Scott McLeod over at Dangerously Irrelevant posted a video of a CNN story about the Ron Clark Academy and asked whether something like this was scalable?

Watch the video as you ponder this question.

This is a question often asked of me, when I am conducting creativity workshops or talking about passionate teaching. In fact I was asked this just a couple of days ago when I was at the Dexter Schools talking about 21st Century Learning and Creativity. This issues comes up most when I am in India where the magnitude of the problems is just so large that scalability is always an issue.

My response to this typically has been quite straightforward. I say that I can’t think that big. I have a congenital defect that renders me incapable of thinking of projects on a large scale. I cannot comprehend states and nations. I can barely comprehend a district. What I am most comfortable with is one classroom. What this does is color my way of thinking about innovation, pushing me towards the position that change can be effected one classroom at a time. When I teach my summer courses as a part of the MAET program, I usually have 25 students, a number I can comprehend. My goal is to touch these 25, to connect with them, and to raise within them a passion for using technology to teach subject matter. If I manage to touch even a fifth of them and they go back to their classes inspired to do something new and better, hey I have succeeded.

This is not to say that policies don’t matter that social change can’t happen. Just that I am personally incapable of thinking in grand generalities. I have a feeling that my skepticism regarding large scale efforts comes from my deep suspicion that visions and plans mutate in often detrimental ways when they move out of the local. So I stay in the local, and frankly that is good enough for me.

Now Scott may think that this is a cop-out and not necessarily a response to his question, but sadly that is the best I can give. The Ron Clark Academy works well where it does. Just training a bunch of teachers in the techniques used there and asking them to implement it in their classrooms will not necessarily translate into better student achievement. For instance, I am not sure that the Ron Clark approach would work in India, a country with very different cultural and historical expectations of what teaching and learning could/should be. So I choose to withhold judgment and work harder with the people I know I can influence.