Lessons from China

blog_3-22-18_Confucius_344x500Recently I gave a series of speeches in China, organized by the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Nanjing Normal University. I had many wonderful and informative experiences, but one evening stood out.

I was in Nanjing, the ancient capital, and it was celebrating the weeks after the Chinese New Year. The center of the celebration was the Temple of Confucius. In and around it were lighted displays exhorting Chinese youth to excel on their exams. Children stood in front of these displays to have their pictures taken next to characters saying “first in class,” never second. A woman with a microphone recited blessings and hopes that students would do well on exams. After each one, students hit a huge drum with a long stick, as an indication of accepting the blessing. Inside the temple were thousands of small silk messages, bright red, expressing the wishes of parents and students that students will do well on their exams. Chinese friends explained what was going on, and told me how pervasive this spirit was. Children all know a saying to the effect that the path to riches and a beautiful wife was through books. I heard that perhaps 70% of urban Chinese students go to after-school cram schools to ensure their performance on exams.

The reason Chinese parents and students take test scores so seriously is obvious in every aspect of Chines culture. On an earlier trip to China I toured a beautiful house, from hundreds of years ago, in a big city. The only purpose of the house was to provide a place for young men of a large clan to stay while they prepared for their exams, which determined their place in the Confucian hierarchy.

As everyone knows, Chinese students do, in fact, do very well on their exams. I would note that these data come in particular from urban Eastern China, such as Shanghai. I’d heard about but did not fully understand policies that contribute to these outcomes. In all big cities in China, students can only attend schools in their city neighborhoods, where the best schools in the country are, if they were born there or own apartments. In a country where a small apartment in a big city can easily cost a half million dollars (U.S.), this is no small selection factor. If parents work in the city but do not own an apartment, their children may have to remain in the village or small city they came from, living with grandparents and attending non-elite schools. Chinese cities are growing so fast that the majority of their inhabitants come from the rest of China. This matters because admirers of Chinese education often cite the amazing statistics from the rich and growing Eastern Chinese cities, not the whole country. It’s as though the U.S. only reported test scores on international comparisons from suburbs in the Northeastern states from Maryland to New England, the wealthiest and highest-achieving part of our country.

I do not want to detract in any way from the educational achievements of the Chinese, but just to put it in context. First, the Chinese themselves have doubts about test scores as the only important indicators, and admire Western education for its broader focus. But just sticking to test scores, China and other Confucian cultures such as Japan, South Korea, and Singapore have been creating a culture valuing test scores since Confucius, about 2500 years ago. It would be a central focus of Chinese culture even if PISA and TIMSS did not exist to show it off to the world.

My only point is that when American or European observers hold up East Asian achievements as a goal to aspire to, these achievements do not exist in a cultural vacuum. Other countries can potentially achieve what China has achieved, in terms of test scores and other indicators, but they cannot achieve it in the same way. Western culture is just not going to spend the next 2500 years raising its children the way the Chinese do. What we can do, however, is to use our own strengths, in research, development, and dissemination, to progressively enhance educational outcomes. The Chinese can and will do this, too; that’s what I was doing traveling around China speaking about evidence-based reform. We need not be in competition with any nation or society, as expanding educational opportunity and success throughout the world is in the interests of everyone on Earth. But engaging in fantasies about how we can move ahead by emulating parts of Chinese culture that they have been refining since Confucius is not sensible.

Precisely because of their deep respect for scholarship and learning and their eagerness to continue to improve their educational achievements, the Chinese are ideal collaborators in the worldwide movement toward evidence-based reform in education. Colleagues at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Nanjing Normal University are launching Chinese-language and Asian-focused versions of our newsletter on evidence in education, Best Evidence in Brief (BEiB). We and our U.K. colleagues have been distributing BEIB for several years. We welcome the opportunity to share ideas and resources with our Chinese colleagues to enrich the evidence base for education for children everywhere.

This blog was developed with support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.

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Why the What Works Clearinghouse Matters

In 1962, the most important breakthrough in modern medicine took place. It was not a drug, not a device, not a procedure. It did not immediately save a single life, or cure a single person of disease. But it profoundly changed medicine worldwide, and led to the rapid progress in all of medicine that we have come to take for granted.

