School Expectations Too Low? Bloom 2 Sigma Results

In 1984, psychologist Benjamin Bloom reported the surprising results of replacing traditional forms of education by 1:1 or 1:few tutoring: 50% of tutored students did as well or better than the top 2% of those taught by traditional methods; 90% of tutored students did as well or better than the top 20% of those taught in the usual manner.

2 sigma paper

Why haven’t schools been revolutionized in the three decades since? Why haven’t test results climbed to the (previous) 80th percentile level and above, given that real per-pupil spending in America has increased about 50% during the last three decades?

It may seem impossible to up-staff the schools – but is that the only solution? What happened in one-room schools? What happens in today’s home-school environment? In both cases, the instructor cannot simply be a “sage on the stage,” there cannot be a single “lesson plan,” because the student’s abilities differ too greatly. What would be a viable approach?

A mix of 1:1 personal attention, a few minutes at a time, and much independent work by the students. In the business world, this would be called “management by exception.” Autonomous students should do most of the driving; routine learning should take care of itself. “Pick a book, ask if you have any questions, and I’ll check back soon.”

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