Kevin: The great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Life's persistent and most urgent question is, what are you doing for others?" This is a question I think of often, especially when it comes to our nation schools. How can we use our own experiences to improve the educational system? Which talents can we leverage to transform our classrooms into centers of creativity and innovation? What gifts can we share to help level the playing field for students of all backgrounds?
I want to know more. I want to know how individuals from all walks of society can contribute to the success of our students. And are there lessons we can learn from celebrities and other successful personalities who have invested in education? This is "What I want to know."
To learn more about this, I'm joined by legendary sports personality and Co-Founder of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, Jalen Rose, as well as school philanthropist, Ted Dintersmith. Jalen Rose is a former basketball player, a sports commentator, and philanthropist. As a member of the Fab Five, he helped the University of Michigan reach two NCAA title games. After playing in the NBA for 13 seasons, Jalen transitioned to a career in broadcasting and is currently one of the top talents on ESPN. In 2011, he founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in his hometown of Detroit. That public charter high school provides students with a leadership focused education, and its curriculum focuses on project-based learning. Jalen Rose, my brother, thank you for joining us.
Jalen: Thank you for having me, brother. I just want to show love and appreciation to your role in my life as an educator.
Kevin: You know, Jalen, we've known each other for a while. And you remember, we came together because of our mutual passion for children. And the fact that far too many children in America don't get the education they deserve. And you walk the walk and talk the talk. When did it hit you that you needed to be more involved?
Jalen: As I started to play sports, I realized that people pay more attention to my athletics than my academics. I took pride in not being considered a dumb jock or people, like, questioning my intellect. Because I was a child of the 70s and that was important to us. Like, I watched Soul Train growing up. And it's no accident that when they went to the scramble board, they always got the answer right. Because Don Cornelius was gonna make sure that he never made us look bad. Like, I paid attention to them. And their fashion, and their leadership, and them being entrepreneurs. And once I started playing basketball in the public school, the audience was predominantly black, because I played in the public school system. But when you get to the University of Michigan, the audience is predominantly white. And why is that? Money. That's all. It's not sports, it's not love, it's not loyalty, it's money. And as I saw that start to happen, and I moved to the suburbs, I paid attention to what was on my taxes and a lot of the things that I was paying for. So I'm paying for sewers, schools, and, like, all of these services. And so now, when you graduated, I'm a public school student that lives in the suburbs, has the ability to put his kids in private school.
So now I realize, this is an investment. Like, wait a minute, it cost $35,000 for kindergarten? Like, for real. Like, whoa. And so if you're gonna do this over a period of time, that's like a $400,000 investment in that young person's life, their education, and their future. And so I feel like I will be the perfect person because I went to a public school, and I have kids in private school, to acknowledge how the fiscal divide determines our educational landscape.
Kevin: After doing your research about what's going on in education, what led you to say, you know what I'm starting my own school?
Jalen: The opportunity for me to leave school after my junior year, and enter the draft, and go on to start a foundation and influence young people via scholarships. That's how JRLA began. It was a scholarship from the Jalen Rose Charitable Fund. I have a scholarship endowment at the University of Michigan that's graduated a few students. So I was committed to my community, because my community gave me everything. And so, for me, it was important to never remove myself and do whatever I can to give back.
Kevin: So let's talk about Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. I'm reminded of this expression. And you have a philosopher king mindset, so you're going to appreciate it, that people see the glitter in the crown, but they don't appreciate the weight.
Jalen: Yeah. The crown is heavy.
Kevin: And I know that, you know, some celebs, some philanthropists, they make contributions. And I'm not knocking anyone, but it can often just be, you know, press ops. But you have had to bear the brunt of starting a school, facing some criticism. I remember when you called me early in the morning, said, "Man, brother Chavous, my boiler broke, and ain't nobody there... Nobody can fix it. And I got to shell out some money." And those are the things that go beyond just a photo op.
Jalen: What ends up happening is, we need more people that look like us to do more. And it can't just be a photo op. It can't just be your name on a building. Because we have so much field position to catch up. And these can be uncomfortable conversations because I appreciate anybody that dedicates their time, their energy, their money, to the less fortunate, to their community, or whatever. But we need more as you know. And people like yourself have given more and dedicated your life into doing that. And so, now, when you're in the foxhole, so to speak, you've earned the autonomy to have that opinion. You have earned it. And being the founder of a charter high school to get zero state funding from the state, and being a former athlete walk into a room and saying, "Hey, we're going to stagger the enrollment." I am not about to go into an eighth grade classroom and promise them I'm gonna graduate them high school and in college, when 90% of them aren't reading at a fifth grade level. I live in this community. I'm not checking in and out.