This medical miracle was a law, passed in the U.S. Congress, called the Kefauver-Harris Drug Act. It required that drugs sold in the U.S. be proven safe and effective, in high-quality randomized experiments. This law was introduced by Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, largely in response to the thalidomide disaster, when a widely used drug was found to produce disastrous birth defects.

From the moment the Act was passed, medical research changed utterly. The number of randomized experiments shot up. There are still errors and debates and misplaced enthusiasm, but the progress that has made in every area of medicine is undeniable. Today, it is unthinkable in medicine that any drug would be widely sold if it has not been proven to work. Even though Kefauver-Harris itself only applies to the U.S., all advanced countries now have similar laws requiring rigorous evidence of safety and effectiveness of medicines.

One of the ways the Kefauver-Harris Act made its impact was through reviews and publications of research on the evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of medicines. It’s no good having a law requiring strong evidence if only experts know what the evidence is. Many federal programs have sprung up over the years to review the evidence of what works and communicate it to front-line practitioners.

In education, we are belatedly going through our own evidence revolution. Since 2002, the function of communicating the findings of rigorous research in education has mostly been fulfilled by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), a website maintained by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The existence of the WWC has been enormously beneficial. In addition to reviewing the evidence base for educational programs, the WWC’s standards set norms for research. No funder and no researcher wants to invest resources in a study they know the WWC will not accept.

In 2015, education finally had what may be its own Kefauver-Harris moment. This was the passage by the U.S. Congress of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which contains specific definitions of strong, moderate, and promising levels of evidence. For certain purposes, especially for school improvement funding for very low-achieving schools, schools must use programs that meet ESSA evidence standards. For others, schools or districts can receive bonus points on grant applications if they use proven programs.

ESSA raises the stakes for evidence in education, and therefore should have raised the stakes for the WWC. If the government itself now requires or incentivizes the use of proven programs, then shouldn’t the government provide information on what individual programs meet those standards?

Yet several months after ESSA was passed, IES announced that the WWC would not be revised to align itself with ESSA evidence standards. This puts educators, and the government itself, in a bind. What if ESSA and WWC conflict? The ESSA standards are in law, so they must prevail over the WWC. Yet the WWC has a website, and ESSA does not. If WWC standards and ESSA standards were identical, or nearly so, this would not be a problem. But in fact they are very far apart.

Anticipating this situation, my colleagues and I at Johns Hopkins University created a new website, www.evidenceforessa.org. It launched in February, 2017, including elementary and secondary reading and math. We are now adding other subjects and grade levels.

In creating our website, we draw from the WWC every day, and in particular use a new Individual Study Database (ISD) that contains information on all of the evaluations the WWC has ever accepted.

The ISD is a useful tool for us, but it has made it relatively easy to ask and answer questions about the WWC itself, and the answers are troubling. We’ve found that almost half of the WWC outcomes rated “positive” or “potentially positive” are not even statistically significant. We have found that measures made by researchers or developers produce effect sizes more than three times those that are independent, yet they are fully accepted by the WWC.

As reported in a recent blog, we’ve discovered that the WWC is very, very slow to add new studies to its main “Find What Works” site. The WWC science topic is not seeking or accepting new studies (“This area is currently inactive and not conducting reviews”). Character education, dropout prevention, and English Language Learners are also inactive. How does this make any sense?

Over the next couple of months, starting in January, I will be releasing a series of blogs sharing what we have been finding out about the WWC. My hope in this is that we can help create a dialogue that will lead the WWC to reconsider many of its core policies and practices. I’m doing this not to compete or conflict with the WWC, but to improve it. If evidence is to have a major role in education policy, government has to help educators and policy makers make good choices. That is what the WWC should be doing, and I still believe it is possible.

The WWC matters, or should matter, because it expresses government’s commitment to evidence, and evidence-based reform. But it can only be a force for good if it is right, timely, accessible, comprehensible, and aligned with other government initiatives. I hope my upcoming blogs will be read in the spirit in which they were written, with hopes of helping the WWC do a better job of communicating evidence to educators eager to help young people succeed in our schools.

 

This blog was developed with support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.

