Why We Haven’t Made Progress in Education

This weekend I read the The Purpose Economy by Aaron Hurst. Aaron is the genius behind the Taproot Foundation, an effort to connect pro bono services with needy non-profits. In his book, he offers five levers for social change that are not so far from the levers I’ve talked about in past blogs —public narrative, policy, research, disruptive technology and proof points. He talks about how we have moved from an agrarian economy to an industrial one to an information one…and argues that the next economic phase will be a purpose driven one. He refers to Zaarly, Tesla, LinkedIn and Etsy and the green building boom as examples of economies built on purpose. He says while the non-profit sector may be core to the purpose economy, purpose is driving other sectors. Alas, he claims that education is lagging in the purpose economy.

“One area that is remarkably lagging, however, is education. There has been significant investment in education over the last dozen years as many of the brightest minds in the nation from Bill Gates to Eli Broad, have tried to crack the code on student success. We have seen an explosion in charter schools, technology in the classroom, organic school lunches, and dozens of other experiments. Some have shown hints of potential but it is clear to most innovators in the field that a revolutionary innovation, more than an evolutionary one, is needed. Today, the US doesn’t even rank in the top thirty nations in educational status and our health care outcomes are sadly worse. Though many sectors have flourished in the purpose economy, others have fallen further behind.”

Of course this strikes me as odd because educators are some of the most purpose-filled people I know! Who else would work for modest wages in tough situations with high levels of accountability, all for the love of children and learning? But I cannot argue about our lack of progress. To ruin the ending of the book, he gives the example of the growth of home schooling as an innovation and potential solution to having education flourish in the purpose economy.

But what if instead of giving up on teachers, we actually went the other direction—engaged them in conversations about their purpose and started connecting them through so-called “disruptive technologies” like Facebook and Twitter…. and began to help teachers create a new narrative around their profession, taking on new leadership roles within their own community around peer learning? And what if we began to see measurable impact that a more distributed teacher leader network was having on improving teacher practice at scale and student success?

Sounds like a good start at progress to me.