Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

The Hard-Hitting Pondiscio on Edutopia

By Rick Hess — May 14, 2010 1 min read

On Tuesday, the Education Next website released Robert Pondiscio’s new piece on Edutopia (full disclosure: I’m an executive editor of Ed Next). In “Edutopian Vision,” he takes clear aim at George Lucas’s educational foundation, Edutopia. Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher who writes about education at the Core Knowledge blog, skewers their six “core concepts” and slams Edutopia for promulgating a particularly problematic version of 21st century skills.

As Edutopia asserts, it has six core concepts based on evidence of “what works,” but Pondiscio takes a look and finds “little proof” to back Edutopia’s claims. What are the six core concepts? They’ll not surprise anyone familiar with constructivist learning: project-based learning, technology integration, social and emotional learning, integrated studies, teacher development, and comprehensive assessment.

Particular revealing, and more than a little disconcerting, is the sense that Edutopia’s staff may think they’re walking on virgin ground. Pondiscio explains, “One senior Edutopia executive was genuinely surprised to learn that project-based learning is neither a new or revolutionary concept in education.” This is worrisome because it’s one thing to recognize that these ideas have been around, haven’t delivered as promised, and to then proceed accordingly. It’s another thing to imagine these notions are brand new insights and that they’re bound to work.

Edutopia’s doing some neat stuff. And I’m all in favor of anyone who’s pushing forward on thinking about how to better use technology. But there’s a difference between creative minds at work and claiming to have discovered “what works"--especially when the evidence one has assembled is less than compelling. Ultimately, I agree heartily with a point Pondiscio made in discussing his piece on the Ed Next blog: “If there’s anything in education that raises my eyebrows (and occasionally my ire) it’s the True and Only Solution.” Well said, chief.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.