At the recent JMP 2009 Discovery & Innovators Summit, Malcolm Gladwell gave a talk that was based on the concepts of traditional problems versus modern problems. Traditional problems are all about finding information that is being hidden, like Watergate. Modern problems are all about sifting through data for the key valuable information that is in plain sight, like Enron (apparently, careful reading of their 3 million page SEC filings tells the whole story).

In modern problems, the core of the problem isn’t too little information, it’s a low signal-to-noise ratio. In modern problems, more raw information is not always better.

This all brings us to Wake County Public Schools, who are trying to fix what seems like a traditional problem: parents knowing what grades their kids are getting. The current solution is to send home interim reports every 2-4 weeks with a listing of the student’s current grade and their grade on each and every assignment so far. These are required to be signed by parents and returned in a day or two.

The new solution is to have what amount to digital copies of those interim reports online, viewable only by the teacher, the student, and the parent. Ok, neat. But it really seems to me that any parent who wants to know how their student is doing is already more than capable of finding out. The problem isn’t that parents can’t get this information, through a rapport with either their kid or the kid’s teacher.

The problem is that some parents don’t care.

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