Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Invisible Majority

In full transparency, I am unsure if I heard the term "invisible majority" at any point throughout my life, and it has been merely buried in my subconscious.  However, it is clear to me that the concept popped into my head recently as I observed and listened to educators and elected officials discuss an amazing program that clearly had inequitable outcomes for a school population.  In my opinion, the discussion passively addressed the inequitable impact on the majority of students, while intentionally highlighting the benefits of the program which disproportionately benefits the minority of the students.  As amazing as the program may be, as an educator with a social justice lens, all I could focus on was the significant disproportionate representation in the students who were able to access and benefit from the program -- the "invisible majority".  In fairness, the presenter briefly highlighted the disproportionate data and introduced a proposal  to expand the program in hopes of addressing the gap, but the presentation and questions that followed quickly shifted the conversation to the "program" and not the systemic root cause(s) that allowed for the disproportionate student representation.  I understand a discussion about the program was the easier conversation.  Nonetheless, it is my principled and professional stance that educators and elected officials have a fiduciary duty to prioritize the latter.

Although this was one presentation about one program, the concept of the "invisible majority" permeates through many systems, especially education.  I propose it is a widely understood concept and the real reason education struggles to achieve equitable outcomes that result in a quality education and experience for all students.  I am not pointing the finger or placing blame.  The reality is until we focus efforts on what is not working for the majority of students, instead of simply scaling up what is working for the minority of students, desired results will remain out of our grasp. Efforts have to move beyond courageous conversations to actions and accountability.  If I am honest, at this point, as an educational leader, I am exhausted by the number courageous conversations I either initiate or participate in daily.  Courageous conversation alone will not change the experiences of the invisible majority.  Conversations must be followed up with clear expectation, actions, and accountability.

Earlier this week, I suggested education adopt the business sector's concept and view students and parents as customers or clients.  If we viewed students and parents as customers or clients, we would focus our efforts on maintaining or attaining their business.  I am not naive to the fact that the issues that plague education are complicated and entrenched, and will not be remedied by one mental model shift.  That being said, there still remains the need for the shift.  Using the business model, maintaining or attaining the invisible majority as customers or clients requires intentionality. According to Forbes , the four key areas to focus on for increasing revenue are: strategy, structure, people and process.  It is important to have a clear sales strategy that aligns with your revenue goals.  The structure must support your strategic efforts. Making sure you have right people in the right roles is critical. Lastly, to ensure velocity and efficiency and to avoid wasting time and effort, killer processes have to be in place.  (Keenan, The Four Key Areas of Increasing Sales Revenue, (2014),

Clearly education's goal is not to increase revenue; but, instead, to improve educational outcomes and experiences for students.  For the purpose of this blog entry, the focus is the invisible majority.  How does education strategically identify areas of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the system that will directly impact educational outcomes and experiences for the invisible majority? Is there a structure in place that allows the right pieces, people, and processes to be in place to implement the strategies? These are not new questions to be posed by educators.  I have worked and continue to work with phenomenal educational leaders and educators who pose these questions and solutions daily in meetings, at lunch, and over adult beverages at happy hour.  What I would question, is the degree of intentionality of conversations, and how the conversations then move to intentional actions and accountability.  To assume a conversation about  "all students" would trigger intentional efforts that substantially impact the invisible majority is idealistic and unrealistic.  General and broad conversations about "all students" only perpetuate and widen the achievement and access gaps, not narrow them.  The right people in the right positions will lead conversations away from what is best for "all students" and begin to have critical, courageous conversations around the educational outcomes and experiences of specific groups of students.  The conversations should address inequities; adverse impacts of people, policies and practices; vertical and horizontal accountability, and intentionality. 

The invisible majority deserves educational leaders and educators that will hold critical, courageous conversations, with the goal of moving to actions and accountability.  There is no compromise. 

Educational Leader and Social Justice Advocate,

ShaKenya Edison