How Can Education Get Beyond Zero-Sum Schooling?
Nov 2022

How Can Education Get Beyond Zero-Sum Schooling?

By Rick Hess

Education thinker Michael Horn shares how adopting mastery-based learning and co-teaching, among other measures, may help

Rick: In your book, you mention “zero-sum schooling.” Can you say a bit about what you think might be a solution to this problem?

Michael: Our current zero-sum schooling system, in which for every winner there essentially has to be a loser, doesn’t work. To move beyond this, we’ll need to adopt things like mastery-based learning and co-teaching so students and teachers have a more robust web of support behind them—ceasing the practice of teachers grading their own students and implementing a more flexible and supportive system that helps parents make progress as well. This last item is important because parents send their children to schools for different reasons, and as we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic, more parents are asserting their right to choose their child’s school. I left my research feeling like this all means we need to see schools make far more aggressive use of things like schools within schools, microschools, and learning pods to create a set of more robust choices for students and parents. Without that, schools will be left trying to be all things to all people. That thinking won’t carry the day. Any change we make is going to have to work for every single student, not just some. I left the writing of the book believing we can craft a positive-sum system in which the pie gets larger for everyone.


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