Every year, thousands of people across the country start careers in education with a similar purpose: to do good. But it’s easier said than done. Whether you’re writing policy for the entire country or trying to manage a classroom of 20, educational decisions often involve difficult trade-offs. What’s good for Aiden might not be good Emma; the funding fix for rural schools might disadvantage schools in cities.
What’s an education decision-maker — who just wants to do the right thing — to do?
A team of social scientists and philosophers — Harry Brighouse, a philosopher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Helen Ladd, a social scientist at Duke University; Susanna Loeb, an economist at Stanford University; and Adam Swift, a political theorist at University College London — came togther to probe these hard choices. Combining disciplinary strengths, they created a framework for making education decisions that are both good and sound.
In Educational Goods: Values, Evidence and Decision-Making, they lay out the values they find most relevant for education decision-makers. They also offer specific steps — outlined here — that educators can follow to align choices with values and data.
1. Identify the main values at play for you. Take stock of where you feel that things should be better — “a sense of where action is particularly needed,” write the authors. They identify several values that educators and education decision-makers often try to balance, including:
- educational goods — the capacities that education is supposed to help students develop, so that they can succeed later in life and contribute to society (e.g. personal autonomy, the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the economy, cultural appreciation)
- childhood goods — the things that are valuable about childhood, but not necessarily related directly to education (e.g. childhood fun and excitement, freedom, other elements of a happy childhood)
- distributive values — the values that we hope to achieve when distributing resources (e.g. equality, fairness, helping the most disadvantaged)
These are general values that may be at play when it comes to making decisions; every problem is different — and calls for weighting values differently. Thinking about what values are at play forces you, as a decision-maker, to think critically about the problem you are trying to solve.
2. Identify the key decisions related to those values. What decisions could you make to achieve the values you articulated in Step 1? Think beyond the typical.