Quality is Dangerous?

As with any sector, there is a certain vocabulary that is frequently used in education. Words such as rubric, scaffolding, professional development and differentiation are commonplace in education parlance. But there is one word that may appear more frequently than all the rest, and I’d argue that it actually may be dangerous. That word is QUALITY.

Why would this mundane word be dangerous? Shouldn’t we all be striving to achieve quality in education?  There are quality reviews for schools, quality curricula, quality teachers, data quality campaigns and on and on.  You’d think with so many overt references to quality that the sector would have agreed on a common definition of quality, but that is certainly not the case. People have wildly different definitions of quality – from a growth measure on a standardized assessment to coverage of standards – yet that variance is masked by a word that seems rather harmless.

Quality is dangerous because it means everything to everyone, and thus is rendered meaningless. We cannot build a foundation of excellence on a meaningless word.

Rather than fight to define “quality” as you see it, I’d argue there is a path of less resistance: stop using the word entirely to describe your desired goals. Instead, use more precise, objective language to define the outcomes you seek. For instance, instead of saying “quality digital content,” why not say, “digital content that produces at least 1.2 grade levels of growth per year for less than $50 per student.” The transition might take a few extra words, but it will go a long way in avoiding confusion and clarifying expectations.

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