Research and Development Saved Britain. Maybe They Will Save U.S. Education

One of my summer goals is to read the entire 6 volume history of the Second World War by Winston Churchill. So far, I’m about halfway through the first volume, The Gathering Storm, about the period leading up to 1939.

The book is more or less a wonderfully written rant about the Allies’ shortsightedness. As Hitler built up his armaments, Britain, France, and their allies maintained a pacifist insistence on reducing theirs. Only in the mid-thirties, when war was inevitable, did Britain start investing in armaments, but even then at a very modest pace.

Churchill was a Member of Parliament but was out of government. However, he threw himself into the one thing he could do to help Britain prepare: research and development. In particular, he worked with top scientists to develop the capacity to track, identify, and shoot down enemy aircraft.

When the 1940 Battle of Britain came and German planes tried to destroy and demoralize Britain in advance of an invasion, the inventions by Churchill’s group were a key factor in defeating them.

Churchill’s story is a good analogue to the situation of education research and development. In the current environment, the best-evaluated, most effective programs are not in wide use in U.S. schools. But the research and development that creates and evaluates these programs is essential. It is useful right away in hundreds of schools that do use proven programs already. But imagine what would happen if federal, state, or local governments anywhere decided to use proven programs to combat their most important education problems at scale. Such a decision would be laudable in principle, but where would the proven programs come from? How would they generate convincing evidence of effectiveness?  How would they build robust and capable organizations to provide high-quality professional development materials, and software?

The answer is research and development, of course. Just as Churchill and his scientific colleagues had to create new technologies before Britain was willing to invest in air defenses and air superiority at scale, so American education needs to prepare for the day when government at all levels is ready to invest seriously in proven educational programs.

I once visited a secondary school near London. It’s an ordinary school now, but in 1940 it was a private girls’ school. A German plane, shot down in the Battle of Britain, crash landed near the school. The girls ran out and captured the pilot!

The girls were courageous, as was the British pilot who shot down the German plane. But the advanced systems the British had worked out and tested before the war were also important to saving Britain. In education reform we are building and testing effective programs and organizations to support them. When government decides to improve student learning nationwide, we will be ready, if investments in research and development continue.

This blog is sponsored by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation

First, Do No Harm: The Blind Duchess

One of the great strengths of the evidence movement in education has been its bipartisan nature. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives have equal reasons to want to know what works, and to try to ensure that government funds will be spent primarily on programs and practices known to work from rigorous experiments. Politics plays a legitimate role in determining how evidence is put to use and what values should underpin policies in education, but whatever one’s politics, everyone should agree that it’s essential to know what works.

Yet while it’s easy to conclude that we should promote what does work, it’s not so easy to decide what to do in areas in which there is insufficient evidence. We want to gradually replace programs and practices not known to work with those that do have strong evidence, but what do we do while the evidence base is growing?

I recently took a tour of Chatsworth, a huge, ornate great house that since the 1600s has been the family seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, one of the wealthiest families in England. Our guide told us about a famous duchess, Georgiana (a distant ancestor of Lady Diana). In the late 1700s, Georgiana suffered from irritated eyes. Her physician had her bathe her eyes in a mixture of milk and vinegar, and then applied leeches. As a consequence, she went blind.

The duchess’ physician ignored the first principle of medicine, stated in the Hippocratic Oath that every doctor swears: “First, do no harm.” I think it is safe to assume that the Duchess of Devonshire could have had any doctor in Europe, and that the one she chose was considered one of the best. Yet even a duke or duchess or a king or queen could not obtain the kind of routine medical care we take for granted today. But what their doctors could at least do was to take care to avoid making things worse. Recall that around the same time, King George III suffered from insanity, perhaps caused by his physicians, and George Washington was killed by his leech-using doctors.

Today, in education, we face a different set of problems, but we must start with the Hippocratic principle: First, do no harm. But for us, doing no harm is less than straightforward.

In educational practice, we have a growing but still modest number of proven interventions. As I’ve noted previously, our Evidence for ESSA website contains approximately 100 reading and math programs for grades K-12 that meet current ESSA evidence standards. That’s impressive, but it is still a smaller number of proven programs than we’d like, especially in secondary schools and in mathematics. We are now working on the category of science, which has fewer proven programs, and we know that writing will have fewer still.

