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Podcast: A new way to scale and sustain reforms?

Sajan George has seen many of the nation’s recent and most high-profile public education reform efforts from an insider’s perspective.

George played a leading role in reinventing the New Orleans school system after it was all but wiped out by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He worked alongside Joel Klein, former New York City schools chancellor. He toiled in the trenches with the controversial Michelle Rhee in Washington D.C.

So when George says that the current wave of reforms – charter networks, turnarounds, portfolio management of school districts and the like – is neither sustainable nor scalable, he is speaking from vast experience and from the perspective of someone who believes public education in this country must be reinvented.

Top-down, district-led reform efforts aren’t sustainable, George says, because school boards and superintendents change, and with those changes priorities shift. They aren’t scalable, he says, because even charter networks that are growing relatively fast, like KIPP, still only serve a tiny fraction of the nation’s schoolchildren.


To make real change possible, George says, the “unit of change needs to shift from the school district to the school.” So earlier this year, George founded a non-profit called Matchbox Learning (website still under construction), hoping to find a reform model that he promises can go one step further: It will make the unit of change individual classrooms and teachers.

He spoke last week at the monthly Hot Lunch speaker series, sponsored by the Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations.

Matchbook, George said, is a hybrid of online and teacher-led instruction, customized to each student. According to a Matchbook flier:

This highly engaged personalized experience for teachers leads to personalized learning for each student who in turn will experience high levels of autonomy over their learning, mastery of the content and habits for success and a life purpose on which t set goals and make decisions.

While Matchbook provides neither teachers nor curriculum, it provides coaching for teachers and principals, leads selection of appropriate online curriculum, analyzes data and provides financial and operational support.

Currently, Matchbook is working on turnaround efforts in Detroit Public Schools.

Disclosure: The Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations are funders of Education News Colorado