Our education system was built for an industrial society that needed to prepare diverse students for standardized jobs in a factory-based economy. To accomplish this, education leaders adopted what was a relatively new concept—the “average person”—and made it the foundation for industrial education. Since most students were believed to be close to average, it was assumed teaching and testing on average was the best way to build a system to meet the needs of the time. And it did what it was designed to do: produce standardized workers for an industrial economy.
So why doesn’t it work today? First, the average student at the heart of industrial education is a myth. You simply cannot use averages to understand individuals, and if you design an education system on average it guarantees a poor fit for most students. Second, our society has changed: our people are more diverse, our challenges are more complex, and our economy needs more, and more kinds of, talent than ever before. In other words, society has changed; education has not. As a result, we expect our current education system to do something that it was never designed to do—understand and nurture individuals. No wonder we have a problem.
If the system is the problem, the solution is obvious: we have to transform the system, using new principles, to address the problems of our time. If our goal is to reach all students instead of some; if our goal is to help each student realize their potential, then we must move beyond average and make personalized learning the rule, not the exception, in education. We believe that there are three things required to catalyze this kind of transformative change: new principles for understanding individuals, a change in public mindset, and visible solutions across leverage points in the education system.
The principles of individuality offer a foundation for personalized learning, but alone they are not enough to transform education. Historically, efforts to change social systems (including efforts in education) have been held back by two things: a failure to create public understanding, and a lack of visible solutions that showcase the power of the idea and remove obstacles for stakeholder action. Therefore, while the Beyond Average Initiative is grounded in insights from the new science, our activities and work products are focused on public understanding and visible solutions that, together, will drive adoption of personalized learning in our education system.
Public understanding. An important leverage point for transforming our education system is changing the mindset that gave rise to the system in the first place. Working with media and educational partners, Beyond Average will develop language, concepts, and media products needed to create public understanding around the failure of average, the value of individuality, and the potential of personalized learning to transform education. Representative work includes such things as a book publicity, speaking engagements, developing sharable media assets and a social media campaign. For information read The End of Average and see our media page.
Visible solutions. In addition to scientific principles and public understanding, a third component for systems change is enabling visible solutions. We believe we will have the biggest impact by working with aligned platform organizations across leverage points in the educational system. Representative lines of work include personalized learning network, teacher mindset, implementation, professional institute, youth agency and leadership, student mentoring, and addressing the links between health, adversity and education. Our partners include organizations such as Education Reimagined, Teach for America, LEAP innovations, and Digital Promise, among others.
We believe it is entirely within our power as a society to build an education system that understands individual learners—one that meets each child where they are and gives them what they need to realize their full potential. We also believe that the system can (and must) be developed in an equitable, cost-effective, and scalable manner. The goal of the Beyond Average Initiative is to make this vision a reality.