Ten Thousand Hours – Measuring Education

I will not be a statistic, just let me be
No child left behind, that’s the American scheme
I make my living off of words
And do what I love for work
And got around 980 on my SATs
Take that system, what did you expect?
Generation of kids choosing love over a desk
Put those hours in and look at what you get
Nothing that you can hold, but everything that it is

  • Macklemore, Ten Thousand Hours

True confession time: I’m old. And, I listen to Macklemore.

There are a lot of deeply meaningful lyrics found in his 2012 debut album. The Heist (with Ryan Lewis), but the lines quoted above, from the first track on the album, have stuck with me for years. They’re clearly directed at anyone who runs the education system (which is most of us). While at the same time providing hope to millions of young people who may not fit perfectly with the system we’ve created.

Two thoughts strike me here.

First, I’m a data guy: I believe in quantifying and measuring wherever possible. I worry whether we’re measuring the right things, the right way, in education. Measuring the progress of human beings is incredibly difficult, and we should be continually discussing the purpose of formal education and how it can be fairly and effectively gauged.

Second, the line about a “generation of kids choosing love over a desk” really hits me. We know that only around a third of high school students feel engaged in school according to Gallup Research. Part of the problem – maybe a big part – is relevance. They know that a lot of what they’re being taught has nothing to do with the real world. It’s one of the reasons that a lot of young people gravitate to CTE, but much more work needs to be done, even including in CTE, to transform the educational process into something that truly connects and prepares students for their future lives.

And finally, a bonus thought. The core premise of the song is that there are no shortcuts. If you want to achieve great things, you have to put in the effort. The title references the 10,000-hour rule in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, which presents that level of time commitment as a precondition for greatness. You might not get it perfect the first time out – it takes time to develop your thinking and build your skills. As Macklemore said, “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint; the greats were great because they paint a lot.”

That’s something to consider for all of us who want to provide young people with a truly relevant and engaging educational experience. Education reform is extremely hard – we need to recognize what kind of a commitment it requires, akin to those 10,000 hours. That’s not meant as a deterrent in any way, just recognition of what it’s going to take to create meaningful change. We at NC3T look forward to helping all the reformers and pioneers trying to do this important work.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of the National Center for College and Career (NC3T) (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools. These strategies help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.