I’ve been thinking about 3 big issues/problems in education, part of one being highly visible, and 2 being near invisible as related to the following tweet and linked article as to how ideas spread. The linked 7 page article primarily deals with issues in the medical field, both historically and contemporarily, but the concepts also seem applicable to education.

Good article for #DTActionLab #VirtualLibrary: “How Do Good Ideas Spread?”in @NewYorker http://goo.gl/tBWkxf 

The 3 issues:

  1. One immediate output of edu is most visible, ie students test scores. Its often what drives politicians, school boards, and parents. As I’ve pounded on in the past, such a measurement can be near useless for a number of factors. How a former student functions in the next stage of life, their career, or future academic course of study are better metrics, but such factors often lean toward the invisible.
  2. The spark of lifelong learning is a challenge to measure immediately and on scale making it quite invisible to other than those directly involved with a given students education.  From a scaling perspective, mass spark could be best demonstrated as to whether future generations rise to challenges or retreat from them. The long haul invisibility of this makes it an even tougher sell than Lister’s methods as described in the linked article.
  3. The equalization of opportunity for all is for the most part not visible… Sure politicians play lip service to it when it comes to test scores vs socio-economic factors, but they enact policies time and time against it. Some on the far right have implied it would be better to just let things go, its not worth the investment in tax money and/or resources if students and/or their community are not willing. Even in the far left idealist realm, short of the hard core folks who not only move into a declining schools neighborhood, and enrolls their kids in said school, few are willing to make a familial sacrifice over this. Just as Lister knew about carbolic acid’s benefits, the surgeons experienced how it burned their hands and thus many refused to adopt it… but there were some early adapters.

Just as the article alluded to as concerns the swaying of behaviors, the please methods and the legislative approaches eventually loose effectiveness.

In a multitude of ways, the please methods have been at the point of diminishing returns for years. Please we need more money for schools, more autonomy for teachers, more this, more that have been exhausted and are running on deaf ears. Certainly today’s economics and wealth stratification issues have not helped the matters, but I could see the running out of steam on this even in the eighties.

The legislative means while not all that effective are likewise running out of steam. Part of this is a cultural shift… teachers unions have a fraction of the power that they had years ago when some of them practically dictated to state legislatures what to do. Not so much in the compensation side per se, but in the operations side…. a lot of legislation has union written all over it. Some good, some with so much over-reach that the anti-union backlash of today almost seems justifiable.

So whats the answer? A credible narrative followed by relationship building over the long haul that will change hearts and minds, will raise visibility, and can make things happen. Repeating the same “please” and “do” stuff over and over and hoping for different results hasn’t worked for decades, I’m not sure why folks would think it would work today. I understand the pressing need to head off the dismantling of public edu, as well as protecting the students.  On the other hand, if the messages being sent are not changing hearts and minds, or worse serving to close them, sending more of the same is unlikely to make any difference, or could even make things worse.