How to Avoid the "One Size Fits All" Approach in Public Education
Experts Suggest a New Way to Look at Education Reform


Until now, best-known entrepreneurial school reform efforts have sought to fix problems schoolwide, overburdening educators and institutions by assuming that schools must find ways to serve every student's particular academic needs. As a result, schools have had trouble doing anything especially well, and have paid limited attention to identifying the real needs of students and families. In addition, this approach has stifled the ability of non-schoolhouse education providers to relieve some of the burdens placed on conventional schools.

Outside of providers who offer direct specific services to the wealthy, private organizations offering online tutoring, language instruction, and arts classes, for example, have to overcome enormous hurdles to serve public school students. In Customized Schooling (Harvard Education Press, 2011), editors Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and Bruno V. Manno, senior adviser, K–12 Education Reform Initiative at the Walton Family Foundation, lead a group of education experts to look at "how providers might use new tools to deliver or customize services that do not conform to conventional [school] policies or structures."

The authors discuss ways to allow students to benefit from these private tools, technologies, and talent, and to find ways around the long-standing policies and practices that lock reformers into a whole-school mindset. Hess and Manno stress the importance of paying more attention to the individual needs of consumers--in this case, parents, students, teachers, and entire communities. They survey the current landscape of customized entrepreneurial activity in education, look closely at particular customized innovations by schools and education entrepreneurs, and address persistent concerns that arise with customized reforms. Overall, the editors and contributors spur fresh thought about the scope and nature of promising education reforms, as well as raise new possibilities for entrepreneurial activity in today's schools.

"The volume is about how we use new tools, technologies, and talent to transform the quality of teaching and learning. School reform should not be just about giving families a choice between school A and school B," says coeditor Frederick M. Hess. "This is not a book about how to 'fix' entire schools. It’s about how to let smart people solve specific parts of the school reform puzzle.”

Harvard Business School's Clayton Christensen notes that "Customized Schooling dares the reader to look at what schooling could be like if we end our reliance on the one-stop-shop schoolhouse. Alongside a score of policy leaders, esteemed researchers, and on-the-ground practitioners, Hess and Manno lay out the case for individualizing education so that student, teacher, and district demands are heard and followed."

Contributors include Tamara Battaglino (Parthenon Group), Chester E. Finn Jr. (Thomas B. Fordham Institute), Jon Fullerton (Harvard University), Michael Gottfried (RAND Corporation), Curtis Johnson (Education|Evolving), Ted Kolderie (Education|Evolving), Douglas Lynch (University of Pennsylvania), JoEllen Lynch, Olivia Meeks (AEI), Eric Osberg (Hoover Institution), Julie Petersen (NewSchools Venture Fund), Burck Smith (Smarthinking), Kim Smith (Bellwether Education Partners), Thomas Stewart (Qwaku & Associates), Chris Whittle (EdisonLearning), Joe Williams (Democrats for Education Reform), and Patrick J. Wolf (University of Arkansas).

Frederick M. Hess and Bruno V. Manno are available for interviews and can be contacted through Jenna Schuette at [email protected] (202.862.5809).

To order the book, please visit

For additional media inquiries, or to book AEI's in-house ReadyCam TV studio and AEI's radio booth / ISDN lines, please contact Sara Huneke at [email protected] (202.862.4870).

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