Disruptive Education Reform:
The Strategic Importance of Investing in Measures of Psychological Satisfaction in Socially Innovative Schools

Education reform is ripe for a new approach. 

In July 1913, Thomas Edison predicted,

“Books will soon be obsolete in the public schools. 

“Scholars will be instructed through the eye. 

“It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. 

“Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years.”

The education industry has been ripe for productive disruption for over one hundred years. 

According to the book Failure to Disrupt, every new media since then has, at one time or another, been touted as THE innovation that will make every student learn their lessons perfectly. 

Hi, my name is Don Berg.

I want you to join me in taking a strategic new approach to school reform by changing what counts as an innovation. 


- The Report- Disruptive Education Reform: The Strategic Importance of Investing in Measures of
Psychological Satisfaction in Socially Innovative Schools (5 pages, 500kb)

- Formative Climate Data Tool: Classroom Climate Formative Assessment

It is the dream of hoards of education innovators and venture philanthropists that they will reform schooling by bringing forth the industry disrupting equivalent of the Model-T, Amazon, Netflix, iPhone, or Uber. 

But, Henry Ford did not invent cars, the factory, nor even the standardization of parts that enabled him to make his production lines famously efficient. 

Jeff Bezos of Amazon did not invent book selling nor the internet. 

Reed Hastings of Netflix did not invent movies, DVDs, nor streaming. 

Steve Jobs of Apple did not invent phones, calendars, portable music players, nor cameras. 

Travis Kalanick of Uber did not invent driving for hire nor platforms for connecting customers with service providers. 

Having major impacts on their industries was not the result of creating the particular products or services that their companies are now identified with.

The causes of productive disruption were innovative ideas about business. 

They combined existing products or services in new ways because of how they thought about their core business. 

They each reframed the problem that needed to be solved and mixed and matched existing solutions with the result that they each disrupted their industry.

Education Reform is the Holy Grail for Wanna-Be Disruptors

Despite generation after generation of quixotic reform efforts, education remains the holy grail of industries to be productively disrupted because  

1) global spending on K-12 education is in excess of $4 trillion, 

2) there is a well-documented pervasive pattern of disengagement among students and teachers that also infects workplaces globally, and 

3) there are high profile, yet persistent, concerns about both equity and accountability in schools. 

Disrupting how schools operate in a positive and educationally productive way requires more than a shiny new product or service to offer. 

It requires us to reframe how we think about education reform. 

Schools today compete with each other as if they are each a branch of UPS, FedEx, or the US Post Office delivering academic content into the heads of small children. 

Managing primary schools to produce academic data by getting obedience to curricular requirements has led to the massive, well-documented epidemic of both student and teacher disengagement in schools. 

According to Gallup, that epidemic is just as bad or worse in the workplace. 

Education Reform as Social Innovation

Academic Delivery - UPS, FedEx, USPS

Consider the possibility that the central goal of primary schools should NOT be delivering academics. 

What if academics should be properly regarded as an optional add-on, a luxury, a frill? 

What if the true core business of primary schools is governance? 

This would mean that the proper central goal of primary schools is facilitating the development of effective self-governance, which is the necessary prerequisite to truly deep and meaningful academic achievement. 

It is time to manage primary schools with a different set of data to guide management decisions. 

Effective education reform has to include data reform.

The most important practical elements that we will bring together are a set of socially innovative schooling practices that date back over 100 years and a new data model that started its development in the 1970’s. 

Combining these existing practical elements in a new way will help schools maximize student engagement by using a school climate data model to more precisely manage school operations. 

This unique combination of proven practical solutions will demonstrate that educating children can be done with both more equity and more efficiency than it is today. 

That means that we must quantify a heretofore ineffable quality of schools and classrooms: the experiences of the students and teachers within them. 

The research into quantifying the qualities of experience is a growing field within psychology and has reached its highest expression in the form of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) founded by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan.

The experiential school climate data will reflect patterns of need support, need satisfaction, motivation, and engagement. 

There are already numerous school climate measures in use but only one is based on SDT. 

And all the ones that I have found so far are used only once or twice per year which is not very useful for day-to-day management. 

Due to that lack of practical application for management I created what I call the Attitutor Formative Climate Assessment Tool. 

It is a low-cost, minimal technology, DIY solution for teachers to get the information they need to better manage the climate in their classrooms. 

