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Education’s Moonshot: Doubling Student Achievement

By Sonny Magana
Education’s Moonshot: Doubling  Student Achievement

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed that America would go to the moon. Such a wildly audacious statement was so far outside the boundaries of human experience that many considered it impossible. It was too bold. It was too quixotic. But it was also genius. President Kennedy said, “We will go to the moon; we will go to the moon, and do other things, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”
President Kennedy’s Moonshot speech galvanized our nation. It lifted us above our petty differences and invited us to place our focus on transcendent pursuits. It also inspired a new generation of Moonshot thinkers—scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians, artists, writers, and teachers who endeavored to attain new heights.
Eight years later, a mesmerized nation watched American Astronaut Neil Armstrong descend from NASA’s lunar module onto the moon’s dusty grey surface, making one giant leap for mankind, alone, as he seemed, in the cold, dark vacuum of space.
A wide-eyed eight-year-old with a penchant for getting into trouble, I sat glued in front of my family’s black-and-white television set as that historic scene unfolded. It filled me with an indescribable sense of wonder and awe. I had always wanted to be a scientist, but now I also wanted to be a fearless explorer.
In 1984, I became a public-school AP Biology teacher with a passion to both inspire my students and to contribute something of enduring value to the education profession. That was also the year I began researching the impact of educational technology on student achievement.
Brave New World
Now, nearly 20 years into the 21st century, it is beyond argument that we live in a world where agile adaptation to rapid change must be considered one of the new indicators of success in life and work. We have evolved from a world where “The Oregon Trail” was considered cutting-edge, to a VUCA world where Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity are the new norms. But have our educational methods kept pace with these new 21st-century indicators of success?
Over the past 35 years, I’ve published numerous research studies, scholarly articles, and books on the subject of disruptive innovation in education. All of my investigations have been focused on the singular purpose of helping students and teachers harness the potential of educational technologies to realize transcendent learning. By transcendent learning, I mean going well beyond the expectations and limitations that bind us to the “Tell and Practice” model of instruction. In that industrial-age model, teachers tell students what to memorize while students practice memorizing and retrieving that knowledge for formative and summative assessments.
The result of having students dutifully memorize old knowledge has been a dangerous status quo of minimum proficiency and mechanistic compliance to surface learning. Another more insidious consequence of the Tell and Practice model of instruction is a form of dependence: students depend upon their teachers to tell them what to learn, how to learn, and how well they are learning. This is the antithesis of building agility and adaptability for a VUCA world. Now, more than ever, we need an Educational Moonshot—a pedagogical breakthrough so extraordinary that student learning and achievement are exponentially boosted in such a way that assures our students are fully prepared for the VUCA future.
Research Matters
Education research matters. The reason it matters, particularly in the digital age, is that education systems are awash in evidence-free claims, promises, and outright fabrications. This begs the question: Have our investments in educational technologies resulted in sufficient returns on investment? The preponderance of research evidence shows us the answer is a resounding “no.” In his most recent meta-analysis, renowned education researcher John Hattie calculated that the average effect size educational technologies have on student achievement is a dismal .34, well below the average impact of .40 (Hattie, in Magana 2017). The evidence indicates that we have developed learning systems that are digitally rich but impact-poor.
However, there is cause for renewed optimism. In my recent book, Disruptive Classroom Technologies, I’ve synthesized four decades of research into a highly reliable pathway for doubling student academic achievement, which I call the “T3 Framework for Innovation.” The T3 Framework increments the impact of digital tools into three domains:
T1) Translational
T2) Transformational
T3) Transcendent
The strategies in the T3 Framework have an effect size of ES=1.6, which is equivalent to quadrupling student achievement. It is not only possible, but highly probable that implementing the precise sequence of T3 strategies with fidelity in our classrooms will lead to a doubling of student academic achievement. That, my friends, is an Educational Moonshot.
After a rigorous global peer-review process, the T3 Framework for Innovation was recently inducted into Oxford University’s Research Encyclopedia for Education. To have my findings published by what is arguably the pinnacle of education research is a high honor that is deeply humbling and gratifying. It is a testament to the gifts of knowledge I’ve gained from my students and from my teachers.
It is also a testament to the power of imagination. You see, the epidemic of low-impact technology use is a wicked problem that matters to me. I’ve discovered a solution to this wicked problem after failing better for 35 years, and it all began with imagining a world in which student achievement was doubled.
We will double student achievement; we will double student achievement and do other things, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. That’s what makes it great.
Sonny Magana is an award-winning teacher, best-selling author, and pioneering educational technology researcher.

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