What Educational Reform Attempts Could Learn from Software Backward Compatibility

In technology, backward compatibility is a common issue.  Some software companies like Microsoft have tried to keep most of what they created being backward compatible, so that files created in older versions will still work on newer versions.  Even if this causes contortions to arise to be able to do new features, and makes the software less “elegant” and simple.

But, software that isn’t sufficiently backward compatible can have some big problems with getting people to adopt it.  For example, the Python programming language is still having troubles getting programmers to switch from version 2.x to 3.x.  Even though there are relatively few changes between the two, they are profound enough to make it very difficult in switching.  This same problem faces attempts at education reform.

When I look at Common Core math standards, and see all the backlash it has had; part of this has been due to an issue with backward compatibility.  Parents are used to doing math in one way, and Common Core has often required doing math in another way (for example, focusing on using the number line to understand fractions, instead of traditional means that they were taught when they were kids).   It is this lack of systems thinking that still plagues much of education, and it is one of the reasons why systems thinking needs to be in our education.

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