In all of education research, there are very few programs known to do actual harm, so we don’t really have to worry too much about the Duchess of Devonshire’s problem. What we have instead is a growing number of proven and promising programs and a very large number of programs that have not been evaluated at all, or not well enough to meet current standards, or with mixed outcomes.

For educators, “First, do no harm” may be taken to mean, “use programs proven to be effective when they exist, but stick with promising approaches until better ones have been validated.” That is, in areas in which there are many programs with strong, positive evidence of effectiveness, select one of these and implement it with care. But in areas in which few programs exist, use the best available, rather than insisting on perfect evidence.

One example of what I am talking about is after-school programs. Under federal funding called 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC), after-school programs have been widespread. Several years ago, an evaluation of 21st CCLC found few benefits for student achievement, and there are few if any proven models in broad scale use. So how should the federal government respond?

I would argue that the principle of “First, do no harm” would support continuing but significantly modifying 21st CCLC or other after-school funding. Federal support for after school programs might be reformed to focus on development and evaluation of programs that improve achievement outcomes. In this way, federal dollars continue to support a popular and perhaps useful service, but more importantly they support R&D to find out which forms of that service produce the desired outcomes. The same approach might be applied to career and technical education and many other areas in which there is substantial federal, state, or local investment, but little evidence of what works. In each case, funds currently supporting popular but unproven services could be shifted to supporting development, evaluation, and dissemination of proven, effective strategies designed to meet the activity’s goal.

Instead of potentially harming students or taking away funding altogether, such a strategy could open up new areas of inquiry that would be sure to eventually create and validate effective programs where they do not exist today.

In education, “First, do no harm” should not justify abandonment of whole areas of education services that lack a sufficient selection of proven approaches. Instead, it means supplementing service dollars with R&D dollars to find out what works. We cannot justify the kinds of treatment the Duchess of Devonshire received for her irritated eye, but we also cannot justify using her case to give up on the search for effective treatments.

This blog is sponsored by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation

Research and Practice: “Tear Down This Wall”

I was recently in Berlin. Today, it’s a lively, entirely normal European capital. But the first time I saw it, it was 1970, and the wall still divided it. Like most tourists, I went through Checkpoint Charlie to the east side. The two sides were utterly different. West Berlin was pleasant, safe, and attractive. East Berlin was a different world. On my recent trip, I met a young researcher who grew up in West Berlin. He recalls his father being taken in for questioning because he accidentally brought a West Berlin newspaper across the border. Western people could visit, but western newspapers could get you arrested.

I remember John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, and Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbechev, tear down this wall.” And one day, for reasons no one seems to understand, the wall was gone. Even today, I find it thrilling and incredible to walk down Unter den Linden under the Brandenburg Gate. Not so long ago, this was impossible, even fatal.

The reason I bring up the Berlin Wall is that I want to use it as an analogy to another wall of less geopolitical consequence, perhaps, but very important to our profession. This is the wall between research and practice.

It is not my intention to disrespect the worlds on either side of the research/practice wall. People on both sides care deeply about children and bring enormous knowledge, skill, and effort to improving educational outcomes. In fact, that’s what is so sad about this wall. People on both sides have so much to teach and learn from the other, but all too often, they don’t.

What has been happening in recent years is that the federal government, at least, has been reinforcing the research/practice divide in many ways, at least until the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (more on this later). On one hand, government has invested in high-quality educational research and development, especially through Investing in Innovation (i3) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). As a result, over on the research side of the wall there is a growing stockpile of rigorously evaluated, ready-to-implement education programs for most subjects and grade levels.

On the practice side of the wall, however, government has implemented national policies that may or may not have a basis in research, but definitely do not focus on use of proven programs. Examples include accountability, teacher evaluation, and Common Core. Even federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) for the lowest-achieving 5% of schools in each state had loads of detailed requirements for schools to follow but said nothing at all about using proven programs or practices, until a proven whole-school reform option was permitted as one of six alternatives at the very end of No Child Left Behind. The huge Race to the Top funding program was similarly explicit about standards, assessments, teacher evaluations, and other issues, but said nothing about use of proven programs.

