Education News

Beyond Average: How Schools Can Shift Their Focus to Individual Students

Harvard University professor Todd Rose says that schools should learn from other sciences: that there’s no such thing as average.

Harvard professor and author Todd Rose recently talked about the idea of the end of averages in education at the Houston A+ Challenge speaker series.
Harvard professor and author Todd Rose recently talked about the idea of the end of averages in education at the Houston A+ Challenge speaker series.

In school, students often get graded on a bell curve. Most of them land in the middle with an average grade.

But Harvard University professor Todd Rose says that schools should learn from other sciences: that there’s no such thing as average. News 88.7 Education Reporter Laura Isensee talked with Rose about that and other education matters when he recently visited Texas as part of the Houston A+ Challenge speaker series.

Here are three highlights from the conversation:

  1. Why is there no such thing as average: “It sounds like bumper sticker slogan, right? But it’s a deep idea from science, that when you use group averages around anything, it almost always represents next to nobody. It tends to be an artifact. We’ve based our society around this idea that there’s an average person when in fact there’s not.
  2. What other fields have gotten away from averages: “Most of our history we’ve thought there was an average pathway for most cancers, right? And we made treatment based on that. Now that we get away from averages there and focus on individuality, we’ve realized there’s always more than one pathway for any given cancer. And it’s allowed us to increase treatment and survival rates beyond what we could have ever done before.”
  3. What does personalized learning mean to him: “I’m a professor at Harvard now. But I also fell out of high school with a 0.9 GPA and ended up on welfare and married with two kids, working minimum wage jobs for a few years before trying to turn my life around. That turning my life around included getting a GED and believing in the redeeming power of education to change lives and life outcomes. My ability to change who I was as a learner and therefore change my life’s trajectory fundamentally came down to knowing myself, for who I was as a learner. It didn’t matter on average what people said learning should be like. I found very quickly if I didn’t know who I was, as an individual, I couldn’t make choices that were good for me.”

 

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Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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