I don't get a chance to listen to Wu Tang today and then not tomorrow. Like, this is my DNA. And for the faculty, the parents, and the students that believe in me, it's important for me to give them the life skills, the social skills, the etiquette, the problem solving. How do you behave when you're upset, when you're disappointed, when you have pain, anxiety, depression, disappointment? Like, these are all of the life skills that we're trying to teach young people. And a lot of times you'll get judged only by GPAs or college graduates. But I don't have to tell you this, but we're influencing the next young person that isn't carjacking somebody, sticking a gun in somebody's face at the ATM machine, that are functioning members of society.
Kevin: You had your first graduating class few years ago. You were so proud of the fact that each and every one of your graduates went on to further their education, college, community college, cosmetology school, they went and furthered their education. Talk about the unique features of the school that has fed into your mission to make sure that you keep those kids on the right path.
Jalen: So there's the score of the game and there's the game of life. And we want to make sure that while your GPA is as high as possible, while you get a chance to go to the college or university that you desire, you also have life skills, social skills, you're able to conduct yourself in a meeting, you understand what it's going to take to fill out a job application. Like, these are the types of things that go beyond, like, your budget, but go beyond As, Bs, and Cs. And so it's important. The only thing that nurtures those relationships is time. When you show the family, when you show the young people. I always say this, young people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Jalen: Right? And so when you're spending your time, and you show them, like, I love you. Like, whatever you want to get accomplished, you can make it happen. I'm going to help you. I'm just not going to talk to you about it, I'm actually going to help you. And pulling resources from the community, donors, sponsors, and having them believe in the 11-month vision, where in July, if you fail a class, summer school. If not, summer session, enjoy internship, college campus visit. We're going to make sure that we continue to invest in you. And it's the years that's most important for me is the four that you should be in high school and the four that you should be in college. You ask any adult where their dreams went awry, usually is in that eight year period. So if we can try to nurture the young people during that period, a lot of their goals have and continue to happen. And I'm really fortunate that the school has had a positive impact on the community.
Kevin: You also have, and I got to go there, a bank and a credit union. I mean, these young people are doing some amazing things, even in terms of financial literacy. As you know, for a lot of folks who come from depressed neighbors, they go to check cashing stores, they pay somebody to cash their checks. And you have instilled that kind of fiscal discipline in the minds of these young people.
Jalen: Because growing up in the neighborhood, first off, if you don't have money, it's best to ignore you don't have money by not trying to budget being broke. Right? Like, it's hard to budget being broke. That's just depressing. Right? That's first and foremost. And then the second thing is, if I get it live fast and die young, I'm gonna spend it. I'm gonna wear it. I'm gonna flaunt it. I'm gonna do everything I can, because I'm the first person that ever had it. When your parents can't teach you how to manage money, and your family has never had money, you think when you get it, and like my uncle said, "You let the money burn a hole in your pocket." Like, you're just going buy what you can, like, no matter how old you are. It could be penny candy, it could be shopping, it could be high fashion, it could be whatever. When we get in, it's like, we ain't never had it. Let's go get it. And then all of a sudden, you start to realize that planting seeds create a harvest.
And teaching young people how to manage their money, and how to... Like, I didn't know anything about the stock market. When I was in college, I didn't know about my credit score. I didn't know anything about that. I was in the NBA and didn't know nothing about my credit score. And so, like, to give that knowledge to them, and that information to them, it has been, like, life changing and game changing. And they take pride in being disciplined with their money now. It's really funny how reckless you can be with your money until you start to value it.
Kevin: Jalen, one of the misconceptions about charter schools is that they steal students from public schools. What's your response to that?
Jalen: A charter school is a public school. It's a public school. I grew up in 48235, the northwest side of Detroit. I'm the founder of a public school. Let me tell you the difference. I'll tell you a couple of the differences. When you work for a charter school, you don't necessarily get tenure. That's something that teachers get regardless of performance. Which means you can go into a classroom and put your feet on the desk for two to three years and have that job for 30 years and never actually perform. Charter schools don't allow you to do that. They hold you accountable. Another thing that charter schools do, try to create a safe learning environment. I went to a public school. I was born in the 70s. I went to one in the 80s. And you know what we had, metal detectors, in the 80s. I don't want our school to look like a jail. I want to create a safe learning environment, not one that they have to go through a metal detector like they are at the airport. So, that's the second thing.
