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Educational Reform in US Public Schools is Not Working

Updated on August 14, 2012

The Laundromat

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US Public Schools: The Laundromat

About ten years ago, there was a really spiffy public laundromat down on the corner. Everyone went there because the clothes came out so clean, and the service was spectacular. Attendants sorted, washed, dried, and folded the clothes for you. At the end of the day, though, there were always a few dirty shirts left on the floor. So, the owner decided to make some changes.

Sam met with some rich businessmen who advised him to hire a Quality Control staff to monitor and evaluate the washing of the clothes. The goal was not only to make sure all clothes made it into the machines, but also that each piece came out squeaky clean. The way to measure the cleanliness was to hold each garment up to a new white shirt and compare the color. If the clothes matched the color, the washer and the attendant would get a check mark. The washer would continue to receive scheduled maintenance, and the attendant might even get a bonus. But if the clothes did not match the shade of the new shirt, the washer and the attendant would get an “x.” The washer would have to miss out on any future upgrades and the attendant might get fired. Too many bad marks, and the washer would be shut down permanently.

It wasn't long before the QC supervisors realized that some clothes were not getting good ratings no matter how much they soaked or were washed. In desperation, they instructed the attendants to skip the soak and wash cycle, and to just add a splash of bleach at the end of the rinse cycle. This worked for a lot of the clothes, but not all. Some, they could not get a good rating no matter what they did. Blue jeans just did not pass the spot-check test. The attendants stopped talking to each other and realized that the laundromat was no longer a very nice place to work. The new competition for good scores and bonuses created a rift.

Patrons began to complain about the bad ratings, and demanded better machines. The successful businessmen convinced Sam to rent from them some new High Efficiency washers for the patrons who could get there early and had the right kind of detergent. All the fancy white shirts went to the HE machines and the more casual work clothes stayed with the regular washers. The HE machines often produced high marks and received more upgrades, while the old machines continued to receive poor marks and no maintenance. Eventually, all the old washers will be shut down since they have been ignored and neglected. Remaining will be the HE washers that are in control of the rich businessmen, who actually have no experience with laundry at all. There are also no warranties on these HE washers.

US Public Schools

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Reading the Metaphor

Many Americans understand exactly what this long metaphor is all about, though even more may not. The laundromat is our public school system, which is currently under attack and in danger of being completely dismantled. Sam, of course, is the federal government that started with good intentions, but has continued to blindly lead this attack. The washers are the schools, and the attendants are our hard-working teachers. The QC guys are the school administrators, who have been trained in business management, but not in education. The businessmen are the corporate "reformers," who claim to have all the answers, but present no evidence, no experience.

The spot-check tests represent our overused and misused standardized tests that punish teachers and schools instead of actually measuring student achievement. The soak and wash cycles are the rich curriculum and quality instruction that have slowly disappeared from our classrooms. The splash of bleach represents the narrow curriculum and the “teaching to the test” philosophy that have invaded our schools. The new HE machines are school choice, which is dividing our nation into rich and poor, black and white. And the clothes, well, they are our children. Many are pleased with the neat stacks of laundry, but some are starting to notice that they really aren't that clean, and in fact, are beginning to smell.

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    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Great analogy. I hope this catches on. Right the prevailing popular analogy is the assembly line.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thanks, Stephanie. Yes, I hear a lot about assembly line, and test-prep centers. Some parents don't seem to understand the full picture and have suggested that more money needs to go into training teachers. I really don't see that as an issue or solution at all. There are many layers to the problem with our public schools. Hopefully, teachers and parents will be able to find their voices together and turn this all around.

    • profile image

      SandraInBrevard 5 years ago

      The policy makers can call it what they want, but none of these initiatives are examples of real reform. What they've created and pushing on communities equals a bean-counters dream. Or better...a laundry-mats dream.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      So true, Sandra. My quotation marks around the word "reformers" cannot even nick the surface of what is really going on. Policy makers are doing the absolute opposite of reforming or helping our schools.

    • KrystalD profile image

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      ChaplinSpeaks, I am so glad you wrote about this topic! Watching the "laundromat" is quite sad. This is a serious problem in education. As a progressive educator, I feel BLESSED to be able to teach children as the unique individuals they are! Thanks for sharing!

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thank you, KrystalD. It is very sad, and it does not have to be this way. I think we need a revolution to turn things around!

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      Wow! I wish that I had written this. It is a perfect analogy for all that we do as teachers and how we have to (forgive me) bend over and take what is dished out. The only thing that I think that you left out was that the "attendants" must also have perfectly clean laundry and put out to be picked up on time whether the laundry is dropped off on time or shows up at all, it still will be "compared." I'm not sure how I missed this one but I'm glad I found it. I will definitely be sharing this one with all of my teacher friends!

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Yes, very true, cardelean. And it is only going to get worse for teachers, and for everyone else, with the Common Core Standards, pay-for-performance, merit pay, Teach for America, mass national databases. So many things wrong. This has been the reason why I haven't published a Hub in quite a while! Been out trying to save the world......

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      Good luck to you because the reason I've slowed down a bit is because I'm trying to jump ship. It is just too much for us to handle. There is way too much that is beyond our control and those that make the decisions do not listen to those in the trenches, especially since I am one of those teachers that is in a "failing" school/district. The only accountability seems to be on the teachers. No one blames a dr. if their patient refuses care or doesn't take their medicine, but teachers bear the brunt of it all. Best wishes to you!

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Many are jumping ship and with good reason. There is a national effort to stop it all, though. Check out unitedoptout.com and parentsacrossamerica.org Both have Facebook pages as well. Teachers and parents are working together to form one voice against high-stakes testing and educational "reform." Good luck with your job and thanks for all you do!

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      We are beginning to see similar trends here in Canada also with our standardized testing. It is a slippery slope indeed. Very good hub.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thanks, Teresa. I have been reading that the US is the only nation with this crazy obsession with testing. So, Canada some, too? Here, we are finding that parents need to be the ones to speak up.

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