Doug Lemov ’90 returned to the Hill on March 6 to initiate a policy conversation on public education reform. While encouraging dialogue and discussion throughout his lecture, Lemov expressed his own ideas of how the current educational system can progress in the midst of poverty. In his presentation, titled “Which Reforms Will Save American Education – and Which Will Kill It?” Lemov addressed the different ways in which the nation must improve “the most important sector in a functioning democracy.”
After graduating from Hamilton in 1990, and receiving a Master of Arts from Indiana and an MBA from Harvard Business School, Lemov entered the world of education on a multi-dimensional level. He exercised his knowledge in both business and education by helping found Uncommon Schools, an organization that helps start and manage charter schools in urban areas as well as provides teacher training groups. He has also written books regarding education, including his most well-known, Teach Like a Champion.
Lemov’s experience working with teachers in high-poverty areas gives him a particular affinity for assessing how productive public education reforms truly affect different schools’ performances. To make the case for why reform is necessary, Lemov presented visual slides in which the correlation between high poverty and low assessment scores on New York State exams was clearly illustrated.
He said that analyzing these numbers -- despite the arguments that statistics don’t capture the entire classroom experience -- remain relevant because “breakthroughs in innovation are preceded by breakthroughs in measurement.”
After opening the discussion to hear audience members’ take on the data, Lemov highlighted the few high assessment scores in poverty-stricken areas. He stressed that there is possibility of achievement in all environments. This data presents other teachers with the opportunity to emulate the strategies used in successful cases.
Lemov’s positive approach to data mirrors his approach to education reform: he takes a bottom-up perspective, focusing on reinforcing effective teaching techniques. Ultimately, Lemov believes that “the driver is the teacher at the front of the classroom,” no matter the class size, technology used, or the presence of often counter-productive teacher evaluations. Rather, he thinks the best way to improve performance in classrooms rests in improving teaching methods through training “derived from teachers themselves” in the form of sharing and observation.
Education in the classroom, characterized by Lemov as a black box, needs constructive inputs in order to produce effective outputs. He that believes creating teacher-driven inputs and making “excellence the incentive” will yield stronger student, and school, successes. Lemov continues to draw on his experiences as a Hamilton student and observations of talented teachers to perpetuate his ideology of the most important input: “I believe in great teachers and that teacher’s ability to change the life of a student.”