ted referred to CES as "a conversation among friends." For me, that conversation played out first in pioneering standards-based approaches in three Maine schools. That led to work with several Gates Foundation-funded initiatives—through the National School Reform Faculty (see also the School Reform Initiative), the Great Maine Schools Project, and Expeditionary Learning Schools. My work with the EL network focused, among other things, on developing the practices that turn standards-based theory into classroom practice at schools like Casco Bay High School in Portland.
This past fall, I came across JumpRope (which grew from Jesse's work at Validus Prep in the Bronx) at the Greene School in Rhode Island. Having helped school after school try to shoehorn standards-based practices into management systems that blunted or negated their transformative power, I was hooked. I began to think of ways that I might build a practice around using JumpRope not just as a grading and reporting system, but as Common-Core backwards way of helping good teachers do what they really want to do—teach students, instead of subjects.
I immediately thought of Sara. We first worked together in the late 1990s when she was part of a National School Reform Faculty Coaches’ Training I was facilitating, and we’ve kept in touch over the years. She left the classroom more recently, after several years leading a team of middle school teachers that moved to a standards-based, interdisciplinary approach. Since then, she's worked to bring those approaches to the next generation of teachers at the University of Southern Maine — with a combination of fierceness and compassion that's necessary to do such difficult work well. We have in common something that is relatively rare: we've been working this way for so long—and with real success—that we can't imagine ever going back.
We agreed that the time to make a bold move might be right—a move that utilizes JumpRope to help schools implement genuine standards-based teaching and learning, rather than the many hybrid approaches that can sink under the weight of compromise and fear of change. Maine's Department of Education, led by Commissioner of Education Steve Bowen, is one of the first in the nation committed to making "graduation by proficiency" a reality. We know from experience that the REAL practices that drive effective standards-based teaching, learning, and assessment can be new and quite scary to schools, teachers, and parents—so implementing JumpRope in a truly transformative way will be a years-long process for most schools. But we also know from experience (the only way to really know anything) that the most important audience—the young people in our schools and classrooms—not only "get it" pretty quickly, but rise to the challenge of real work and meaningful accountability.
Which brings me back to Ted Sizer. In Horace's Compromise, he wrote: "Good schools focus on habits, on what sorts of intellectual activities will and should inform their graduates’ lives. Not being clear about these habits leads to mindlessness, to institutions that drift along doing what they do simply because they have always done it that way. Such places are full of silly compromises, of practices that boggle commonsense analysis. And they dispirit the Horace Smiths, who know that the purpose of education is not in keeping school but in pushing out into the world young citizens who are soaked in habits of thoughtfulness and reflectiveness, joy, and commitment."
JumpRope, as both a functional tool and as a vehicle for social change is the logical and technological offspring of the networks of educators that sprung from the challenge Ted set out for us. We're thrilled about joining the innovators and visionaries at JumpRope to keep pushing the boundaries of that challenge.