On the research side of the wall, developers and researchers were being encouraged by the U.S. Department of Education to write their findings clearly and “scale up” their findings to presumably eager potential adopters on the practice side. Yet the very same department was, at the same time, keeping education leaders on the practice side of the wall scrambling to meet federal standards to obtain Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, and other funding, none of which had anything much to do with the evidence base building up on the research side of the wall. The problem posed by the Berlin Wall was not going to be resolved by sneaking well-written West Berlin newspapers into East Berlin, or East Berlin newspapers into West Berlin. Rather, someone had to tear down the wall.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is one attempt to tear down the research/practice wall. Its definitions of strong, moderate, and promising levels of evidence, and provision of funding incentives for using proven programs (especially in applications for school improvement), could go a long way toward tearing down the research/practice wall, but it’s too soon to tell. So far, these definitions are just words on a page. It will take national, state, and local leadership to truly make evidence central to education policy and practice.

On National Public Radio, I recently heard recorded recollections from people who were in Berlin the day the wall came down. One of them really stuck with me. West Berliners had climbed to the top of the wall and were singing and cheering as gaps were opened. Then, an East German man headed for a gap. The nearby soldiers, unsure what to do, pointed their rifles at him and told him to stop. He put his hands in the air. The West Germans on the wall fell silent, anxiously watching.

A soldier went to find the captain. The captain came out of a guardhouse and walked over to the East German man. He put his arm around his shoulders and personally walked him through the gap in the wall.

That’s leadership. That’s courage. It’s what we need to tear down our wall: leaders at all levels who actively encourage the world of research and the world of practice to become one. To do it by personal and public examples, so that educators can understand that the rules have changed, and that communication between research and practice, and use of proven programs and practices, will be encouraged and facilitated.

Our wall can come down. It’s only a question of leadership, and commitment to better outcomes for children.

This blog is sponsored by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation

The Age of Evidence

In 1909, most people outside of cities had never seen an automobile. Those that existed frequently broke down, and there were few mechanics. Roads were poor, fuel was difficult to obtain, and spare parts were scarce. The automobile industry had not agreed on the best form of propulsion, so steam-powered cars, electric cars, and diesel cars shared the road with gasoline-powered cars. The high cost of cars made them a rich man’s hobby and a curiosity rather than a practical necessity for most people.

Yet despite all of these limitations, anyone with eyes to see knew that the automobile was the future.

I believe that evidence in education is at a similar point in its development. There are still not enough proven programs in all fields and grade levels. Educators are just now beginning to understand what proven programs can do for their children. Old fashioned textbooks and software lacking a scintilla of evidence still dominate the market. Many schools that do adopt proven programs may still not get promised outcomes because they shortchange professional development, planning, or other resources.

Despite all of these problems, any educator or policy maker with eyes to see knows that evidence is the future.

There are many indicators that the Age of Evidence is upon us. Here are some I’d point to.

· The ESSA evidence standards. The definitions in the ESSA law of strong, moderate, and promising levels of evidence and incentives to use programs that meet them are not yet affecting practice on a large scale, but they are certainly leading to substantial discussion about evidence among state, district, and school leaders. In the long run, this discussion may be as important as the law itself in promoting the use of evidence.

· The availability of many more proven programs. Our Evidence for ESSA website found approximately 100 K-12 reading and math programs meeting one of the top three ESSA standards. Many more are in the pipeline.

· Political support for evidence is growing and non-partisan. Note that the ESSA standards were passed with bipartisan support in a Republican Congress. This is a good indication that evidence is becoming a consensus “good government” theme, not just something that professors do.

· We’ve tried everything else. Despite their commendable support for research, both the G.W. Bush and the Obama administrations mainly focused on policies that ignored the existence of proven programs. Progress in student performance was disappointing. Perhaps next time, we’ll try using what works.

Any of these indicators could experience setbacks or reversals, but in all of modern history, it’s hard to think of cases in which, once the evidence/innovation genie is out of the bottle, it is forced back inside. Progress toward the Age of Evidence may be slower or more uneven than we’d like, but this is an idea that once planted tends to persist, and to change institutions.

If we have proven, better ways to teach reading or math or science, to increase graduation rates and college and career readiness, or to build students’ social and emotional skills and improve classroom behavior, then sooner or later policy and practice must take this evidence into account. When it does, it will kick off a virtuous cycle in which a taste for evidence among education leaders leads to substantial investments in R&D by government and the private sector. This will lead to creation and successful evaluation of better and better educational programs, which will progressively add to the taste for evidence, feeding the whole cycle.

