Grassroots Innovation: Countering the Implosion of Public Education


“We often mistake symptoms for causes.  This has been especially true in the realm of education policy: underperforming schools underperform because of insufficient accountability, the prevailing argument has gone.  And we’ve only made things worse by tightening the screws .  .  . With the focus on test results pushed by state officials and for-profit school management advocates in the 1990s and reinforced thereafter by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002 and Race to the Top (RTTT) in 2009, our misguided efforts have intensified.” P. 302 Samuel E. Abrams Education and the Commercial Mindset  2016

“Public education policy these days is trapped in behaviorist thinking about rewards and punishments.” –Jan Resseser, November 1, 2016

Public education is caught in a vise that allows for almost no meaningful innovation. The problems facing public education can’t be solved by mandated “reforms” for increased accountability, doubling down on an inputs/outputs model that has never fit the system of public education, or letting for-profit entities with their top-heavy executive salaries and management fees take over failing and cash-strapped public schools. Where do the best ideas for improving public education come from?

What many policymakers have been unable to recognize is that education is a complex adaptive system (CAS). Complex adaptive systems are extraordinarily resistant to bureaucratic mandates and top-down control. Like ecosystems, they respond to external pressures in unpredictable or even undesirable ways. But unlike purely biological complex adaptive systems such human systems have the element of intelligence that can attend to small changes that make large impacts. Such small changes at the most fundamental levels of the system can unleash processes that result in largescale system improvements.

Leave a Reply