I just recently learned about a program, Juma Ventures, that’s focused on ensuring first generation students complete college. They share a large collection of Juma success stories. My hat’s off to the Juma coaches who work every day to make the dream of college education a reality for so many students!

If I close my eyes and listen as Juma Venture’s students tell their stories, I feel like I’m listening to our Early College High School students and the EDWorks coaches who work with them, their teachers and their higher education partners.

Juma Ventures began its work in 1993, long before the current federal emphasis on college completion and a full decade before we launched our first Early College High School. Juma knew then what we all know today – college access is necessary, but not sufficient. Unfortunately for the students with whom EDWorks and Juma most often work, those who will be the first in their families to attend college, getting into college does not consistently result in college degree attainment. In fact, currently fewer than 60 percent of students entering four-year institutions of higher education complete a degree within six years[1] Even more alarming, only 13% of low-income and minority students (who are so often first in their families to enroll in college) who enter the ninth grade will go on to complete college.[2]

The barriers to degree attainment for first-generation college-going students are many and complex. People often point to the fact that many of the students we serve aren’t academically prepared for college or they don’t have the financial resources to finance a college education. Others point out that many first-generation students must work fulltime to help support their families while they attend college. All that’s true. But even when students have the financial resources, technical knowledge and skills to be successful in college, the road is difficult.

In addition to academic knowledge and skill, college success requires, among other things:

  • Persistence and resilience, trying again and again until you get it right. Picking yourself up and looking for another solution.
  • The courage to ask for help, whether it’s in the classroom or the college writing lab or the bursar’s office.
  • The self-confidence to keep moving forward, even if you don’t immediately have the answer.
  • The attention to detail that ensures you follow the steps and meet deadlines for assignments or college applications.

Building these “soft” skills takes time and attention, but they are just as important as academics. That’s why EDWorks chooses to begin the journey to college completion when students enter the ninth grade, through its Fast Track Early College High Schools. By the time Early College students graduate from high school, they have already developed the persistence, resilience, self-confidence and attention to detail that’s fundamental to college completion. Those “soft skills” propel 87% of our Early College students to an undergraduate degree in two-to-three years after high school – far ahead of their national peers.

Programs like Juma Ventures and EDWorks Fast Track Early College High Schools are making the dream of college a reality for so many more students.


[1] http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/02/obama_ed_credential.html

[2] NCES, NAEP, EPERC (most recent CPI graduation rates), NELS 1988-2000.Note: Data for minority students only include Black and Hispanic students and does not include other minority ethnicities Note: Data estimated by applying historical longitudinal rates to current estimates of the high school cohort. Low-income young adults defined as 26 year olds who had a family income of less than $25K when starting high school (i.e., qualified for free/reduced lunch)


I’m far more comfortable teaching preschoolers to read than talking about the latest sports statistics. So I was surprised by what I found in “The Pirates’ Sabermetrics Road Show.” Scanning the article, the phrase “nerd cave” caught my eye and I kept reading. (I’ve been told I’m a bit of a nerd. Nerds, it seems, are curious about other nerds.)

I couldn’t stop reading. I kept seeing parallels between the author’s description of the data explosion in baseball and the data explosion in the schools with whom we work. There’s a flood of data. Thanks to technology, there’s a tsunami of numbers about almost everything. Everyone expects things to be better because we have the numbers. Old school people want to just do the work they’ve always done. Numbers crunchers believe they have a better way.

The kernel of wisdom permeating the article, though, is this: It’s not about old school or technology. It’s not about instinct or numbers. It’s about old school communicating with the data nerds. Really communicating. Listening. Considering. Hearing. Responding thoughtfully. Debating. Improving. Looking at things from a new perspective. Connecting.

The article provides insights into the rapid evolution one of baseball’s most innovative “sabermetric” operations. It speaks about the power that emerges when data nerds and their computers are right there in the thick of things with the managers and players, rather than sitting in an office. “The big thing for us was speeding up the feedback loop,” says Mike Fitzgerald, quantitative analyst for the Pittsburgh Pirates “Even in an ultra-connected world, calls, texts, and emails go unanswered, unreturned, or worse, unmade, eating up time that could be better applied in other ways or depriving both coaches and analysts of important information.

Fitzgerald goes on to say that “having somebody there that hears more of the conversations and is a part of more of them” means that information and recommendations are implemented more rapidly and effectively. And the strategies that are implemented are generally more effective because all parties understand their genesis and purpose – and the outcomes they are intended to achieve.

Working side-by-side, rather than sharing numbers from headquarters down to the field or in cold, impersonal emails and written reports offers other non-data-related insights that move the work further and faster.

“It’s good, because then we can have dialogue with [the coaches], and they can raise points from their end, like, ‘This would work in this context,’ or potentially, ‘We need to tweak this,’ because when you come out of the lab setting, this is kind of how it works in real life,” says Fitzgerald.

When Fitzgerald started working alongside Dan Fox, director of baseball systems development, they both found developing different ways to share their data made them more effective. Fitzgerald explains, “We both found that more often than not, if we can figure out a way to communicate something visually, we can show it to these guys, and then all of a sudden, the message that we were trying to get out in words in six to seven minutes, they pick up in 20 seconds.”

I’ve honestly never thought before about a school being like managing baseball, yet there it is. Individual principals and teachers are asked to capture, review and apply data every day in a multitude of different ways. Almost every Professional Learning Community we facilitate with teachers focuses on some aspect of data analysis and use. We help teachers implement blended learning, which is focused on using data to meet each individual student where he/she is and rapidly accelerate him/her to where they need to be – and beyond.

How powerful those actions would be if each school had its own “sabermetric” analyst to sit side-by-side with leaders and teachers, discuss the numbers and trends, consider data and practice. Real communication, built on trust and strong relationships. The result just might be powerful learning environments for young people.


Deeper Learning: The Case for Reimagining Our Education System

October 1, 2014
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Reading the new book by Monica Martinez and Dennis McGrath, Deeper Learning: How Eight Innovative Public Schools are Transforming Education in the Twenty-First Century, sparked the memory of a book I read more than a decade ago by Margaret Wheatley, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future. In Deeper Learning, […]

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Some Students Already on the Fast Track to College – Proposed Bill Would Give More Students That Opportunity

September 25, 2014
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This Fall, Early College High School at Delaware State University opened its doors, allowing students to earn up to 60 college credits while still in high school. This school, done in partnership with Innovative Schools and EDWorks, is the first Early College High School in Delaware. U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) […]

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Congratulations to Akron Early College High School!

September 22, 2014

AECHS ranks among the top ten high school in Ohio according to 2013-2014 report card It’s a great thing when hard work and successes are recognized! In the 2013-2014 Ohio report cards, just released by the Ohio State Department of Education, Akron Early College High School, one of the original EDWorks early colleges, ranked in […]

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A Bright Future for Birmingham

September 10, 2014
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When touring Henry J. Oliver Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama, yesterday, guests saw a school undergoing a dramatic transformation. People visiting Birmingham and Oliver Elementary included David J. Johns, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, Brenda Girten-Mitchell, Director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Eddie Martin, Under Secretary, Special […]

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