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Grades Go Away; Learning Lasts Forever

October 11, 2019
By Jay Adams

We’ve just wrapped up our first quarter here at Edgewood; by now you should have received your child’s report card, so I wanted to take a moment to talk about grades, a necessary evil.

I made a big deal in the last blog post about the way colleges are complaining about “underconstructed” students coming to their campuses -- students with excellent grades, but little ability to think, reason, or synthesize information at a high cognitive level.

Since that post, I’ve been reading another excellent book: “Why They Can’t Write,” by John Warner. The author is a former college writing instructor; he currently serves as an educational blogger at Inside Higher Education, edits for McSweeney’s, and writes for The Chicago Tribune. 

The book is excellent; if you’re interested in thinking about why school works the way it does, and how we could do better, it’s well worth your time. 

If you don’t have the time (or interest) to read the whole thing, I wanted to point you at two passages  that I found especially noteworthy:

PASSAGE 1: “Given the systems we’ve created, what incentives do students have to value “learning” over grades? None that I can see.”

I think this matters immensely, particularly as students bring home report cards. On a report card, there are boxes. Inside those boxes are some numbers. And somehow, those numbers are supposed to be a crystallization of 45 days of class in a subject like English or Geometry.

How we talk about those numbers with our children is going to shape the way they feel about them, and it has the potential to distort the reason we’re sending them to school in the first place. If we tell them that we’re upset about the number, they will be incentivized to do whatever it takes to make that number go up. It’s a simple management principle: you get more of what you measure – but when it comes to school, the thing we’re measuring isn’t always very easy to measure. 

I’m sure I’m not supposed to say it out loud, but there are plenty of decent reasons to have a C for the quarter in chemistry:

  • Maybe you failed the first test horribly, but you made a B on the second and an A on the third.
  • Maybe you do fine on assignments where you have a whole night to work the problems out, but you struggle when a test puts you on a timed deadline.
  • Maybe you were pulling a solid B, but your grandmother died and you struggled to get motivated for the final test.

I write all of this simply to say: we must resist the temptation to focus so hard on a single number that we lose sight of the goal.

The goal is to create students who have diverse and intense interests in the world, who love to learn about those interests, and who are excited about heading out of high school with the skillset necessary to follow those interests through life. And that is a very difficult thing to pin down in a set of numbers.

PASSAGE 2: “Motivation hinges on three conditions: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy means having sufficient freedom to pursue our own curiosities driven by individual desires. Mastery means we are motivated by a desire to achieve goals of our own design. Purpose means we believe what we are doing is important and meaningful to ourselves, to the world at large, or both.”

If you’re looking for something to talk about instead of just the numbers, talk about these things. What are our kids curious about? What do they want to learn? What do they want to accomplish? How do they plan to fill the years after they leave high school?

All teaching is dependent on relationship; all relationship is dependent on conversation; and all quality conversations lead to connection. If we can get them to connect the things they do each day with the life they’re going to live from 18 to 88, the learning (no matter what the grades say) will take care of itself.

And if you’d like to talk about how we can continue to shape the education we offer at Edgewood toward a more holistic approach, I’d love to have you join the conversation at our next Coffee with Coach Adams on October 23 from 7:15 - 8:15 a.m. Click here to RSVP.

Inevitable, Valuable Failure

September 12, 2019
By Jay Adams

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything here. We’ve been so busy in the office getting the school year going that I had to drop my writing time for a while. But busy in the office is a great problem to have.

An EA parent sent me an article this week about the struggle for perfection that places undue pressure on many of our students, and I thought it was valuable enough to pass along. You can click this link to connect to the article, which is well worth a full read. But if you don’t have time, I’ll hit some highlights here, and add my comments at the end.