The third thing, smaller class size. We cap our enrollment. And if we go over enrollment number, we have a lottery. We're open enrollment. We're tuition free. We're public charter. And you know what I don't want to walk into a classroom and see, 50 kids and 1 teacher. That's what I don't want to see. So anything that we're doing that's not that, it's an improvement. And lastly, I am not a politician. I don't care if your son or daughter goes to a public school, or private school, home school, whatever. It was my job to try to create a quality school. That's all I wanted to do. That's it. And so, you mentioned names earlier. I wanted to name the school after some prominent people, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King. And they were like, "No. We're gonna name it after you because we know you're going to own it." And so that's what I'm doing. I'm owning it. You tell me the name of the person or the background of the person that your high school is named after.
Kevin: So, Jalen, this is what I really want to know, how can we build a better village to support the educational needs of all of our children?
Jalen: Finance. The quality of your education shouldn't be determined by your zip code, period. And I know the government will teach you, oh, in the suburbs, they pay more money in taxes, so they should have better fire, police, schooling, or resources. I get that. But these young people don't choose their parents. And so just because I grew up in the inner city, and I'm exposed to what's considered a public education, that should give me an equal playing field. The public school in the suburbs, their budget per student shouldn't be double of what it is in the inner city. And that's basically what's happening. And so that's one of the things I would love to see change. Another thing is, not only judging our young people by their test scores. Like, this is extremely important to me because I'm not only going to judge you as a success or a failure if you graduate from college. I get a chance to see these young people at seventh grade and eighth grade, and see what they overcome. And, like, understand what their neighborhood is like, and their family dynamics are like.
And if you're able to be a functioning member of society with a job, and start a family of your own, wow, that's a success to me. Like, social media and so many entities have taught us, like, if you're not, like, a 100 millionaire, you're a failure at life. And they try to make us think like there are only 10 successful black people. Like, it's Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Denzel Washington, and everybody else... Well, that that's not true. And we continue to, like, build our young people so they don't feel that pressure of, like, having to live up to someone else's expectations. And these are the things that you've done, that I try to continue to do. And I thank you for your influence in my school, in our movement, and your belief in me, because I know you got a 6'8" dude that just averaged 25 points in the NBA, and he come to you saying, I want to start a school. You have to be protective of everything you've established as a leader in our community.
Kevin: But you know what? See, Jalen, I'm a good judge of talent now. You got to give me credit. I'm a good judge of talent. And I certainly appreciate all you've done. And I look forward to continue to support you, as we build this village for our kids. Jalen Rose, thank you for joining us.
Jalen: Thank you. I appreciate the love.
Kevin: Ted Dintersmith is a true renaissance man. After a successful career as a venture capitalist and technology innovator, Ted turned to education. Since then, he's become a leading advocate for education policies that foster creativity, innovation, motivation, and purpose. Ted's contributions have included documentaries, books, and philanthropy. In 2018, Ted formed an education nonprofit, with the late education visionary, Sir Kenneth Robinson. Together, they developed an online "What School Could Be" community for innovative educators. Ted, welcome to the show.
Ted: I'm thrilled to be here.
Kevin: Well, you've had a lot of success in the investment community and technology. What led you to education?
Ted: It really started about a decade ago. And, you know, before that, I had no interest or inclination that I'd spent time in the world of education. And then in a short period of time, I realized how fast machine intelligence was going to be marginalizing people in their employment prospects, complicating citizenship, you know, demands. And also, as I started, my kids were in middle school, and I started to really zero in on what they were being asked to study and get good at. And when I looked at it really hard, I felt like much of what they were studying, they weren't going to remember. And even if they remembered it, they wouldn't use. That's not great news. But also the characteristics, the mindsets that I know serve kids really well, in a world defined by innovation, those were largely being pushed back, you know, with kids in school. And kids are being encouraged to follow instructions, memorize material, and replicate low level procedures. And that's exactly what machine intelligence does well.
Kevin: And what you did... By the way, I'm fascinated, I started reading, I haven't finished, but "What School Could Be." My goodness, when you unpack what you saw, what works, and then to follow up with the journey around the country. What led you to not just write the book and share the story, but also to give it life beyond just the book?
