Educating Potential

Evidence-based decision-making; or decision-based evidence-making?

I was interviewing a school network leader when we began talking about a funder he had met recently. He was asking the funder to invest in the school model’s expansion and had been turned down, not because the school was not getting good results, but because the funder said he did not believe there was enough of a research base to support the model itself.  During that conversation he used the phrase “decision-based evidence-making.” I loved it.

I was trained in social science research.  I am familiar with the range of research that exists in the educational space.  I know that education research is often disregarded because it is seen as less rigorous than what people perceive to be the gold standard of randomized, controlled studies in science.

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On teaching as a profession

When I started kindergarten in the early 1980s, the “face” of the average teacher was Caucasian, female and in her mid-50s. When I walk into my old schools today, the faces that fill the classrooms remain consistently female (with some exceptions) and Caucasian, but they undeniably skew towards young individuals. While there is nothing to indicate that age is correlated with teacher quality, there is significance to the demographic change we see.

The teachers I grew up with were on the tail end of several generations of teachers who entered the teaching profession when the career options of college-educated women and most minorities were largely limited to nursing, secretarial work and teaching. As Marc Tucker noted in Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, “There is reason to believe that the problem with the American teaching force is not that it has long been of low quality and must now be raised, but rather…the American public reaped the twin blessings of a highly capable teaching force willing to work for below-market wages under poor working conditions. Those who accepted that deal are now leaving the classroom in droves.”

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The potential of education

I wrote this piece as an op-ed but got feedback that it is too vague and doesn’t have a clear policy change articulated. But I still like it, and it felt like the right tone with which to kick off this site. Welcome to The Third Rail Blog!

It is that time of year when those of us tapped into the world of schools and education feel the frenzy and mixed emotions that herald the start of a new school year. Harassed parents (like me) finish back to school shopping. Students enjoy the last days of summer before homework, afterschool activities and the social dynamics of school engulf them. School leaders and teachers prepare for new content, new tests, new demands and new opportunities. It is that time of year when we would ideally pause and focus intentionally on what should be at the center of the upcoming academic year: the joys, the challenges and the excitement of learning.

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