I just returned from an exciting couple of days at Education Nation, a “summit” put on by NBC News in New York. All the great and good were there: President Obama (by tape), Mitt Romney (in person), Colin Powell, Arne Duncan, Margaret Spellings, Jeb Bush, Chelsea Clinton, Randi Weingarten, Michelle Rhee, and many more.
The most heartening aspect of Education Nation was that it focused on what works, and what can be brought to scale. In the general media, if education gets reported at all, there are just two kinds of stories: Heartwarming local stories (Aww. . .) and large-scale disaster and political wrangling (Yikes!). Much of Education Nation followed this pattern, with speaker after speaker sharing dismal international comparisons or evoking the Chicago teacher’s strike (Yikes!) followed by examples of plucky schools beating the odds (Aww…). What was different, however, is that from time to time speakers tried to connect solving the Yikes! problems to evaluating and scaling up Aww… solutions. President Obama talked about scaling up proven programs, as did Arne Duncan. District of Columbia Superintendent Kaya Henderson and Intel CEO Craig Barrett, judges on a panel evaluating promising technology start-ups, spoke about the importance of evidence and plans for scale-up. Barrett said something like, “We know what to do. We just don’t know how to bring what works to scale.”
Education Nation was still mostly Yikes! And Aww…, but the theme of scaling up proven programs at least got a little air time. Perhaps this could start to engage a broader audience in rethinking how to transform our schools, building from success to success using evidence-proven methods rather than ripping everything up every four or eight years to implement more untested national solutions.
Can we find out which of the Aww… solutions really work and can go to scale? Yes we can. And the results would be Awwwesome.