No offense, but your idea won’t work

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Modern education “reform” in the United States has its roots in President Johnson’s war on poverty in the mid-1960s. Since then, we have been trying to improve educational outcomes in struggling school districts. Literally thousands of ideas have been tried. Billions of dollars have been spent. The failure rate has been incredibly high to the point that it almost defies belief. There were a few elements of success which I will describe in the next article #5. Overall, however, FAILURE to sustainably improve our entire school system remains the most likely outcome of each of our ideas. , mine included.

The most important predictor of academic success or failure is parental commitment to a child’s education. As a society, we kind of hate to admit that. Unfortunately, there is not much a school district can do about this. Beyond that, economic disadvantage (poverty) usually leads to poor educational outcomes. Poor school performance usually results in economic disadvantage. Once this cycle started, it proved incredibly difficult to break.

Many of us can point to someone who overcame circumstances to achieve academic success. Most can identify a student, a class, or an entire school that has succeeded after it has failed. But there are two key words we need to think about – “Sustainable” and “Scale”. Quick success is often easy to achieve. Maintaining that success is usually elusive. Successful administrators, principals, and teachers are often promoted or moved to another district because there is little reward for staying in place. The ladder is the second obstacle. What can be achieved in an individual classroom or school is difficult to replicate system-wide — not impossible, but difficult.

Surprisingly, school boards are rarely able to sustainably influence the recovery of a failing system. At Midland, we are fortunate to have a school board made up of smart, committed and motivated members. But there is generally little that a school board can contribute to successful ongoing recovery. Ironically, if they try to do more than these few things, their efforts often make the situation worse.


Finally, everyone has their own opinion. To improve, we need longer school days or a yearly schedule. We need more (or less) homework, more (or less) playtime, more (or less) choice. We need more access to digital or individualized education, more computers, 21st instruction of the century, 19and discipline of the century, more compassion. The fact is that there have been literally hundreds of programs or ideas tried – almost all of which have failed on a large scale. This includes the Grandes Ecoles System (SGS).

I remember hearing about this system years ago. It sounded interesting. Until we talk to the inventor of the system. He said it wouldn’t work here. We recovered a lot of data. Basically, SMS rarely works sustainably on a large scale anywhere, but we implemented it here. Hmmm. There are a few exceptions – some ideas really work – but without these few things your idea probably won’t work. I know you disagree. Me too. The data says we were both wrong.

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