The Importance of Information

The ETS study on NCLB relayed important data on public opinion of the federal government’s role in K-12 education.  As Eduflack relayed in its previous post, those findings should (and need to) be used as the cornerstone for a national public engagement campaign on the positive impact of NCLB.

But the ETS data raises an interesting question — Why is ETS’ data so different than the NCLB polls conducted by organizations such as PDK or Scripps?  The latter two organizations offered crystal-clear data that showed public support for NCLB was rapidly dwindling.  How can ETS paint such a different picture?

In a word, the difference is information.  To ETS’ credit, it defined NCLB in its questions.  It allowed those being surveyed to frame their answers around key lead-in information.  It characterized ETS as closing achievement gaps, setting standards, providing teacher funding, and dealing with failing schools.  Armed with that information, NCLB scored a very favorable or favorable ranking.

In the PDK and Scripps surveys, they simply ask those on the other end of the phone to render a verdict on NCLB, based on what they knew before the phone rang.  And for most, what they know is limited to what the media (or a community curmudgeon) has told them.  That never-ending loop of criticisms against the law is bound to stick with many.  After all, conventional wisdom says if you hear something seven times, by the eighth time you’ll believe it.

This is a great lesson for any individual or organization looking to foster education improvement at virtually any level.  We all know why our reforms are important and why we know they are effective.  We know they work, and we know others need them.  But we if don’t extol those virtues, if we don’t detail the positives, and if we don’t define the benefits, we’re simply the best kept secret on the reform playground.

Change requires self promotion.  Not only do you have to improve the status quo, but you have to make sure everyone and anyone knows what you did, why you did it, how you did it, and how they can model it.  Only then are you starting to make a difference.   

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