  • ...Kids are coming to college “underconstructed,” ...because [they have been] protected from the uncomfortable and unacceptable state of being wrong. Focused on getting the grades or winning the game ...these children have internalized the pressure, and it’s morphed into a monster that paralyzes kids in their ability to take risks, screw up, find out the consequences and learn from their mistakes.
  • Trying something and how children learn and make discoveries about themselves and the world around them. ...Becoming autonomous gives children pride in themselves and their abilities, and makes them independent thinkers and doers who can cope with the ups and downs of life.
  • One of the biggest pitfalls... are the parent portal websites, with access to up-to-the-minute feedback about scores and grades. Lahey and her husband decided to forgo the parent portal for their older child. They handed the password over to their son, telling him he’d need to let them know if he was in academic trouble. Some of her friends were shocked, “as if we were defaulting on our parental duty,” she writes. “I disagree. Checking in on children’s grades is a type of surveillance, which is one of the forms of control and is often mentioned in the research as an enemy of autonomy and intrinsic motivation.”
  • Fear of failure destroys the love of learning.

Over the past 20 years in the classroom, I have observed every trend mentioned in the article. While I would never presume to know my students better than their parents do, and while I know that every child is different and every family works differently, there are a few general things I’d like to encourage EA parents to do:

  1. Focus on academic trends, not on a single grade. At the end of each quarter, we average all of a student’s work to arrive at their final grade. The reason we take an average is so that a single bad day (or week) in class doesn’t tank a student’s grade. Even Ty Cobb struck out every now and then.
  2. Don’t panic over grades, especially early in the quarter; until there at least two tests and several homework assignments are entered, there’s really no way to know what the student’s trendline in the class looks like. Panicking early is like assuming a kid will get no hits in a baseball game just because he grounded out in his first at-bat.
  3. Understand that GPA doesn’t actually matter very much to colleges these days. The ACT score is much more important, both for admission decisions and scholarship qualifications. A student is much better off making Bs their entire career, then scoring a 28 on the ACT, than they would be with a 4.2 GPA and a 22 on the ACT. In fact, we have had numerous internal discussions at EA about grade inflation and steps we can take to make sure that our grades accurately reflect truly deep learning, not merely compliance and effort.
  4. Insist that students own and embrace their own education. No magic switch flips when a student gets a high school diploma; if the only reason they made good grades in high school is because of parental pressure, then that’s also the only way they’ll pass their college courses effectively. 
  5. Instead of asking about grades, ask “What did you learn today?” It’s amazing how just this one question can spark conversation at the dinner table, and it drives home the message to children: We’re not focused on the number you get at the end of the nine weeks; we’re focused on the learning you’ve done.
  6. Since we have to use grades under our current model, take the time to understand how teachers think about them. Our assumption at EA is that a C is what the average student would score on an assignment, a B is slightly above average, and an A is well above average. Insisting that a student make all As on everything is essentially demanding that a student be well above average, across the board, in every subject, for 180 days in a row. That is a high burden to place on an adult, let alone a teenager. 
  7. Obviously, we expect more As at the elementary level, as students are learning foundational, basic principles. However, as students age, they differentiate themselves based on their interests and abilities, so we expect to see more Bs, Cs, etc. as students choose their own academic interests and begin to have control over what subjects they value most and where they feel their time is best spent.

I hope these general principles help you and your student navigate their academic courses with greater success and less friction. If you’re interested in reading more on the topic, I’ve attached links to a few books that have helped me. If you have questions or would like to discuss further, my office, phone, and email are always available.

As always, thank you for trusting us with your children.


How to Raise an Adult

No More Jellyfish

Parenting with Love and Logic

The Price of Privilege

School Culture

August 15, 2019
By Jay Adams

I took a few weeks off from updating the blog as we dealt with the end-of-summer enrollment rush.

But an enrollment rush is a great problem to have, so I felt it was worth it.

I can't say enough about how pleased I am with our students and staff for the way the first week and a half has gone; it's been smooth sailing each day, and the few minor glitches we've seen have been handled calmly and efficiently.

One thing I've been thinking about all summer (and for most of the past decade) is this: if education is a customer-service industry (and it definitely is), then what is the service we provide?

