In a very interesting and ambitious project, last year Forbes magazine challenged experts in business and education philanthropy to single out five big ideas over the next 20 years that could make American students the most highly achieving in the world and had research and modeling specialists with no stake in the outcome analyze the returns on a cost and benefit basis, a kind of GDP return on investment plan for education reform. They called it “America’s Education Moon Shot”.
As reported in December 2014, the top five big ideas that surfaced were as follows, along with my off the cuff comments:
* Teacher efficacy (probably the most difficult of all to achieve)
*Universal pre-K (lots of movement in that direction already)
*Common Core standards (not a favorite of mine nor in Texas)
*Blended learning (incorporating technology into teaching, very important)
*School leadership (critical and an area of major weakness)
The resulting numbers were very big–a required investment over 20 years of $6.2 trillion, $310 billion annually in today’s dollars, with a payoff to GDP of $225 trillion over 80 years.
So why don’t we do this? The easy answer is that we lack the stakeholder consensus and political will to do it, and that’s true, but not complete. My answer is more foundational: it is that fixing public education is not a scientific and engineering project like a moon shot, it’s a social good that is analogous to the poverty problem that was so unsuccessfully attacked by the Great Society. And because of the different nature of these social goods and their entanglement with cultural norms, they cannot be successfully addressed by a top-down, compliance-based, one size fits all approach by government, particularly at the federal level. Government’s role should be to set high standards, assess results, and require accountability to the public.
This was a productive exercise with discussion and analysis of the problem that added significant value, but please, no “moon shots” in education.