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A Framework: Scaling High Quality in Education Is Doable

I'm interested in reaching the greatest number of students possible with the best service possible. Best Buy and McDonald's can do it, why can't education? Scaling high-quality solutions has been and remains one of my greatest passions in doing education work especially in struggling schools.

The reality is, however, that "mass producing" educated human beings is very different from mass producing burgers on a bun. When dealing with kids, you have to constantly reassess the recipe to ensure it works for that particular student in that particular school in that particular community. Nevertheless, there is something to be gleaned from corporate structures that manage to distribute quality on a large scale. We must be careful not to let ourselves off of the hook too easily with the argument of uniqueness.

When the Rocket Learning team began the work of developing curriculum and delivering instruction, it was always with the intention of helping thousands upon thousands of students. We had a challenge though. We came from the pedagogical philosophy of project-based learning, constructivism and students as co-creators of knowledge. This school of thought traditionally did not jive well with scale. We were told this type of curriculum could not be built. Over the next 8 years we developed 8 volumes of theme-based, project-based curriculum and have delivered it to over 200,000 students.

I see a real opportunity for schools to make dramatic gains at scale through well-implemented education technology but it will require educators to think and operate differently than we have in the past. Here are seven key steps I see as essential to successful and sustainable implementation:

  1. Establishing a Common Vision: Where are we headed and why are we going there? Make vision creation collaborative from the beginning if possible. The more you are able to achieve early buy-in the more capital you will have to weather the inevitable stumbling blocks down the road.

  2. Establishing clear goals and milestones: What does success look like at every level? All stakeholders must have a clear picture of success at large and for their specific task. This will allow you to hold your people accountable.

  3. Aligning incentives across stakeholders: How will we ensure buy-in? It is not enough to rely on people just doing things because it is the right thing to do. Incentives must be aligned to the goals. Stakeholders should know what is in it for them.

  4. Defining roles and responsibilities: Do people know what deliverables they own? Roles and responsibilities must be clear. When roles are not explicit, people waste time, energy, money, and good ideas.

  5. Developing clear and purposeful protocols and procedures: How will we function? We need clear and simple structures for how we do things and what tools we use to get things done.

  6. Implementing a management infrastructure: How will we track and ensure progress? Management infrastructure is a lot less scary than it sounds. It is simply the structures that will allow for goal-keeping including reporting, meeting, communication and addressing under-performance. This requires real commitment and discipline.

  7. Embedding a feedback loop for iteration and continuous improvement: How will we adjust, correct and improve? Know that how you start is probably not going to be how you finish. There is a tendency to believe that changing course or correcting course midstream means that something did not work. Iteration should be built into the process from the very beginning and embraced with the mind toward continuous improvement.

I am firmly convinced that scaling quality in education is possible. Not only is it possible, it is absolutely necessary. There are hundreds of possible points of breakdown before instruction reaches the student. With technology the possible points of breakdown only increase. As implementers we must be even more diligent to ensure that we have built systems like the ones described above to ensure that each student receives what they need and deserve.

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