Ted: I didn't intend to write a book. You know, I wanted to... I just felt like, if I... You know, there are so many people with business backgrounds that pontificate about education, and never take the time to listen to or learn from educators in the field. So I felt like I owed it, you know, to the people doing the real work, to understand their situation, their life, their joys, their challenges. And I got done, and I was so blown away by our teaching force, and their dedication and the passion that they had, how many would stay late to talk to me in tears. I just said, "Man, I gotta write a book about this." And so, the last several years have been trying to capture some small steps that we can encourage teachers or principals to take, putting them into an online resource. I worked for three years with Ken Robinson, who tragically passed away last summer. And now we have this fully robust online community with, you know, lots of people that are just finding likeminded, dedicated educators.
Kevin: You mentioned, Ken Robinson, I want to talk to you about him. He was such a legendary figure. But before I do, I wanted to go back to this journey and visiting schools. I so agree with you that there are far too many people weighing in on what's going on in America schools, who never visit schools. What are some of the day to day things you hear from teachers that really open your eyes?
Ted: Well, I think one anecdote that makes a broader story was somebody in Michigan, I met, Gary Koppelman, who turns out to have been inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame. And we did a small event at a college there that was preparing next generation of teachers. And Gary got up in front of the group and said, "You know, each day I get up and I ask myself, am I going to do what's best for my kids today or am I going to do what the state tells me I have to do? And every single day I come down on the side of doing what's best for my kids." You know, it's a bit heartbreaking, I think, to see how we've eroded the trust and respect out of the teaching profession. And I'm not sure to what end, right? When I talk to business friends that I say, "I've got a great idea. We're going to replace your current board of directors with a bunch of classroom teachers. Isn't that a good idea?" They say, "Well, what do they know about my business?" And I say, "Well, how do you think they feel having to do things that you're telling them or state legislators."
You know, there are a lot of people complicit in this. But, you know, that combination of some of the well off business people, the state legislators, college admissions. There are a whole lot of things that bear down on what priorities are given in schools, that honestly, are quite counterproductive.
Kevin: But if we were empowering teachers, and ensuring that they were able to discharge their responsibilities and do what's best for kids, what would it look like? What would be different?
Ted: We should all take heart. When you find the right thinking people who somehow managed to get the resources to start a school from scratch, they do incredible things. You know, I did a film on this school in San Diego that got started from scratch with a fair amount of money.
Kevin: Was that High Tech High?
Ted: High Tech High.
Kevin: Oh, man, I visited that school. It's amazing.
Ted: Yeah, it's amazing. In the film, "Most Likely to Succeed," you know, my Director, Greg Whiteley, just nailed it with that film. It's a great film. You know, I think we know what to do. You know, like, if you start by saying, we want to engage kids. We want to equip them with the skills and capability to manage their learning. And we want to connect that learning to the real world in a way that motivates them, and instills in them a deep sense of purpose. If those are your core values, all sorts of amazing things happen. I think the challenge, and this is what I've gravitated toward over the last several years is, I think it's so much harder to change an existing school. I mean, it's a lot of work to start a new school, for sure. But changing an existing school where there are built in patterns of behavior, and expectations, and operating routines, that's really hard. And that's what I've tried to focus on intensely over the last four years, is how do you equip those schools with the resources so they can share a vision to their community of something different.
Kevin: You really place a premium on innovation. And just think if federal incentive money was used to foster innovation, as opposed to sort of funding the same things. And again, I don't want to cheapen those dollars that come from the federal government, but you know what I'm saying. Innovation is something that you've warmed up to. Shouldn't we be able to incent that better?
Ted: Yeah. I will say about innovation, not all innovations are created equal. And so you'll see people say, we're just going to carpet bomb our district with tablets, and have kids watch boring lectures online. And now we've proven ourselves to be highly innovative. And, you know, innovation needs to have a purpose to it. If I thought everything was going perfectly in our schools, or close to perfectly, I'd say we don't need to innovate. You know, if it's working really well, you don't need to innovate. What I worry about, and I worry a lot is machine intelligence is racing ahead. You know, anything that's a muscle power job is in real jeopardy over the next 10 to 20 years. Low level, mid level cognitive skill jobs, those are going to be replaced by machine intelligence. And so the bar for what our kids have to get over to plug into good careers and to be responsible, informed citizens, that bar is getting higher and higher and higher. And I think our schools need to keep pace. And so that leads me to say, we need to support innovation in our classrooms, but not just change for change sake. But innovation directed toward the goal of equipping our kids with the skills that let them make the most of that world.
Kevin: Look, I never met him, but one of my heroes was Ken Robinson. I mean, I am like a lot of folks who believe in the power of what's possible for kids. When I saw his TED Talk, it was mesmerizing. And then I read his book, but you got to know him. Tell me how you connected with Ken, and how you're keeping that legacy going? Because he truly was an education visionary in terms of the things we've been talking about.
