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Harvard prof argues no student is average and we need to stop insisting otherwise
Most qualities we need to measure are "jagged," not one dimensional, and defy averages, neuroscientist argues. - photo by Eric Schulzke
No one is average, argues a Harvard educational neuroscientist.

Todd Rose, who teaches educational neuroscience at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recently co-founded Project Variability, a nonprofit that aims to attack averagism by highlighting "the science of the individual and its implications for education, the workforce, and society." Rose is also the author of a new book, "The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness."

In his book, Rose cites as a prime historical example of averageness the U.S. Air Force, which in the 1940s estimated the average size of a pilot and tried to build a seat to fit that average, only to find that there were no average pilots. So they built adjustable seats.

Rose's assault on averagism has huge implications for both K-12 and higher education, as both sectors struggle to figure out how to provide education for an increasingly demanding workforce without cramming everyone into standardized education and testing regimes that often miss individual needs and unique abilities.

Rose himself speaks from experience, having dropped out of high school with a 0.9 GPA and was supporting his family on welfare before taking his circuitous route to academia, as the Harvard Gazette noted in a 2013 profile.

Rose tells NPR that standardized testing and regimented curriculum are so embedded in American education that we don't even see them.

"We design textbooks to be age-appropriate, but that means, what does the average kid of this age know and can do? Textbooks that are designed for the average will be a pretty bad fit for most kids," Rose said.

"Then you think of things like the lockstep, grade-based organization of kids, and you end up sitting in a class for a fixed amount of time and get a one-dimensional rating in the form of a grade, and a one-dimensional standardized assessment. It's everything about the way we test and move kids forward."

Rose's book is timely. 2015 will go down at the year that saw large-scale pushback against standardized testing and the demise of the No Child Left Behind Act, which used testing as a key pillar.

The Deseret News has focused extensively on the limits and possibilities of personalized education, including looks at the growth of "microschools" that recreate the 19th Century one room school house, the Sudbury model that mixes age groups and allows kids to drive their own schooling, and Bennington College in Vermont, which does the same with college students.