Lessons from John Katzman

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to listen to John Katzman, founder of The Princeton Review, 2U, Noodle, and other ed-tech startups talk about the education market and startups. He brought up some interesting points during his talk, but two ideas in particular resonated with me.

Authentic Outcomes

Katzman used KIPP schools as examples of successful schools. He said that students who attend KIPP middle schools score significantly higher on standardized tests in comparison to students at nearby middle schools. However, no one really cares about the difference in test scores. What they do care about is this: 38% of students who attend KIPP middle schools go on to graduate from college, whereas only 8% of students who attend nearby middle schools go on to graduate from college. That is a statistic that people actually care about. The goal of K-12 education is to prepare people so that they can hold jobs that they enjoy and so that they can earn enough money to sustain themselves. To put it simply, we want “more people voting and fewer people in jail.” The significantly higher college graduation rate among KIPP students is an authentic outcome that has real-life significance. Rather than evaluate schools based on standardized assessments alone, it is important to keep in mind the authentic outcomes that actually matter.

The College Experience

With the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), people often wonder how taking a bunch of online courses differs from attending an actual college. After all, college tuition is much more expensive than the average MOOC fee. Katzman’s stance on this topic is that the college experience is defined by a combination of factors, including the peers and faculty you rub elbows with. It’s the people you meet and the discussions you have that shape your college experience. I also really liked the analogy that Katzman used. Going to a good college helps determine the trajectory that you go in after you graduate. It’s like a bug flying into the windshield of a car. You are the bug, and the college is the car. The bug’s trajectory is completely changed by the collision, whereas the car is affected, too, but to a lesser degree.