Ted: Yeah. Well, I had a similar experience. Initially, we just asked him if he'd sit down for an interview for the film, "Most Likely to Succeed." And he was incredibly generous in spirit and so he said, "Sure." And so my film team met with him for a grand total of 30 minutes. And honestly, he soars in that film. I mean, he just had this gift of being able to say things in a way that makes you feel joyful, and optimistic, but also called you on the carpet. I sent him a copy of my book, and I asked him, I said, "I know you're busy. You know, I'd love if you'd write a little blurb for it. No worries if you're swamped, but that would be great." Deadline, honestly came and went, didn't hear back from him. And about four weeks later, I get this email from him saying, "Finally got your book. Here's a paragraph about it." Which was beyond phenomenal. "But could we talk tomorrow." And in no time, we just said, let's do this. And, you know, it's heartbreaking to see a world without him. You know, like, it's heartbreaking that he's gone. But his books, his talks, his spirit, you know, that's still with us. And I think for me personally, I sort of feel like, I can't let him down.
Kevin: Well, and truth be told, he believed in kids. And I mean, that is really important. Talk about the work you're doing now that the two of you started. You're visiting schools, you're working with schools, what does that look like? How are you executing on the vision that you two created together?
Ted: So we are actively engaged with communities, you know, all around the world, actually. Largely the U.S., but all around the world. And really inviting them, tell us something you're doing that you find transformational in your school. And if we think it's really interesting, we'll try to capture it. We have great film capabilities. And we look for... Trying to just bring it to life in a 15-minute video that lays out what it is, shows it in action in the classroom, interview students for their perspective. So you talked before, and an enduring value of Ken's is, you know, curiosity. So we have this little 15-minute video on curiosity time. And, you know, we show a master practitioner who sets aside blocks of time, and lets students, on their own, spend a couple minutes to come up with questions. But then safely, in a small group, share that question with two or three others, so they don't risk embarrassment or looking like... They don't want to look like a great grubber. And then let those groups share out their questions. I mean, it's magic.
So now we have this whole online community, so that they can form their private groups, like, Facebook without the scuzziness. And so they can form their private groups, share those perspectives, create something new that we hadn't thought of, and tell us about it. It's sort of this vibrant learning exchange that I think has the potential to uplift practices and to elevate futures for kids all across the country.
Kevin: Powerful. One last question, Ted. This is what I really want to know. Ted, one of the consistent messages in your book is one of hope. Are you still hopeful? Can we get there?
Ted: I'm definitely confident we can get there. You know, now, will we? You know, I think that's an open question. Here, every family, every classroom teacher, every school, can take it on themselves to say, we're going to rethink our priorities. We're going to shift those types of learning challenges. We are going to begin preparing our kids for the world they'll live in as adults. And they're off to the races.
Kevin: Well, Ted Dintersmith, thank you so much for all you do for America's children. And thank you for joining our show. It's been a pleasure.
Ted: Oh, well, thank you for all you do as well. I'm a big fan, and it's terrific to chat with you.
Kevin: Thanks. Thanks for joining "What I Want to Know." Be sure to follow and subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. And don't forget to write a review too, explore other episodes, and dive into our discussions on the future of education. I also encourage you to join the conversation and let me know what you want to know using #WIWTK on social media. That's #WIWTK on social media. For more information on Stride, visit stridelearning.com. I'm your Host, Kevin P. Chavous. Thank you for joining "What I Want to Know."
Jalen Rose is a former basketball player, sports commentator, and philanthropist. He helped the University of Michigan reach two NCAA title games. After 13 seasons playing for the NBA, Jalen transitioned to a career in broadcasting. He is currently a popular studio analyst on ESPN.
In 2011, he founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit. The public charter high school provides students with a leadership-focused education and a curriculum focused on real-world, project-based learning.
After a successful career as a venture capitalist and technology innovator, Ted Dintersmith turned to education and philanthropy. His contributions have included the documentary, Most Likely to Succeed, which tells the story of a unique California charter school, and the book, What Schools Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America.
In 2018, Ted formed a non-profit with the late education visionary Sir Ken Robinson. They developed an online community for educators and created the powerful innovation playlist change model.
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What I Want to Know
In this podcast, you will hear from leaders in education as we talk through learning solutions for homeschool, online school, education pathways, and topics tailored specifically to online students and parents.