Educational Reform in US Public Schools is Not Working
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
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.