Schools Work

Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success isn’t a book about education. But he comes to a distinctly profound conclusion about education in chapter nine, “Marita’s Bargain.”

“An enormous amount of time is spent talking about reducing class size, rewriting curricula, buying every student a shiny new laptop, and increasing school funding—all of which assumes that there is something fundamentally wrong with the job schools are doing. But look back at the second table, which shows what happens between September and June. Schools work. The only problem with school, for the kids who aren’t achieving, is that there isn’t enough of it.”

Did you catch that? Schools work! And let me put it a different way: Teachers work. Teachers are doing their job. Successfully. So when we try to add this initiative or that device or a “grading floor” or any other well-meaning but very flawed policy, or when we demand that teachers participate in largely irrelevant professional development to fix the schools or the teachers, we’re trying to fix the wrong things. With very few exceptions, we don’t need to fix the teachers because the teachers aren’t broken! Let me say that again:

We don’t need to fix the teachers because the teachers aren’t broken!

(As an aside, Gladwell goes on to provide the KIPP Schools model as one possible solution to the achievement gap. The KIPP model involves longer school days and shorter summer breaks and is, by most accounts, hugely successful.)

Gladwell, M. (2011). Outliers: The Story of Success [Kindle] (Reprint ed.). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Adfo Books.

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