I think it's something bigger than merely classroom instruction. Edgewood has to be about more than simply getting spelling words and physics problems completed correctly. 

At teacher pre-planning this year, we talked a lot about school culture, because I think that's ultimately the service we provide our students. Edgewood is about more than selling access to an educational product; it's about providing access to a school culture that our students couldn't find anywhere else.

This blog post from Dr. Scott McLeod only takes five minutes to read, but it perfectly sums up my thoughts about where we're going to aim Edgewood in terms of school culture.  I hope you'll take a moment to read it, and I look forward to working with our students, faculty, and families as we continue building Edgewood into a place where students are constantly learning to love learning.

A Big Announcement

July 08, 2019
By Jay Adams

I hope everyone had a fantastic Independence Day.

In addition to writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson had strong thoughts on the virtues of general education. In fact, he believed that in order to preserve liberty, our society had to make sure that “those persons, whom nature has endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens; and that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance.” (Emphasis mine.)

I’ve been thinking about that Jefferson quote a lot lately in regard to this announcement today. I’m very excited to announce that we’ll be introducing and evaluating a unique pilot program this year.

The Edgewood Academic Opportunity Program will provide reduced tuition to local students with a track record of academic excellence and demonstrated financial need. Our goal is to create access for any academically-driven student to afford an Edgewood education. This year, we will open up a limited number of seats to evaluate the program’s long-term viability at Edgewood. Students who are accepted into the program may reapply for the duration of their stay at Edgewood, even if we stop accepting new applicants.

Details are below, but the short version is this: If you have friends or family who would love to attend Edgewood, but don’t think they can afford it, we’ve now got a plan for them. If that’s all the info you need, scroll to the bottom to learn how they can apply.

For this first year, we’re opening 4 seats in each grade that has space available. This means some grades are already closed to the program, and some may close quickly as the July enrollment rush hits. To qualify, families must demonstrate financial need through the FACTS online tuition assessment program by submitting financial and tax records. In addition to financial need, students must meet at least one of the following academic criteria:

Grades 9-12, any of the following:

  • GPA of 3.75 or higher.
  • ACT score of 25 on Reading, Math, or Composite.
  • PSAT or Stanford Achievement Test score in 80th percentile on Reading, Math, or Composite.

Grades 1-8, one of the following:

  • PSAT or Stanford Achievement Test score in 80th percentile on Reading, Math, or Composite.
  • A/B honor roll the previous year with a numeric average of 87 or better.


  • Complete Edgewood entrance testing successfully.

There are many reasons I love this program, but here are a few of the highlights:

COMMUNITY OUTREACH: The Edgewood Opportunity program clearly demonstrates a commitment to our local community and our willingness to work to find a way to partner with anyone who’s willing to work for an Edgewood education. In short, we believe in what we do at Edgewood, we believe it provides immense value to our students, and we want to maximize our ability to impact more students.

INDEPENDENT VERIFICATION: The FACTS tuition assessment system is robust, used in thousands of schools across the country. This means all applicants’ financial information is documented and verified by a neutral third party. It also weeds out applicants who actually could afford our full tuition rate, but aren’t willing to pay full price.

BUDGET: Our expenses in a classroom are essentially the same, whether there are four empty chairs or eight empty chairs. This program lets us do a good thing for our community while also monetizing those empty chairs, which helps keep everyone’s tuition cost down in the long-term and stabilizes the school's revenue from year-to-year, making the board's job in budgeting and my job in planning much more efficient.

I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this program; at my previous school, it was a joy to watch families who never dreamed they’d be able to afford private school come into our midst and have the lives of their students completely changed. That never got old, and it never will.

Here's how new families can apply:

If you already know someone who’ll be a great fit for this program (and I suspect many of you have already been thinking of names), you can send them this link to begin the application process:  

If you have questions about the Edgewood Opportunity Program or how it works, please feel free to call or email me. 

And, as always, thank you for trusting us with your children.


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