Dear Santa:

So much digital banter in the education space has focused on waiting for a Superman to fix struggling schools, but for my money, I’d rather appeal to you, since Christmas, after all, is only two days away. Do you perform miracles of the policy variety? If so, here are a few items from my list:

1. Provide cover for student-centric local leaders

Do your elves make force fields? Please deliver a deflective cover to every local leader who is willing to make decisions with the best interests of students in mind. I’m thinking of people like the now famous Michelle Rhee, who, as Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools, embarked on a brazen crusade for teacher effectiveness, including her decision to close 24 schools, fire 241 teachers, and put 737 school employees on notice. Make such leaders accountable for student results, not for popularity with teachers’ unions and other adult constituencies.

I’m also thinking of leaders who have a vision for disrupting the traditional school model with software-driven, individually customized, student-centric learning. Help local leaders find footholds that will position their initiatives as pure opportunities, rather than threats, to the contrarians who would preserve the failing system. Help the new student-paced, mastery-focused approaches have time to become robust and irrefutably compelling before naysayers in mainstream education even notice them.

I’m also thinking of the recent McKinsey report, Capturing the leadership premium, which confirms that strong leadership at the local level is imperative to drive improvement across schools, and yet many systems struggle to identify, train, and mentor new principals and district leaders. Help strong professional development systems advance across the sector with an obstinate focus on training leaders to run student-centric schools.

2. Create a reward system for smart savings

The productive deployment of technology has brought efficiency and cost savings to nearly every industry. But if anything, computers have only exacerbated budget problems in the K-12 sector, not reduced them. Over the last two decades, schools have spent over $60 billion equipping classrooms with computers (Disrupting Class, chapter 3), with little to show for it in terms of improved results. Protected from market forces, public schools have seen real spending per student double over the past three decades, without a proportionate improvement in student achievement. But America’s altered fiscal landscape means that the education sector must become more efficient.

The easiest solution is to create a market mechanism to incentivize resource efficiency. As a prime example, let schools that achieve student mastery at a cost that is lower than per-pupil funding invest some of the difference in education savings accounts for their students, who can spend the funds on college tuition, tutoring, SAT prep, and the like. Rick Hess writes brilliantly about this idea here. Education savings accounts would help align parents, students and school leaders around a shared commitment to being cost conscious.

3. Proselytize Digital Learning Now

The Digital Learning roadmap that the Digital Learning Council, under the direction of Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, recently released is the most concise, well conceived summary to date of actions lawmakers should take to facilitate high-quality digital learning. Can you please poof it into some sort of binding decree?

Thanks Santa,

Yours truly


  • Heather Staker
    Heather Staker

    Heather Staker is an adjunct fellow at the Christensen Institute, specializing in K–12 student-centered teaching and blended learning. She is the co-author of "Blended" and "The Blended Workbook." She is the founder and president of Ready to Blend, and has authored six BloomBoard micro-credentials for the “Foundations of Blended Learning” educator micro-endorsement.