It's the Only Gum My Mom Lets Me Chew

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For many years, there was a series of ads for Trident Sugarless Gum that always followed the same pattern. First there were statements about all the wonderful things about the gum, including, "4 out of 5 dentists..." This part was completely boring, perhaps deliberately so. But at the end, there would always be a very cute kid with a sheepish expression who'd say, "Besides, it's the only gum my mom lets me chew."

The ad was clearly directed to the parents, not the kids, and I think it was brilliant. What it was trying to do, I'd assume, is to play on parents' sense of responsibility. Every parent knows that sugared gum is bad for kids' teeth. The ad subtly said, "You care about your kids and their health. Take a stand to defend your child from the evils of Juicy Fruit."

Evidence-based reform in education needs to occupy a similar place in the culture of education. Someday, teachers need to expect each other to use proven programs, and to take it as a point of pride that they know about what works and put that knowledge to work in the classroom every day. Teachers care about their kids and their profession, and therefore they see the value of using programs known to work.

Government can play a role in establishing such a norm. For example, government agencies can provide preference points on competitive grants to schools that commit to using proven programs. They can establish criteria for levels of evidence required for a program to be considered proven, and disseminate information about those programs. They can support developers and researchers in creating, evaluating, and disseminating proven programs, as Investing in Innovation currently does. All of these strategies, and more, could help educators learn about and use proven programs to accomplish their goals, and this in turn could build a sense of professionalism, an optimism in the profession that solutions are readily available.

By putting a child's face and parents' love and care in front of the statistics, Trident made a place for sugarless gum in the marketplace. In the same way, proven programs have to become desirable to educators for all the right reasons -- not just the effect sizes, but kids who are successful and excited about learning.