Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein

Albert was more than likely not referring to education when he uttered that famous quote but how appropriate for those of us who toil in education. I can think of nothing more frustrating as an administrator and/or teacher when we would identify what I call an age old problem in education…what do to with kids who are not progressing?   There are many variations of this same problem.  Students who are not passing classes, not doing homework, not passing the State mandated test, not ready to move to the next concept, not reading, etc….

If you sit a group of educators down to tackle this age old problem you get the age old solution in about 10 minutes.  Educators will hatch this plan….I GUARANTEE IT….and it goes like this — if we separate those who need help we can focus our efforts and catch them up!  And there are variations of this solution as well…if we place all the kids who are struggling into the same classroom, get them after or before school tutoring, or take them out of lunch and work with them one on one…etc….

Don’t get me wrong….the effort is genuine and we want to truly do good….but…..the one thing we don’t do as educators is this….we never revisit the solution to see if its working and then we wonder why kids don’t make progress.


I cannot count the number of times in my 23 year career we have employed one of these solutions and failed.  As I look back on why we failed it is painfully simple.  We never bothered to truly attack the reasons kids were struggling and to measure if our interventions were working or worked.

Imagine if your doctor did this with those who have high blood pressure….just identified who has the problem, prescribed the same drug and simply never bothered to see if the prescription solved the problem.  Never discussed diet or exercise.  Never bothered to follow-up?  Outrageous right….

Yet that is what we too often do in education.  We identify who has the issue and then prescribe one solution and never follow-up until maybe the following year when the same students are still struggling and have fallen even further behind.

This is endemic at all levels in education.  We fail to be systemic.  We fail to monitor. We fail diagnose the problem.  We fail to look at what we are doing to cause this to occur.    The focus is exclusively on the student and we rarely look at the teacher or the school or the system itself to see if there are reasons or factors contributing to the lack of progress by students.


Before you totally indict teachers or administrators much of the reason for this failure is a lack of time not a lack of knowledge.  Teachers and administrators want to be systemic, want to monitor, and want to see students more individually — but how can that happen in the current structure.

Time is what we educators lack the most — not the knowledge or ability.

My Doctor likely sees 75 patients a week and has a full complement of staff that files paperwork, does follow-up, makes phone calls and referrals, scheduling, some counseling, gathers data, etc….as a former high school teacher I saw 175 students a day and throughout the course of a school year maybe upwards to 300 students.  We see them daily in large groups without the support of additional staff to help us monitor, gather data, follow-up, help with paperwork, etc….

Without that needed TIME we do exactly the same thing over and over again because its efficient and we continue to expect different results.  We keep discussing reform in education — but until we work on how we are organized, surround teachers and administrators with adequate staff, have systems in place to capture data needed to make good decisions about students progress we will have what Albert Einstein defined as INSANITY rampant in school districts and classrooms everywhere!


About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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