I have discovered the phrase “proof points” recently. I had known of “proof for existence” in arguments about God. I had known about the history of math proofs. But “proof points” in marketing digital technologies to schools, well, that was new to me.
So I looked up “proof points” and found that they are a favored marketing tool.
“Proof points are one of the four elements of a classic brand positioning, and are important for making points of difference believable. They provide credibility and support for the Key Points of Difference.”
Or this “monster list” infographic that a blogger found citing dozens of “proof points” for marketeers to use :
“Proof points” are common when the subject turns to technologies in schools. Here is one example of the extent that selling new technologies have seized the school market–$nearly 700 billion for K-12 schooling. Proof points: Blended learning success in school districts, is a publication that summarizes 12 case studies of schools and districts in the U.S. “Each short profile,” the article says, “highlights key details in the district’s blended-learning strategy, the EdTech products used, and promising results in the form of test scores and graduation rates.”
Here are a few of the case studies the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovations, an organization devoted to spreading “blended learning,” published last year.
Spokane, Washington, has developed and implemented blended learning in numerous programs across the district with a goal of increasing graduation rates and college and career readiness. Since implementing blended learning, the district’s graduation rate has increased from 60% in 2007 to 83% in 2014.
Hamilton County Community Unit School District 10, McLeansboro, Illinois, began offering blended learning during the 2012–13 school year as a way to shift its instructional model from whole-group instruction to personalized learning. An evaluation based on NWEA MAP scores shows students in grades using blended learning outperforming students in grades not using blended learning.
Spring City Elementary Hybrid Learning School, Spring City, Pennsylvania, uses a three-station Station Rotation model of blended learning. It has seen improved test scores in math, reading, and science since implementing its blended-learning program.
A casual reading of these three (see the other nine to determine how typical these are) make clear that the introduction of some form of “blended learning” caused scores and high school graduation rates to improve. By combining them in the same sentence–“blended learning” and improved metrics–the clear intent is not merely suggestive but forcefully states that one led to the other. That kind of sliding from description to “proven” solution is common in the ads we see when Googling as ads appear in our peripheral vision. Or watch TV ads for miracle drugs. I assume that the metrics on improved test scores and graduation rates are accurate but, (and here is a huge “but” that should be capitalized) other factors can explain such improved outcomes than the onset of “blended learning.”
Not coming into play are key factors that have long influenced teacher and student outcomes. Consider the demography of students in families in the school and district. Or previous non-technological reforms of a decade or longer that altered existing curriculum, provided community services, and focused on building teacher expertise and skills. Or sustained leadership over a decade. Or altered pedagogies. And there are others yet all go unmentioned in the reductionist “proof points.”
What these “proof points” do, then, is reduce the complexity of schools as organizations where power, influence, relationships, and demography interact daily while avoiding the obvious point that tax-supported public schools are dissimilar to command-and-control operations in business.
From time to time, within the sales and marketing communities, warnings appear about such over-stated claims and shortcomings of “proof points.” From a “Marketing Boot Camp” blog
“It’s not enough to say you have studies to prove your claims. Elaborate on how the studies were uniquely conducted to shed light on the product’s proprietary formula so that it works more effectively. “
Or from a blogger
on marketing for the well-known Gartner group:
“If you’re bombarded as much as most marketers are with pushed content, then you’re probably skeptical of one more claim for the “next big thing”. Every marketing technology and service provider, every specialized association and publication, and every “independent” pundit has at one time or another proclaimed the “next big thing” you need to pay attention to – and of course invest in. Even when they present proof points, I take the claims with a grain (sometimes a heaping teaspoon) of salt.”
But these occasional challenges to “proof points” are drowned out by marketing practices that have become mainstream in educational products and services. Such shabby logic in using “proof points” befits a carnival barker, not thoughtful and careful marketeers. Yes, it is slippery thinking transferred from the world of sales to the huge school market especially when new technologies are touted to improve teaching and learning. Nearly 35 years after A Nation at Risk roused reformers to tie education to the economy, sales and marketing pitches have grown to become as common as laptops in schools.