A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What happens when education takes on a production line mentality?

Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, from the early 20th century, humorously captures a production line mentality. The chocolate factory scene fromI Love Lucy captures the same uncomfortable feeling when too any inputs come in without adequate processing time. If you need some good belly laughter, click on the links. What do satirical renditions of 20th century industrial factory settings have to do with education? My major concern about the teaching industry is that despite standards-based IEP goals for personalized instruction, which might benefit students with learning disabilities, particularly primary students who need to master basic skills, such as decoding and number sense, a significant percentage of students are not getting their needs met, at a critical developmentally sensitive time, because the fear of sanctions colors every instructional decision in every classroom.


In one of his PowerPoints, Dr. Ball cited Keith Stanovich's research on the Mathews Effect which suggested a failure to intervene early with learning problems can lead to long-term learning difficulties. Not only is the failure to intervene with students with learning disabilities morally reprehensible, the failure to appropriately intervene raises the long-term costs of education considerably. (Ramey, 2004; Campbell, 1995). Despite the laws, and because of the laws, efforts to intervene are in many ways working at cross purposes. Many children are simply not ready to work on a production line to learn every content standard at the same time, because none start from the same place, and learning styles vary widely.

Somehow, a Wall Street "hostile takeover" model has taken over education. In my view, the Wall Street "hostile takeover" model of education attempts to to turn education into a "business" and stresses that all good children must "do their jobs," and that "unproductive" teachers must be "laid off."  While everybody wants positive outcomes, the legal requirement that guarantees positive outcomes is destroying individualized education. If anything needs to be guaranteed, all students need access to the research-based best practices. In reading, for example, there is a wide body of evidence that indicates that a balanced approach that addresses phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. If differentiated instruction were truly occurring, students who struggle to decode would receive standards-based instruction with personalized instruction in research-based programs such as Read!, which are not widely adopted because they require 45 minutes of solid instruction, which would take too much time away from test preparation.

During a real discussion I heard, teachers discussed "prioritizing" instruction over the next few months and helping the students who had the best chance of responding to intervention the most.


Campbell, F. (1995). Cognitive and school outcomes for high risk african-american students at middle adolescence: Positive effects of early intervention. American Educational Research Journal, 32(4), 743.

Ramey, C. T., & Ramey, S. L. (2004). Early Learning and School Readiness: Can Early Intervention Make a Difference?. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 50(4), 471-491.