The Keto Diet of Ed Reform

Why is it so difficult to find out if school reforms are working? Journalists tell us that big investments often don’t lead to big results. Why not? The real “dirty secret” of ed reform isn’t the difficulty involved. It is that reformers tend to fall into the Keto-diet trap. Instead of promoting things that work, they scramble for headline-grabbing new labels and gimmicks. Then they are forced to use skewed ways to measure their own success.

hechinger reform chart

What works? We need less flash and more uncomfortable conversations

Here’s what we know: Hechinger reported recently on the disappointing results of $1.5 billion+ in i3 funds from the Education Department. Only a few of the funded “innovations” actually led to measurable improvements in student test scores.

The researcher charged with measuring the success of this school reform investment explained,

That’s the dirty secret of all of education research. . . . It is really hard to change student achievement. We have rarely been able to do it. It’s harder than anybody thinks.

As she lamented,

We are desperate to find what works.

Except we’re not. Not really. We KNOW what works to improve schools and educational outcomes. Schools work better when they are connected to healthy communities. Schools work better when families and students have abundant resources, including flexible work schedules and access to community resources.

The problem is that those things are more difficult to talk about. As I’m arguing in my new book, it has always been easier to slap flashy “innovations” on schools for low-income kids than it has been to address the topics of inequality and poverty in the USA.

What does this have to do with Keto dieting? Just this: Like healthy eating, healthy schools are not really all that mysterious. They require investments of time and resources. They need involved teachers, families, students, neighbors, and administrators. They need to be connected to their communities and in touch with the dreams and backgrounds of their families and students.

keto diet

Let’s be real: No one buys books titled, “Good Food Is Good for You.”

It’s not a mysterious recipe, but it is a difficult one to pitch to grant programs. Instead, like the Keto diet, reformers are forced to create new names and new programs that highlight their “innovations.” Like the Keto diet, they are forced to focus—to an obviously unhealthy degree—on short-term, quantifiable outcomes.

What would be better? How about measuring education reforms by something other than student test scores? Why not survey families to see how happy they are in their schools? Why not hire trained researchers to gather qualitative data about a fuller range of improvements in students’ lives?

Like the authors of fad-diet books, too many grant funders are tied to flashy headlines and quick-but-fake improvements. What we need instead is a willingness to focus on the non-flashy things that we know will work.

Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. Why Do We Keep Falling for School Scams? | I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  2. I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s