Having our Cake and Eating It Too

By: David Cook

“You can not have your cake and eat it too.”

In addition to being one of the most confusing design languages ​​in the English language, it has also been around longer than most. This phrase from the 16th century continues to be one of the most commonly used ways of saying, “you can not have two incompatible things.” You have to choose between two things that cannot exist at the same time.

You may be wondering what “having your cake and eating it too” has to do with creating student-centered, equality-focused learning environments for young people.

It is easy. There is simply not enough evidence that you can have a learning-centered education system (with your cake) while maintaining the current system that has not changed significantly since its inception in 1894. A current system that, although extremely effective in its purpose, in itself is unfair because it measures all students in the same way as if they were widgets (eat it too).

To have your cake

There is general agreement among teachers, civil rights advocates and child protection experts that the US education system is neither fair nor meets the needs of all students. What is needed is a system that prepares each student for success according to their unique needs. Only then will we have real equity. That’s when we know we have a genuine “learner-centered” system.

The main elements of a student-centered system are centered on the individual student, not the machine of the system.

David Cook

Education revised is an organization that strengthens educators and stakeholders in this movement. At Education Reimagined, the premise of a student-centered system is fundamental.

We (Education Reimagined) stand for student-centered education because it offers the opportunity for real liberation and justice in education. At its core, student-centered education honors and values ​​every child’s humanity and dignity – and sees them as unique, curious, wonderful and capable. It does “It enables every young person to discover and present their unique talents and passions in a way that contributes to their community and community. And it gives every teacher, family and community the opportunity to make the difference they are committed to making for young people.” (From the Education Reimagined website).

This desire for a truly student-centered system is our “cake”.

The main elements of a student-centered system are centered on the individual student, not the machine of the system:


Student-centered systems look like this

Diversity, justice and inclusion

Practices for diversity, equality and inclusion achieve success by focusing on the individual student versus a population group, and realizing that all students are unique. Identified needs of each student are supported due to the student’s unique character compared to being categorized as part of a particular group.

Rigors, relevance and relationships

It is known that rigor and relevance are not achieved by increasing the difficulty of student work. Rigors and relevance are established when each teacher identifies the unique combination of talents / strengths, interests and other crucial needs of each student. A strong relationship between teachers and learning is crucial for success.


Assessments serve teaching, not the other way around.


Liability goes from a compliance-based system to a system for best benefits. The system is responsible for how it meets the individual’s learning needs.

In these systems, teachers are more deeply involved in teaching because students are more deeply engaged and focused. Teachers have increased flexibility to ensure that their students master knowledge, skills and dispositions.

Eat it too

It may surprise you to know that the second piece of cake – our current system in this context – is very effective in its intended purpose. In fact, it is probably one of the most efficient and effective systems ever. It does exactly what it was designed to do, which was:

  • Teach all students as if they were the same;
  • Judges them all as if they were the same; and
  • Make decisions about future teaching based on these purposeful instructional and assessment methods.

In addition to doing a good job of meeting its goals, it has been the norm in the United States since the Committee of Ten was created in 1894. It is not a typo. You read that right. Our system has been the accepted norm for 128 years.

What more can you name in our world today that looks the same as it did 128 years ago?

Yes, I could not think of anything good either.

If we use a diagram similar to the one above, you can see how the current system is very effective in achieving its goals.


The current system looks like this

Diversity, justice and inclusion

Diversity, justice and inclusion are achieved by administering state-wide summative assessments followed by the establishment of population-based “improvement programs”. The goal is to reduce the “gap” between the total points for groups versus other groups. Because meaningful value is not placed on individual students, it effectively does its job of measuring how specific labeled groups of students perform on a single assessment that suits everyone.

Rigors, relevance and relationships

Rigors and relevance are established by either increasing the degree of difficulty or the quantity of work for the group of students seen as in the gap. Millions of dollars are spent every year despite the lack of evidence that it works. Attempts to develop relationships sometimes occur after students have been categorized based on their assessment performance.


All teaching serves the assessment. Teach the test.


All liability is compliance-based, focused on achieving a score to ensure compliance with federal and state law.

As you can see from the diagram, it is assumed that all students are equal and that designed teaching and curriculum must be delivered in a way. The assessment is performed in a way that evaluates widgets on a factory assembly line. Unfortunately, the sorting of students is based on their assessment performance, rather than what they have learned, every day in this country. This system does not have a desire to KNOW every student.

Efforts have been made in the past to change the system. In 1918, the National Education Association commissioned a study and replaced the recommendations of the committee of ten with the “seven principles of high school education.” These seven principles were about educating the whole child versus academic pursuits alone. Unfortunately, things did not change. Our system continues to follow the recommendations of the Committee with ten above the seven principles.

Summary: There is nothing “broken” with the current system.

For decades, teachers, administrators, families, communities and students have fought hard to become better in a system that was not meant to be fair or student-centered.

Therein lies the reason for their continued frustration. Trying to fix a system that is not broken.

That’s part of the reason why so many people get caught eating this cake. Because it is so effective, it has the effect that it improves SOME results for SOME students.

It is simply the wrong system.

It’s time to dump her and move on

This is how it is. The idiom is right. You CANNOT have your cake and eat it too. You have to choose between a genuine and substantially fair, student-centered system that puts its efforts and money where the mouth is OR a system designed to create widgets, filled with injustices due to its preference to measure all students equally while the lips’ confession for Recognizing each student is unique.

We have been trying for far too long to serve two ideals. It’s time to choose the cake that suits everyone based on their unique and individual talents, needs and strengths.

Let’s start baking.

David Cook is Head of Innovative Learning at the Kentucky Department of Education.

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