Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Doing and its side-effects

David Thornburg makes the statement that technology in education can allow us to "do things differently or do different things." I started thinking about that and it was remarkably difficult to actually come up with different things that technology allows me to do. I seem to be bound up when it comes to figuring out what can happen in classroom that belongs in a classroom and that can be accomplished. Perhaps 35 years as a part of system leads to unconscious expectations and pulling them out requires deep digging.

Doing different things, leads to different outcomes. Trying to do different things and also have students pass standardized tests seems difficult if not impossible. Unfortunately results of standardized tests matter, especially when funding relies directly on results. The school I work in is a state entity, and our budget goes to the legislature every year. The committee looks at results of evaluations, not at students. They don't decide to sign the funding bill because students are excited to be in school, or because teachers are genuinely engaged in finding new ways to "do" education.

In my early years, I worked in a manufacturing plant making adding machines. I worked in final inspection. Each unit was first "burned-in". Because we were working with electronic parts that could fail if they got too hot, the finished adding machines were first put into what was essentially an oven. They were heated, and once cooled were put through a set of manual tests to see if they could still complete all of their required functions. Any that failed were removed from the line and either parts were replaced or they were taken apart and parts were salvaged and reused in other machines. When working in a manufacturing plant, finding the most efficient way to make and test your product and make the best use of the resources (human and physical) makes sense. Products produced today, should meet the same standards and perform the same functions as those made last week, or next month. Consumers come to trust a product that they know is reliable and will work the way they expect every time.

Children are not adding machines. They are not cars to be recalled, nor can parts be removed and salvaged to be used in another child when the tested unit doesn't pass final inspection. This year's class of students cannot be expected to have the same number and quality of units that pass final inspection. Unfortunately, our system of evaluation essentially puts them through burn-in and then a final inspection. Not only do we do this at the end of units, semesters and school years, but also at "critical junctures" for standardized state testing. 

The onset of the industrial revolution and inception of the assembly line led to students in schools becoming products. We expect them to pass final inspection, but we also expect that this year's class and all the classes that come after (if treated to the same process) will have the same number of certified units at the end of the year. In fact we now expect that each year will have more units that pass final inspection until 100% are acceptable at the end of the process. We are to not only produce certified units, but identical certified units. Education cannot be in the business of producing successful, productive citizens.  Educations should “teach children how to use their minds -- how to think and learn -- so that as adults they will be able and disposed to acquire whatever new knowledge and skills they may need".

To do this we must not only do different things, but do things differently. We can no longer reform the system, we must revolutionize it. We are working in a culture that has moved beyond relying on certified experts in a field to a collaborative system that relies on the wisdom of the crowd. We have to help students work in this new system and give them the tools to “acquire whatever knowledge and skills they may need” and I would add knowledge and skills they may want.


  1. Bravo! I remember sitting in one of my teacher prep courses and being told that the way we educate our students stems from the "Factory Model". Not understanding what that meant, I went on to research a factory model and i was appalled. How can we, as human beings, think that our students are like raw materials? Students aren't really molded. Students are active learners in their own education. We don't make them into who they are, we facilitate learning so that they have the ability to develop free and creative thinking.
    Your experiences working in a manufacturing plant, have definitely given you wisdom as a teacher.

  2. I work in a school where every student has an IEP (INDIVIDUALIZED Educational Program.) How can it even be legal to require these students to take standardized tests. The IDEA law was written so exceptional students would have their educational needs met, but every single student is required to take tests that are not only not individualized, but normed on general education students. What we have had to do so that we can continue being funded is request alternate requirements. We have to show students are continuing to grow, even if they are not meeting the standardized test score requirements. It is very frustrating, because they have to take tests on grade level, even though their reading level may be multiple grades below grade level. Crazy making!