What does education policy have in common with Van Halen? No, it's not the band's 1984 hit "Hot for Teacher." It is something far less sexy: complexity. As we learned from Atul Gawande's book "The Checklist Manifesto," on tours the band would require that a bowl of M&Ms be provided in its dressing rooms -- with all of the brown ones removed. As much as that sounds like predictable rock-diva behavior, it actually was a clever test: The band needed a way to know that every venue manager was reading the requirements for its very complex and potentially dangerous concert setups.
Gawande has a knack for taking lessons from health care and business (not to mention '80s hair bands) and distilling them into usable guidance. We now have a way to apply his advice to the challenging policy area of education as well: a State Education Policy Checklist.
If you've been active in education policy lately, you've likely heard something like this: "It was a good policy, but the implementation just didn't go well." While that may be true in some cases, frequently it was the policy that wasn't well thought out. Education policy can advance student learning, but as education becomes much more politicized and specialized, policymakers may benefit from taking a step back and thinking about the root causes of the problems and the theory of change behind every policy solution. Hence, the Education Commission of the States' and the Aspen Institute led the development of this new checklist.