In honor of Independence Day, I was thinking about how America’s founders would think about evidence-based education reform if they were around today. George Washington would certainly be a big fan. He was always interested in disseminating the latest technology, agricultural techniques, and other innovations. If he’d been around today, he’d surely want education to use proven programs and practices and for government to invest in creating better methods. Though never realized, his greatest desire at the end of his life was to found a university in the nation’s capital to add to knowledge and disseminate it among future leaders.
Benjamin Franklin was equally intent on the advancement and diffusion of practical knowledge in every field, and was a founder of the University of Pennsylvania for this purpose. Of course he’d favor research as a basis for educational practice.
Thomas Jefferson? Same story. He wrote about advances in agriculture, architecture, and many other fields, and actively promoted the dissemination of practical knowledge. His lasting achievement is the University of Virginia, founded for just this purpose.
In fact, whatever their differences, the founders shared an Enlightment belief in the perfectibility of mankind, and the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and other writings clearly reflect this. So how did it happen that 238 years later, we have come to accept flat-line growth in educational outcomes, and we still emphasize educational solutions designed to manage the system, rather than transform it using evidence of what works?