The German philosopher Schopenhauer once said that every new idea is first ridiculed, then vehemently opposed, and then accepted as self-evident. I think we are nearing a turning point, where resistance to the idea of evidence of effectiveness as a driver in education is beginning to give way to a sense that of course any school should be using proven programs. Who would argue otherwise?

Other fields, such as medicine, agriculture, and technology, including automotive technology, long ago reached a point of no return, when innovation and evidence of effectiveness began to expand rapidly. Because education is mostly a creature of government, it has been slower to change, but change is coming. And when this point of no return arrives, we’ll never look back. As new teaching approaches, new uses of technology, new strategies for engaging students with each other, new ways of simulating scientific, mathematical, and social processes, and new ways of accommodating student differences are created, successfully evaluated, and disseminated, education will become an exciting, constantly evolving field. And no one will even remember a time when this was not the case.

In 1909, the problems of automotive engineering were daunting, but there was only one way things were going to go. True progress has no reverse gear. So it will be in education, as our Age of Evidence dawns.

This blog is sponsored by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation

Make No Small Plans

In recent years, an interest has developed in very low-cost interventions that produce small but statistically significant effects on achievement. The argument for their importance is that their costs are so low that their impacts are obtained very cost-effectively. For example, there is evidence that a brief self-affirmation exercise can produce a small but significant effect on achievement, and that a brief intervention to reduce “social identity threat” can do the same. A study in England found that a system to send 50 text messages over the course of a school year, announcing upcoming tests and homework assignments, feedback on grades, test results, and attendance, and updates on topics being studied in school, improved math achievement slightly but significantly, at a cost of about $5 a year.

There is nothing wrong with these mini-interventions, and perhaps all schools should use them. Why not? Yet I find myself a bit disturbed by this type of approach.

Step back from the small-cost/small-but-significant outcome and consider the larger picture, the task in which all who read this blog are jointly engaged. We face an educational system that is deeply dysfunctional. Disadvantaged students remain far, far behind middle-class students in educational outcomes, and the gap has not narrowed very much over decades. The U.S. remains well behind peer nations in achievement and is not catching up. Dropout rates in the U.S. are diminishing, but skill levels of American high school graduates from disadvantaged schools are appalling.

For schools with limited budgets to spend on reform, it may be all they can do to adopt a low-cost/low-but-significant outcome intervention on the basis that it’s better than nothing. But again, step back to look at the larger situation. The average American student is educated at a cost of more than $11,000 per year. There are whole-school reform approaches, such as our own Success for All in elementary and middle schools and BARR in secondary schools, that cost around $100 per student per year, and have been found to make substantial differences in student achievement. Contrast this to a low-cost program that costs, say, $5 per student per year.

$100 is less than 1% of the ordinary cost of educating a student, on average. $5 is less than .05%, of course. But in the larger scheme of things, who cares? Using a proven whole-school reform model might perhaps increase the per-student cost from $11,000 to $11,100. Adding the $5 low-cost intervention could increase per-student costs from $11,000 to $11,005. From the perspective of a principal who has a fixed budget, and simply does not have $100 per student to spend, the whole-school approach may be infeasible. But from the system perspective, the difference between $11,000 and $11,100 (or $11,005) is meaningless if it truly increases student achievement. Our goal must be to make meaningful progress in reducing gaps and increasing national achievement, not make a small difference that happens to be very inexpensive.

I once saw a film in England on the vital role of carrier pigeons in the English army in World War II. I’m sure those pigeons played their part in the victory, and they were very cost-effective. But ultimately, it was expensive tanks and planes and ships and other weapons, and courageous men and women, who won the war, not pigeons, and piling up small (even if effective) interventions was just not going to do it.

We should be in a war against inequality, disadvantage, and mediocre outcomes in education. Winning it will require identification and deployment of whole-school, whole-district, and whole-state approaches that can be reliably replicated and intelligently applied to ensure positive, widespread improvements. If we just throw pigeon-sized solutions at huge and tenacious problems, our difficulties are sure to come home to roost.

This blog is sponsored by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation