The Growing Influence of Jounce Partners


by Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin
November 24, 2017

It would be safe to say that no public school teacher in Philadelphia has seen or heard any colleague forcing a student to face the wall and repeat the same phrase 25 or 30 times. Any principal who witnessed such an occurrence would be within his or her rights to formally reprimand that teacher.

Wall Practice:
1. After giving feedback and monitoring to the point of automaticity, have teacher(s) turn toward a wall in the room to practice the skill 10-20 more times (primarily used for multi-teacher PD sessions).
2. Frame as optimal practice because greatest number of reps can be achieved this way.

3. Emphasize the importance of every rep being executed perfectly and with exaggeration of nuances.

Incredibly, that is precisely what teachers in some district schools are being forced to do. It is but one of the tactics developed by Jounce Partners as part of its intensive coaching and professional development plan, already in use at McDaniel Elementary, one of the eleven schools designated last year as “Priority Schools”. The district has approved Jounce as a partner for principal and teacher training in schools that have been included in its “System of Great Schools”.

The district hired Cambridge Education to conduct surveys of the parents, teachers, students and community members at last year’s Priority schools. APPS members heard these stakeholders ask for more staff, return of NTAs and librarians, more counselors, smaller class size, less standardized testing and more after-school activities. We did not hear any member of any the eleven school communities ask for the removal of teachers and principals or more training for teachers. Nevertheless, the SRC approved a resolution to enter into a $70,000 contract with Jounce Partners for “Implementation of High-frequency teacher Coaching for School Transformation” at McDaniel Elementary”. That resolution, one of 142 approved by the SRC at its June 2017 Action Meeting, stated:

Through this partnership, Jounce will intensively train the school leader and coaching team to implement the high frequency coaching model described above. Jounce personnel will function as on- site instructional coaches, coaching teachers daily to kickstart implementation of the high-frequency coaching model. Jounce will also co-plan and co-facilitate a summer coaching institute, will participate in regular classroom visits, will co-facilitate monthly coaching step back meetings, and will work with school leaders and teachers to establish and codify weekly co-teaching and coaching practices. The partnership will provide an on-site Jounce coach for 5 half days each week, who will directly coach teachers in addition to working with the leadership team.

See resolution B-23 in the SRC Resolution Summary of June 15, 2017.

There was no deliberation or discussion among SRC members before the vote, no explanation of the program by Dr. Hite in his remarks, and no staff presentation on the subject. The McDaniel faculty was told just months before the resolution passed that they had to reapply for their jobs; future employment at the school was contingent on their agreement to participate in the Jounce training. A ten-day summer “training institute” was mandatory.

The district has contracted with Jounce to work at other district schools including Vare-Washington in previous years. In Spring 2017, the SRC approved a new charter application for Deep Roots Charter, to be operated by Jounce staffers.

One teacher subjected to the training program in a Philadelphia charter school for three years 1has described it as “dehumanizing”. The Jounce program breaks down both teaching and learning into isolated skills:

High-repetition practice: In a coaching session, a teacher may repeat the same specific skill twenty times, thirty times, or even more, allowing her to build automaticity, which leads to a) excellent execution every time, and b) freed up cognitive energy for teaching tasks.

The fact that Jounce’s program developers believe that “principals should spend 80% of their time coaching teachers” indicates a lack of knowledge of the overwhelming responsibilities of district administrators. The program calls for trainers and/or principals to “… lead teachers through several hundred repetitions of skill each week…”

• 3 coaching meetings each week with each teacher. These coaching meetings last for 12 minutes or less, and during the course of each meeting, teachers practice at least 30 repetitions of the focus skill.

• 5 “nuance meetings” each week with each teacher. These meetings last 3-4 minutes, and take place in hallways, classrooms, teacher workspaces or a teacher lounge. They are focused on a very specific nuance of a teaching skill, and teachers usually complete 15-25 repetitions of that nuance.

• 5 “active observations” each week with each teacher. These observations include immediately actionable feedback, either through in-class modeling of a skill by the Coach or School Leader, by a note or whispered instruction, or through real-time earpiece technology. [emphasis added]

Jounce envisions the number of repetitions as a “rallying cry”:

This defines the minimum frequency of coaching touch points for every teacher. In total, it adds up to only 90 minutes per teacher per week, or a total of 15 hours of a coach’s time for a ten teacher caseload; this 3x12x30+5+5 cry sets the floor for coaching frequency. It serves as a rally cry for the leadership team and teachers; it can be posted around the building, and achievement of this level of coaching frequency can be tracked weekly. [emphasis added]

Teachers would never know whether they could present an entire lesson without interruption:

“Leaders pop into classroom while teachers are teaching; they jump into teacher role for 30 seconds, a minute, ten minutes to model skills teachers can use; they “whisper-coach”, making suggestions that the teacher can incorporate in real time.”

Experienced teachers know that it is difficult to maintain classroom control when there are constant and unexpected interruptions. The respect of the students for their teachers is undermined by when they witness the “jumping in” of other adults to tell their teacher what he or she is doing wrong.

The program pushes rote teaching and learning over creativity. It devalues teacher experience and knowledge of pedagogy and child psychology. The program advises principals to deflect these concerns:If a teacher starts to ask questions or discuss his/her philosophy of teaching, acknowledge with a smile and nod, but push with “Let’s try it.”

If a teacher starts to ask questions or discuss his/her philosophy of teaching, acknowledge with a smile and nod, but push with “Let’s try it.”

In addition to the alarming trend toward rote teaching and learning in district schools, there are serious issues about contractual rights of teachers and the threat to the collective bargaining process. If the McDaniel teachers did not agree to participate in the program, they were not allowed to continue to teach at that school. If teachers do not agree, either verbally or in writing, to attend the 10-day summer training, they cannot remain at the school. The program specifically refers to adapting formal observations to fit the program;

Phase 6: Adjust structures and curriculum, with emphasis on data driven [sic] processes and on aligning hiring and evaluation to coaching model (i.e. hiring process includes mock coaching meeting and sample teach with evaluation of openness to real-time coaching).

Who Is Jounce Partners?

 Jounce Partners founders Bobby Erzen and Paul Dean became roommates when both worked for Teach for America in New Orleans in the late 2000s. After much of the city was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, former School District of Philadelphia CEO Paul Vallas was brought in to privatize the entire district even before many of the teachers and students had a chance to return. Dean taught for a total of three years, Erzen for two; neither has a degree in Education. Erzen and Dean founded the Student Leadership Project (now Jounce Partners) after moving to Philadelphia in 2011. SLP’s stated mission was to coach middle school students on leadership skills. Dean told Philadelphia Citizen in 2015, “The idea was to train this small group of students who would then go on to improve the school.” The oversimplification of their plan was not apparent to them, as it would have been to any experienced educator, and the business venture foundered. Dean blamed the lack of results not on the plan itself but on teachers he and Erzen saw as ineffective. He said that his “student leaders” could not remain focused for more than five or ten minutes—a skill that they were supposed to model to others. Dean also told the Citizen: “New Orleans has been held up as a way to do things differently in urban education, but we know even the best of those schools are still not schools that I would send my kid or where all the students graduate from college.”

Having concluded that “… teachers are the first step for building a [character-driven] culture”, the two turned their attention to coaching teachers rather than students. Neither has any degree or experience in school administration or teacher training.

Erzen and Dean, now in their late twenties, have admitted that they have little classroom experience. They simply observed “successful” teachers, did some research and wrote up a plan. “We’re not experts on great teaching but trying to be experts on great coaching,” said Dean. The partners developed a system of expectations “…that all students are engaged in thinking tasks at all times during class. We push for the same to be true even during non-class times like transitions and lunch, and we relentlessly train our teachers to make this ambitious goal a reality.”

Deep Roots Charter, KIPP, and PSP

One current Jounce partner, Logan Blyler, also came up through the ranks of TFA; he is a founding member of the recently approved Deep Roots Charter School, whose curriculum and practices are based on the Jounce model. Jounce board members include Richard Binswanger (TLG Group), also a board member of both Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) and Wissahickon Charter School; Shawna Wells, an executive at the KIPP Foundation; Jessica Peña, partner at Education Cities, a group of non-profits “that create and coordinate education ecosystems”; along with partners from several other corporate entities.

Local schools that have contracted with Jounce include KIPP West Philadelphia Prep, Belmont Charter School, Wissahickon Charter School, and Vare-Washington Elementary public school. In June, the SRC approved a $70,000 contract with Jounce to implement their plan at McDaniel Elementary in South Philadelphia, one of the 2016-17 cohort of Priority/System of Great Schools. At the Rhoads Elementary School Priority/SGS kick-off meeting in West Philadelphia in September 2017, District Assistant Superintendent  Rahshene Davis-Bowie told those in attending that Jounce was chosen by the district because McDaniel’s newly assigned principal, who had been trained at the Relay Graduate School of Education (recently awarded a contract by the district although not an accredited school), learned about Jounce at Relay.

At the Deep Roots initial new charter application hearing in November 2016, Deep Roots’ Blyler admitted to the school district hearing examiner that Deep Roots had used the standard KIPP application as a template. The SRC initially rejected the Deep Roots application in February 2017 for several reasons. For example, Deep Roots initially proposed using both Restorative Justice and No Excuses as discipline policies—until Hearing Examiner Alison Peterson and SDP Charter School Office Director DawnLynne Kacer pointed out that the two programs were diametrically opposed in theory and in practice. The subsequent Evaluation Report revealed that reviewers were concerned about Deep Roots’ lack of experienced staff with knowledge of issues including special education, testing, transportation, state and federal reporting. Reviewers also expressed concern that Deep Roots founders were unable to provide evidence of success of the Jounce school model, since the first Jounce-led school had not yet completed a full year of operation. In addition, because Jounce would initially provide services to the school at no cost, there would be no evaluation of Jounce’s effectiveness by the Deep Roots board.

In February 2017, the SRC, following the recommendation of the Charter School Office, voted to deny the Deep Roots application. SRC Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Commissioner Farah Jimenez both cited “glaring concerns” in the application. Wilkerson noted the lack of adequate English Language Learner services, particularly in a school to be located in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. Commissioner Bill Green, on the other hand, appealed to the Deep Roots applicants to revise and resubmit their application. Some observers noted that Sophie Bryant, who was listed as a Deep Roots board member at the time the application was submitted, served as SRC member Green’s Chief of Staff both in City Council and at the SRC. Bryant now works as Program Director with The Reinvestment Fund. In May 2017, the SRC reversed itself and approved the Deep Roots application “with conditions” that were not publicly listed. Kacer stated for the record that the new application was not substantially different from the one submitted just months before. Both Wilkerson and Jimenez voted Yes. [An analysis of the Jounce-run Deep Roots Charter School application can be found on the APPS website.]

There are six schools in this year’s Priority/SGS cohort. It is possible that the Hite administration will award additional contracts to Jounce Partners and that the administration and staff at more public schools will be forced to participate in this highly questionable program.

This is the link to the PDF of Agreement for Services between the SRC and Jounce Partners quoted in this article. This document, obtained  through a Right-to-Know request filed by APPS, contains all financial and contractual details of the agreement between the School District of Philadelphia and Jounce Partners:

Jounce pdf via RTK oct 2017

Also see:
ABCDF: “The fallacy of the ‘miracle’ of New Orleans” | New Orleans Tribune Editorial – November 22, 2017

New Orleans Schools’ 2017 District Grade: Big Flop | deutsch29 – November 25, 2017