February 7, 2013 | Posted At: 11:06 AM | Author: Alexander Russo | Category: (Who Cares What) Research Says , Foundation / Advocacy Follies , School Life Pop Culture , Teachers, Teaching, Unions , The Business Of Education , Think Tank Mafia
Reformers: Make Bold Mistakes, Admit Them, Move On
The best thing I read about the Netflix series House of Cards over the past few days was actually a long feature in GQ about Netflix founder Reed Hastings, who is not only deeply interested in education reform (as well as quite critical of its accomplishments so far) but also a great model of someone who's not afraid to make mistakes, admit them, and move on.
For Netflix, the most recent (and public) example of this kind of process was Hasting's incredibly unwise decision to divide the DVD and streaming video parts of the Netflix operation, which everyone hated and was quickly undone. Sure, the fiasco took some of the gild off the Netflix lily, but the public approach to its mistake allowed Netflix to recover before too much damage was done and -- this is key -- retain the majority of its credibility.
This kind of speedy response to mistakes is something that we see all too rarely in education reform these days, with the possible exceptions of KIPP (on college graduation rates) and the Gates Foundation (on small schools and EDIN08, for example). Most of the time we have the Harlem Children's Zones and TFAs and and Rocketships, which are all presented as having been near perfect from the start, needing only a few small adjustments or re-launches.
Then -- only after months of questions and defensiveness -- when it comes out that the model has been changed quite substantially, or that some of the initial claims were overblown, skepticism and suspicion sets in even among those inclined to believe. Claims of success and linear progress may work for funders don't work as well for everyone else, and increasingly reform programs are operating in a world in which the public is watching closely. Denying mistakes, and spending months hiding or defending them, doesn't seem like a winning strategy in the long run.