The first set of measures is focused on need satisfaction and other sets will become available over time. 

Since there are already decades of research into SDT and over 100 years of actual practice in socially innovative schools, the first challenge is to get those established practitioners to plug themselves into that SDT data model. 

Those practitioners have the intuitive sense that, compared to the governance practices in mainstream schooling, their governance practices create superior school climates. 

More objectively validating those intuitions will be instrumental in growing the impact that their school models can have on larger school systems. 

To give you a sense of how this relates to the business examples: 

What would have happened if Steve Jobs had invented the iPhone but didn’t market it effectively? 

Our world would look a lot different than it does today. 

An even better example is the McDonald’s brothers who were pioneering innovators in the fast-food restaurant business. 

But from 1940 to 1954 they only had one restaurant. 

They were a successful local business, but their innovations were marginal to the industry. 

It was only after Ray Kroc came along that McDonalds became the global empire we know today. 

He reframed their business and successfully marketed the franchise opportunity. 

The school “innovations” we need in education are currently at the margins of the industry like McDonald’s was before Kroc came along. 

They already exist and are well-established in very small niches. 

The schools label themselves with terms like Democratic, Holistic, Deeper Learning, Waldorf, Montessori, Reggio Emilio, and more. 

In the USA they are overwhelmingly private and charter schools. 

The niches they occupy are not coherently organized nor do the folks in those marginalized niches necessarily recognize each other as kindred spirits. 

This means they are not currently organized in a way that could be disruptive to the education industry, as their history to date amply demonstrates. 

These niches can be the source of a massive positive disruption to education, IF they have the right conditions to be scaled up. 

A Historical Analogy for Education Reform

Creating a market for SDT-based school climate data will act as a leverage point for transforming traditional schools because SDT contains the equivalent of a causal model for education (even though the SDT community itself does not make this claim). 

SDT is the educational equivalent of germ theory in medicine. 

Just in case you are not familiar with the story: 

According to medical historian David Wootton and others, germ theory enabled a positive disruption in medicine between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries. 

For example, in the 19th century one scholar said that the risk of dying in a hospital was similar to the risk of dying on the battlefield in the Napoleonic wars. 

The infection rate of patients in the best hospitals in the world were on the order of 50-80% with a death rate over 50%. 

To be clear, imagine we have a hospital with 1000 patients. 

At least 500 patients will become infected and then at least 250 of those infected will die. 

Today, germ theory is universally regarded as a core principal of medical hygiene, resulting in under 7%  infections and under 6% deaths from those infections. 

That is: less than 70 of those 1000 patients become infected and less than five die. 

Germ theory makes the difference between 5 people dying or 250. 

The adoption of germ theory didn’t stop infection and death, but it helped us get an order of magnitude better handle on preventing them. 

Once educators rely on Self-Determination Theory as a guide to educational hygiene, in the same way that germ theory guides medical hygiene, then the equity and efficiency of our schools will skyrocket in a similar way. 

Once the SDT-informed measures are more readily available and the importance of that data is clearly illustrated through appropriate public storytelling, then the conversation about education will incorporate those school climate data stories into the public dialogue. 

The social innovations that those schools have pioneered will become more valuable when there is data to show that they work to establish the best possible foundation for the academic achievements that schools are supposed to facilitate. 

Creating a market for SDT-informed measures of school climate is a strategic goal that will ultimately enable us, Deeper Learning Advocates, to catalyze our vision of a world in which every student has a realistic expectation that they will be taught by passionate teachers in joyful schools. 

In order to create policy support for this social innovation approach I have created the Deeper Learning Resolution. 

If you agree that socially innovative schools should be supported to become the positively disruptive influence that transforms our global school systems you can take at least one small action in support right now. 

Here’s what I suggest: 

First, endorse the Deeper Learning Resolution online at DLAdvocates.org

Second, donate to Deeper Learning Advocates to help us do the work. 

Donors who make monthly donations will get a copy of our education reform strategy guide and are invited to participate in exclusive professional development opportunities. 

Third, share this with your friends, family, and neighbors. 

Fourth, start a campaign to get your school, or any organization that values deep learning, to officially adopt the Deeper Learning Resolution. 

We, at Deeper Learning Advocates, will be glad to assist you in any way we can.

Thanks for watching.

This article was printed from HolisticEquity.com

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